Unclog Your Kitchen Sink And Garbage Disposal

Clogged Kitchen Sink

Why oh why does the sink always clog when company is coming?
Why oh why does the sink always clog when company is coming?

My best guess is my brother became a plumber because of the fancy garbage disposal my parents installed during a kitchen remodel. Come to think of it, if that were the reason, he might have become a fireman or painter, because it was the fire we started, cooking bacon one morning, that caused the remodel in the first place.

Garbage disposals in the 60's were advertised as wonder machines. They are not and have never been wonder machines. My brother, the plumber, saw me emptying the contents of a can into mom's sink one day and said, "It is a disposal, not a dump. Dump the garbage into the garbage". O.K. I don't know what that means either. He is a special kind of a plumber who works at a scientific lab.

What I do know; the early days of my life with a garbage disposal were spent watching my brother and dad using the handle of a broom to dislodge the blades of the garbage disposal. Once the blades were free this magic key would do the rest.

Magic Garbage Disposal Wrenchette

Common Reasons Disposals Plug

  • Too much food placed in disposal at one time.
  • Banana peels which are fibrous frequently plug disposals.
  • Small plastic bread wrapper closers

Oh No!

Oh no! Company is on the way. The dinner is almost ready. As you tidy up the kitchen you turn on the garbage disposal to do a quick clean up. Nothing, or worse the dreaded whir the motor as it strains to move the stuck blades. What do you do? Call a plumber? It's Saturday night and you don't want to spoil your evening or wreck your check book. A kitchen sink with a garbage disposal in not like a single sink. When the garbage disposal clogs so does the adjacent sink. Drano labels usually says do not use in garbage disposals. You can always just clean up, and act like nothing ever happened. Which will work until someone runs the water into the sink and it doesn't drain.

You don't need to panic.

Here are a few easy things you can do to fix your problem. To begin, assemble these simple things:

  • plastic g loves (optional)
  • key wench to your disposal *
  • flash light
  • mirror (helpful but can be done without)
  • container to hold contents of sink (garbage pail)
  • sink cleaner (your favorite)

What? A garbage disposal key? Yes hopefully you have the one that came with your disposal. If you can't find it an Allen wrench will work.

*Apparently dishwashers come with a key these days so, don't throw it away.

Find the garbage disposal key?
Find the garbage disposal key? | Source
Garbage disposal Key side view
Garbage disposal Key side view
 six sided front view
six sided front view
The top switch here is the garbage disposal the bottom the dishwasher.  You turn off the dishwasher if water is flowing into the plugged sink.
The top switch here is the garbage disposal the bottom the dishwasher. You turn off the dishwasher if water is flowing into the plugged sink.

Step 1 Find The Key

Think back to the days when you bought your garbage disposal. It came with a key that you put someplace safe. If you didn't buy the disposal, a nice previous owner or landlord usually leaves them in some drawer or under the sink. Search for the key that came with the disposal. I think I it's in a drawer. The Allen wrench is in my bike kit. It doesn't seem likely that its under the sink. Under the sink is a dark cavern; I don't think I would have put it there. Hopefully talking about these places will jar your memory and give you some idea where it might be. Whenever I need to find it I start cleaning the drawer and it always shows up. The old just dig through the drawer works too. An Allen wrench will work if you can't find your key. (about 5 mm)

Step 2 Turn Off The Electricity

There are frequently two switches near the sink. One of them works the dishwasher and the other works the garbage disposal. If the disposal is making whirring sound instead of the usual grinding sound turn off the switch immediately. Letting it just run will burn up the disposal.

Always turn off the disposal switch on the wall before reaching into disposal.

Pull out the garbage and anything else that may have mistakenly gotten into the disposal. You will have to press the reset button when you are done. I will explain the reset button..

Cross your fingers.  Just removing the garbage from the disposal may clear it and let you start it.
Cross your fingers. Just removing the garbage from the disposal may clear it and let you start it.
Do I even have a garbage disposal under this sink?
Do I even have a garbage disposal under this sink? | Source
Found It!
Found It!

