A garbage disposal is a very convenient kitchen appliance, but does require some maintenance, and it can get clogged or obstructed. If there is something stuck in the garbage disposal, like a penny, ring or utensil, or if it becomes clogged for other reasons, you need to be able to safely remove the obstruction. If you are at all unsure how to do this safely, you should contact a professional for assistance.
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Important Safety Considerations
Never put your hand in the garbage disposal and know when it's time to call a professional. If you lose something valuable down the disposal, like an heirloom ring, it's a good idea to call a professional right away to avoid damaging the object. If you just need to get something out or unclog the unit, there are several things you can do on your own to retrieve lost objects and clear obstructions.
Turning Power Off
As Home Depot explains, the first step is to shut off the power to the garbage disposal. The switch will be located under the cabinet, near the disposal or on a wall nearby. If you cannot find the switch, unplug the disposal unit.
If there is no plug and no switch, as is the case with some older models, then go to your fuse box and turn off the circuit breaker that includes the garbage disposal.
Clearing Coin Stuck in Disposal
If you have metal stuck in the garbage disposal, you can attempt to disassemble and clear it. Remove the rubber drain funnel if there is one. Then, shine a flashlight down into the unit to see what is causing the issue. If you see a foreign object or a clog, first try removing it with some long-nose pliers or long-handled tongs — again, do not put your hand in the disposal.
Even if you're sure power to the unit is off, the blades are sharp and can still cause injury. Wait 15 minutes for the engine to cool, turn the unit back on and attempt to use it with running water. If it's still not working, the impeller (the blades that grind up the garbage) may be stuck.
To free the impeller blades, try dissolving the clog and using a plunger. To plunge the unit, again make sure the power is off first. Cover the entire opening of the garbage disposal with the plunger, then run a little water to be sure the edges of the plunger are covered and get good suction. Plunge the unit several times, wait 15 minutes for the engine to cool, then try turning it on. If the unit is still not working, proceed to dissolving the built-up residue.
Home Remedies for Clogged Disposal
Never pour drain cleaner down a garbage disposal — the harsh chemicals used to unclog normal drains can damage plastic and rubber parts in a garbage disposal. Instead, after making sure the unit is off again, pour 1/4 cup of baking soda in the garbage disposal, followed by 1/2 cup of vinegar. This will cause a fizzing reaction that works similarly to drain cleaners but is gentle enough not to damage the disposal. Wait 10 minutes, then turn the disposal back on and run it with the hottest water your kitchen faucet produces for a couple of minutes.
Manually Clearing a Clog
Finally, trying to manually free the impeller is also an option. After making sure the unit is off again, inspect the bottom of the unit. Most units will have a 1/4-inch hex socket on the bottom that allows you to manually turn the impellers. Use a hex key to turn the impellers in both directions to free them up.
Do not attempt to loosen any nuts, bolts or screws, as these hold the unit together. If the unit doesn't have this socket, then try inserting a dowel, wooden spoon or a broom handle into the unit from the top — never your hand. Using the wooden probe, gently nudge the impeller blades back and forth to free them.
Maintenance Is Key
If none of these steps work, it's time to call a professional. Additionally, a little maintenance goes a long way. Every couple of weeks, cut a lemon in half and put one half down the disposal. Let it run for two minutes with water. The acidic lemon juice will gently clean away odors and small clogs.
Be sure to always flush the unit with water when running it and don't put eggshells, coffee grounds, potato peels or banana peels down the garbage disposal, as all of those cause clogs.