Why Is My Garbage Disposal Not Draining?

You’re cleaning up the kitchen, sweeping food scraps from the sink into the garbage disposal as it runs. But then, uh oh! The garbage disposal stopped draining, causing water to back up into the sink. Now what?

Why isn’t the garbage disposal draining?

Key Points:

  • Garbage disposals can become backed up due to too much food, incorrect foods, and running dry.
  • It’s important to add food scraps slowly and be mindful of the types of food that should never go down it, such as eggshells, coffee grounds, or grease.
  • If this method doesn’t work, you may need to turn off the power and use kitchen tongs or a long-handled spoon/Allen wrench to check for foreign objects causing clogs in the drain line.

This can happen for multiple reasons, some easier to address than others. But before you call the plumber, try a few simple tricks to remedy the issue. This article explains the steps in each method, so stick around to learn more!

Why Won’t The Water Drain From My Garbage Disposal?

The sight of water pooling in the sink, even though the drain is supposedly open, is an unwelcome sight. It spells trouble, usually pointing to an undetermined plumbing issue. So, why won’t the water drain from your garbage disposal? Here are a few potential culprits:

Too Much Food

Sometimes, the only issue is the amount of food you’re trying to shove into the canister. Garbage disposals can only handle so much food at a time before they begin to have issues, leading to clogs and water drainage problems. So, it’s important to pace the additions, adding food scraps to the canister once the garbage disposal finishes the last batch.

While continuous feed garbage disposals can handle constant additions, it’s still important to add them slowly so you don’t overwhelm the system.

Incorrect Foods

Although garbage disposals can handle an array of foods, some things should never go down it. Certain foods can cause the system to stop working, leading to drainage issues and water pooling in your sink. So, it’s essential to be smart about what you put down your garbage disposal.

Here are a few foods that should never go down your garbage disposal:

  • Eggshells
  • Coffee grounds
  • Fibrous fruits and veggies, including pumpkin innards, celery stalks, and banana peels
  • Shells and pits
  • Large meat bones (tiny bones, like fish bones, usually aren’t an issue)
  • Corn cobs
  • Grease, fat, and oil
  • Starchy foods, including potato peels and beans
  • Bread, pasta, and rice

Running Dry

It’s essential to run cool water while running your garbage disposal. The water helps keep everything moving smoothly, ensuring it doesn’t form a clump within the garbage disposal or drain.

Think of it like a blender – if you try to blend frozen fruits, protein powder, and greens without water, the blender usually can’t do it. Instead, it binds or doesn’t blend at all. Once you add water, the blender chops the food into smithereens without an issue.

So, do the same with your garbage disposal. If you don’t run water while the disposal works, it might form a dry clog of food particles that cannot drain.

How Do I Get My Garbage Disposal To Drain?

If your garbage disposal is on strike and your sink is backed up with water, there are a few things you can do. Sometimes, the fix is quick and easy, but in some cases, it might involve disassembling the drain line to remove debris. Here are a few methods to send you in the right direction:

Check For Foreign Objects

Before you attempt the following methods, check for foreign objects. Sometimes, an object can get caught around the impellers, preventing them from grinding food. As you continue adding food scraps, a clog may develop, preventing the sink from draining.

So, to correct the issue, you’ll need to remove the object. We’ve seen all sorts of things in garbage disposals – everything from keys to kids’ toys. It’s entirely possible that you or your kids (if applicable) may have knocked something into the sink, where it eventually ended up at the bottom of the disposal canister. Even if you didn’t put anything out of the ordinary in the canister, it doesn’t hurt to check, as you might find a surprise.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Kitchen tongs or pliers
  • Long-handled wooden spoon or Allen wrench
  • Flashlight
  • Cup and bucket

Before you start, disconnect the unit from power. This may mean turning the disposal off at the wall switch, turning off the circuit at the breaker box, or disconnecting the cord from power. Although you won’t be sticking your hands into the disposal, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Scoop water out of the sink if there’s a considerable amount in there. This will give you room to work without plunging your hands in dirty water. Scoop the water into a bucket and dump it in another functioning drain.

Once the sink is as empty as possible, use a flashlight to look inside the garbage disposal canister. It might be tricky to see in there, especially if there is quite a bit of food scraps in the canister.

If you can’t see anything, use a long-handled wooden spoon to turn the blades. Simply insert the handle into the canister and gently push the blades clockwise and counterclockwise. The blades might not move at all, especially if something is stuck in the canister.

If the blades are stuck or you see something inside the canister, use a pair of pliers or kitchen tongs to reach into the disposal. Fish around with the pliers or tongs and grab the object to pull it out. Even though the unit is off, don’t stick your hands inside the canister.

Once you remove the foreign object, use the spoon’s handle to spin the blades. Alternatively, use an Allen wrench to manually turn the flywheel from the bottom of the disposal’s canister (there’s a small hex opening at the base of the canister under the sink). If the blades spin freely in both directions, restore power to the unit.

Turn on the cold water and run the disposal to check for proper function.

Plunge The Drain

If you can’t find a foreign object causing the drainage issue, try plunging the drain. In some cases, this will alleviate the problem by dislodging the blockage, especially if the issue lies beyond the canister itself.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Sink plunger

Note: Sink plungers differ from regular toilet plungers, so be sure to use the correct plunger. Although a toilet plunger may work, it’s better not to introduce toilet bacteria to your sink, as these plungers carry nasty bacteria from your toilet.

Fit the cup of a sink plunger over the top of the drain, ensuring the cup covers the entire drain hole. If it doesn’t cover the whole drain, it won’t be able to form the suction necessary to dislodge the clog.

Once the plunger is in place, fill the sink with enough water to cover the cup, as this will help create the necessary pressure. Plunge the sink vigorously 4-5 times, then remove the plunger. If the water in the sink swirls and drains, the clog is gone.

However, if nothing happens, try plunging the sink several times. Sometimes, the clog may be too solid, so a plunger might not do the trick. So, if nothing happens after plunging the sink a few times, move on to the next method.

Disassemble The Drain Line

Sometimes, the issue preventing your garbage disposal from draining is stubborn and won’t relent, even after attempting the previous methods. In this case, you may need to disassemble the drain line. The blockage may lie beyond the disposal itself, residing in the drain trap or line.

So, to correct the issue, you’ll need to break up the blockage. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Bucket
  • Wrench
  • Sink auger
  • Bucket
  • Towels

This process requires you to tinker with the assembly beneath your sink, so clear out the cabinet. Once the cabinet is empty, place a bucket underneath the discharge pipe from the garbage disposal.

Use a wrench to unscrew the bolts fastening the pipe to the garbage disposal. Allow the water to drain into the bucket, then set the discharge pipe aside. Next, remove the drain trap from the garbage disposal to check for clogs. In addition, pull out the disposal trap and remove the discharge drain line.

Examine each piece for obstructions, clearing them out as necessary. If you can’t find any blockages, the problem likely lies within the sink’s plumbing. So, while you have the pieces disconnected, use a sink auger in the drain line to break up the blockage.

Once you dislodge the clog, reassemble the drain trap and discharge tube, fitting them tightly in place. Next, restore power to the garbage disposal, turn on the water, then flip the garbage disposal on. As you check for proper function, keep an eye on the drain assembly for leaks.

If there are leaks, remove and adjust the assembly as necessary.

Call A Plumber

Sometimes, drainage issues with your garbage disposal can be tricky. So, if you’ve tried everything to no avail, it might be time to enlist the help of a plumber. The issue could lie with the unit itself, but it could also be further up the sink drain assembly, complicating the fix. In these cases, it’s usually best to pass the repair to a professional.

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