Do Garbage Disposals Clog Pipes?

Plumbing problems are a nightmare for any homeowner. Whether you’re up against frozen and burst pipes or completely clogged pipes, tackling the project can be a nuisance. So, perhaps you’re doing your due diligence and researching the potential hazards of garbage disposals before you commit to one. 

One of the common concerns with garbage disposals is clogged plumbing. So, is this a legit concern? Or is it something that rarely happens and you don’t need to worry about? We’ll dive into this topic in detail, so stick around to learn more!

Do Garbage Disposals Cause Plumbing Problems?

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Garbage disposals are a valuable addition to most kitchens. However, the truth is, they can wreak havoc on your plumbing system. The caveat to remember is that this only typically happens when the system is misused. 

When used according to the manufacturer’s guidelines, you shouldn’t have any issues with your garbage disposal and plumbing. Initially, you need to install the disposal correctly. From there, it requires basic maintenance. 

If you have a garbage disposal, you’re probably familiar with the lengthy list of dos and don’ts for these appliances. While many organic food scraps can go down the drain and through the disposal without any problems, certain food scraps may cause issues for the appliance and the following plumbing. 

Why Is My Garbage Disposal Backing Up Into My Sink?

Garbage Disposal Backing Up Into My Sink

If your garbage disposal is backing up into your sinks, you’re likely dealing with one of two scenarios: the plumbing is blocked, or the garbage disposal is clogged. Many times, the problem lies within the disposal itself. 

You can quickly determine if the disposal is the problem by turning on the switch controlling the appliance. If the unit’s motor sounds quieter than usual or makes strange sounds, it’s probably the disposal. 

On the other hand, if the garbage disposal sounds completely normal, the blockage might be beyond the disposal in the following pipes. Clearing a blockage from a garbage disposal is usually pretty straightforward, but dealing with a blocked drain pipe can be a different scenario. 

Unclogging a garbage disposal can usually be done in a few minutes, but handling a clogged drain pipe can require various tools, including a drain snake. Both are doable, but clearing a drain pipe is usually more involved than a garbage disposal

How Do I Unclog My Garbage Disposal?

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If you’ve determined the clog lies within your garbage disposal, there are a few different ways you can approach the problem. Before you try and tackle the issue, make sure you turn the switch to the OFF position and unplug the appliance. 

Here are a few potential solutions:

  • Use a natural cleaner: While you could pour a potent drain cleaner down the disposal, this usually isn’t the best idea. Instead, opt for a natural cleaner made of ½ cup vinegar and ¼ cup baking soda. Mix the solution well, then pour it down your drain. Allow it to sit for about 20 minutes, then pour hot water (not boiling) down the drain.
  • Plunge the drain: Plunge the drain using a sink plunger (not the toilet plunger – yikes!). If you have a dishwasher connected to the disposal, make sure to clamp off the hose before plunging the drain. Position the plunger over the drain, ensuring it covers the entire drain. Fill the sink with a few inches of water, then plunge the drain until water flows down the drain normally. 
  • Manually turn the disposal blades: Using an appropriately sized Allen wrench (usually ¼ or ½ inch), turn the blades of the disposal. A small socket on the underside of the disposal casing will allow you to turn the blades manually. Turn it one way until you hit resistance, then go back the other way. Continue working the impellers back and forth until you can turn them all the way around without issues.

What Shouldn’t I Put In A Garbage Disposal?

Garbage disposals are finicky appliances when it comes to certain types of food waste. Although many food products can safely go down the disposal without any issues whatsoever, there are a few specific items that you shouldn’t send down the disposer. 


A few major things not to send down the drain include:

  • Coffee grounds: Think about used coffee grounds – they’re thick and clumpy. Now, think about what would happen to those same grounds in a garbage disposal where water is constantly moving through. Yep, not pretty. So, instead of tossing them in the disposal, opt for the trash or compost instead. 
  • Pasta, rice, bread, etc.: These food items like to absorb water and swell. So, large quantities of these scraps in your drain are the perfect recipe for a clog.
  • Grease, oil, and fat: Although the liquid form of these items may seem perfectly fine to dump down the drain, they can cause issues. Once they solidify, they can cause clogs as small particles of food catch on the grease coated along the plumbing or disposal. 
  • Large animal bones: While your garbage disposal can easily handle small bones, like chicken or fish bones, larger bones can damage the innards of the disposal. Additionally, they’re incredibly hard and probably won’t grind up. Instead, they’ll rattle around in the disposal, adding extra noise.
  • Nuts, pits, and seeds: Large pits and seeds can be hard on your disposal, as they’re often too solid for the disposal to grind. Nuts, especially peanuts, become thick and paste-like when ground, which allows them to stick to the sides of your disposal and plumbing. 
  • Onion skins: The skins and layers of an onion have a thin membrane that can get caught around the impellers, causing them to freeze. With enough of them in the disposal, this is the perfect recipe for a clog. 
  • Eggshells: The concept with eggshells is the same as with onion skins. Eggshells have a thin membrane lining the shell, which can cause issues with the disposal.
  • Fibrous vegetables and fruits: Pumpkin innards, celery, corn husks, etc., are all bad news for garbage disposals. They can wrap around the impellers, disabling the whole appliance. 
  • Potato peels: Think about when you chop or peel potatoes. They’re incredibly starchy and stick to everything – the knife, peeler, cutting board; you name it. The same thing happens in your disposal and plumbing. The peels stick to the sides, building up and causing clogs. 
  • Non-food items: This one is pretty self-explanatory. Random objects, like silverware, sponges, etc., shouldn’t go down the disposal. 
  • Shells: Thick shells from seafood, like crab, lobster, shrimp, or oysters, are too dense to grind properly in a disposal. Smaller shells might slip through, only to get caught in the plumbing later on. So, skip the disposal and drop them in the trash.

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