Step 3 Put On Gloves and Reach Into The Disposal to Remove All Food and Stuff

It doesn't sound pretty, but it has to be done. Company is coming and time is running out. You still need to get this thing unclogged and the drawer contents back where they belong. Also you may find the remaining steps are not needed, if perhaps you find and clear out an obvious cause of the disposal not working. For instance it you found a plastic bag wrapped around the blade or an extra thick banana peel doing likewise, All bits of bread wrapper ties should be removed. Hit the reset button and turn the switch on. If it works great. If not no worries there are still more you can do besides call a plumber.


Step 4 Find The Disposal

Do not be fooled the garbage disposal is always under the sink. That is unless you don't have a disposal and all you really need to do is pour Drain o or some such cleaner into your drain. As you can see in the picture garbage is right there throw the stuff out that you don't need.

Middle arrow shows where to put key/Allen wrench. Left arrow shows reset button that you push when you have successfully turned the key and freed the clog.
Middle arrow shows where to put key/Allen wrench. Left arrow shows reset button that you push when you have successfully turned the key and freed the clog. | Source

Step 5 Look At The Bottom Of Your Disposal

On the bottom of your disposal will be an indention for the key and a reset button. This will mean you will have to practice your limbo to see the underside. This is where you might need to get a mirror.

Step 6 Insert The key

Once you have seated the key in the slot turn the key clockwise. You may not think this is possible, Slowly keep turning the key back and forth until it smoothly turns, Periodically stop, press the red reset button, and turn on the disposal to see if it is released enough to start going. If it is. Clean up,you are done. If the disposal doesn't start, go back turn the key some more. Press the reset and try again. Listen to the sweet whirr of the disposal.


Put the key into the bottom of the disposal and turn. If there is plastic or some very fibrous material stuck this will be hard
Put the key into the bottom of the disposal and turn. If there is plastic or some very fibrous material stuck this will be hard

Step 7 Clean The Sink

Clean the sink, put everything back where it belongs and you are ready for your company. If they get there in the midst of everything, stop a minute, pour them a beverage, maybe you should pour one for yourself too. Make the best of the situation. Good Luck.


© 2011 Judy Specht

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Comments 10 comments

Simone Smith profile image

Simone Smith 5 years ago from San Francisco

Before reading this Hub, I didn't even know that disposals HAD keys! Gosh, this is all really good to know. I wish I'd have known sooner- I would have been able to fix a blocked disposal I'd been stuck with for a year back in DC. ah well, live and learn!


K9keystrokes profile image

K9keystrokes 5 years ago from Northern, California

Nice hub. The picture placement is great as is the disposal advice!


tirelesstraveler 5 years ago

Thanks K9 and Simone, I had a blast writing this. I have also checked under sinks from California to Texas and the disposals are pretty much universal.


yaoundesue 5 years ago

You never cease to amaze me!This is awesome!!


tirelesstraveler profile image

tirelesstraveler 5 years ago from California Author

Thank you, I am delighted it has been helpful


TinaAtHome profile image

TinaAtHome 5 years ago from California

Well done! A winner! Congratulations.


tirelesstraveler profile image

tirelesstraveler 5 years ago from California Author

Thank you


Autumn 3 years ago

Thanks for the great post. Our garbage disposal has been having some problems lately so running across blogs like this really helps! I really appreciated that you included the step-by-step breakdown for people like me who don’t know much about our garbage disposals. I was looking through ways to fix garbage disposals and I found this blog: http://blog.hignell.com/Home-Repair-Experts/bid/35... It gives some helpful tips, like your hub, on what to check on. Maybe it will be helpful to some of your followers.


tirelesstraveler profile image

tirelesstraveler 3 years ago from California Author

Autumn, Glad I could help. Thanks for visiting.


Jack2016 5 weeks ago

Really pleased with a product I purchased after hearing about it on the Gary Sullivan show. Drain-FX cleared my slow running drains - it was ecofriendly & it's reusable. I stored it away and will use it as a maintenance tool.

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