How to Empty a Garbage Disposal

Garbage disposals grind up organic matter and flush it down your waste system. However, sometimes they can get clogged, gunky or smelly. You can fix most common clogs, smells and gunk yourself.

How to Empty a Garbage Disposal

Disposals can clog easily if not operated correctly or after extended use. Don't put any inorganic products or tough-to-grind material in the disposal, and keep it in tip-top shape by regularly cleaning and emptying it.

Diagnose the Problem

Before you start disassembling the disposal, make sure there isn't a quick fix first. Is the disposal clogged, smelly or gunky? If the disposal is clogged, you will likely have to disassemble the disposal. Or, there could potentially be an object lodged in the disposal unit itself. Smell and gunk are easy to fix by simply removing the baffle and cleaning the disposal with baking soda and vinegar.

How to Clean a Smelly Disposal

Disposals can develop a stink if they aren't cleaned regularly. To clean a disposal, simply put 1/2 cup of baking soda down the disposal followed by 1 cup of white vinegar. The mixture should fizz. Wait a few minutes for the fizzing to slow down and then rinse with boiling water from a kettle. Never put any drain cleaners down a disposal, as this can melt the rubber gaskets and ruin the disposal.

How to Clean a Gunky Disposal

If your disposal isn't clogged but appears gunky, try removing the rubber baffle, plug, or splash guard, at the sink drain. On some models, the baffle can be easily removed by pulling up on the flaps. If your model doesn't allow for the baffles to be easily removed, you will need to clean the baffles by carefully pulling back on the individual flaps. Prior to cleaning, ensure there is no power to the disposal by unplugging the unit or shutting off the breaker. Clean the underside and the ring around the baffle thoroughly with soap and water to remove any buildup.

How to Fix a Clogged Disposal

If the system is clogged, you will first want to turn off power to the disposal. Some disposals can simply be unplugged under the sink, while others will require you to shut off the breaker that the disposal is on. When the power is completely off, use a flashlight to see if you can locate the object causing the clog. If you can see a clog by looking into the disposal from the sink, use pliers to try to gently pry loose and clogged material from the disposal. Don't put your hands in the disposal.

Alternatively, some disposal models come with an L-shaped hex wrench or Allen wrench you can use to dislodge objects and get the impeller (blades) working again. Simply slide the wrench into the hole at the bottom of the disposal and move the wrench until the impeller moves freely. Remove the dislodged object causing the clog using pliers, not your hands.

If you cannot locate the object causing the clog from the sink, you will need to drop the disposal. To do so, place a bucket underneath the pipes in the sink to catch any water or gunk that may fall out during the removal process. Double-check to ensure the power is completely off, and use a pipe wrench or screwdriver to unscrew the disposal from the sink pipes. Water will spill into the bucket. Next, using a plumbing snake or a long object, poke around in the P-trap (U-shaped bend in the pipe) to check for a clog. Use a long object such as pliers or a wrench to sweep the back end of the disposal. Clear any gunk into the bucket, then reassemble the system.

If the clog is located in the impeller, then the motor couldn't run properly. This causes the motor to overheat. The motor still needs time to cool even if the power is off. It's best practice to allow a minimum of 15 minutes for the motor to cool off before restarting the disposal.


  • To avoid clogs, place only organic waste down a garbage disposal. Fibrous material such as corn husks, artichokes and celery stalks easily tangle in the motor, causing a clog or motor burnout. Starchy food items such as potato peels can cause clogs, as they turn into a pasty mess. Opt to compost these items instead. * Never place bones or hard seeds such as avocado pits down a disposal.


Putting your hand down a disposable is inherently dangerous, especially if the unit is still connected to power. Before putting your hands or any object down the disposal, cut off power to the unit.

If the problem persists, the clog may be farther down the line. Use a plumbing snake to snake the waste line while the disposal is disassembled or call a plumbing professional.


  • If your disposal is clogged and you can't get the clog out yourself, call a professional.