Kitchen Disposal Not Allowing Sink to Drain -- Suggestions?

The other day I washed some onion peelings down the kitchen sink disposal and ran it for a few minutes. It sounded normal and water was running into it normally when I shut it off. I assumed the onions had all gone completely through without incident.

Hours later, however, water wouldn’t flow out of the sink through the disposal, and it (the sink) quickly filled up. Then turning on the disposal only produced a hum, and I quickly shut it off.

I let the water slowly drain out overnight – which shows there was at least a little tiny bit of flow through the output pipe. Then the next day, the disposal sounded like it was turning / running, maybe a little roughly, but running, when I turned it on. But water still backs up immediately in the sink.

It’s a condo with perhaps shared lines; obviously the line directly from the disposal feeds into something collective. It’s possible that someone else plugged up the main line somewhere and this is one byproduct…but nothing else in our unit seems to be backed up, and based on the timing, I’d assume it was the onion skins, and that the problem is related to either the disposal teeth being jammed somehow or the line that runs from it to the main being plugged.

What can I do about this myself? I’m not a very handy guy, but I’m also reluctant to call a plumber.

I assume that I cannot just dump Drano into the disposal…heh.

The sink should be drained by tonight; I can try to remove the disposal myself. We have a manual plumbing snake tool that I could then run into the pipe.

There isn’t a way to unplug the disposal – the electrical cord runs from the wall right into the machine. But I can throw a circuit breaker. Is that the best way to attempt this safely?

Does anyone here have theories as to what might be the problem and what I might need to try? Anyone faced something like this before? How did it go?

Yes, I’ve already been told by my wife not to run onion skins (or other tough, fibrous things) down the disposal any more.

Thanks in advance for any advice you can offer,


MAKE SURE THE DISPOSAL SWITCH IS OFF AND NO ONE IS ANYWHERE NEAR IT…INCLUDING YOUR HAND. Then reach in and feel around. It’s not sharp inside (the food isn’t cut as much as smashed/grinded against the side), but it is rough and I suppose it could scratch your hand. That’s where I would start. If you don’t feel anything, I’ve had some luck with turning it on while the sink is full of water, sometimes the spinning seems to put some water pressure on the drain lines and force the clog through. Also, if you do need to take it off, it’s rather easy. There’s usually a spanner wrench taped to the disposal (or somewhere under the sink. That’s what you use to take it off. The wrench (BTW it won’t look like a normal wrench, but rather a piece of metal about six inches long with a couple of bends in it). There’s a collar up at the top of the disposal, you’ll be able to tell where the wrench goes in. Put one hand under the disposal and hold it up(it’ll weigh about 10#) and loosen the collar by rotating the collar to the left, no grab the disposal with both hands and set it off to the side (you’ll be leaving the electrical cord connected so don’t worry about that). Oh make sure you disconnected the plumbing from it before you remove it. After that do what you have to do to get rid of the blockage assuming it is indeed past the disposal. Also, I don’t know the rules for how condos work, but if you can tell that the blockage is in part of the pipe after it leaves your dwelling, I assume the condo people will fix it for you.

I second what Joey P said. Only to add that my disposal did pretty much the same thing yours did, and after cleaning it out it still hummed. I started too take it apart again then I noticed a little red reset button. I pushed it and the disposal started right up when i tried running it again.

Do you have plunger? Filling the sink with water and plunging the heck out of it will often release papery stuff like onion skins from a disposal. If you have a double sink, fill both sides with water, and plunge. Pulling water from the second bowl up through the disposal is more effective than just pulling air from the drain pipe.

But if it’s PAST the disposal, you need to put the drain plug in one side and hold it in, otherwise the pressure is just going to come out the other side. I would plug the disposal and plunge the other side. This also assumes the blockage is not past another drain or vent, but that was semi-ruled out in the OP. This may be a viable option. But the first choice just be to reach in and check. You’ll be better off if you can just pull the problem out rather then push it farther in. Also I’ve found that dish cloths make a very odd sound when in the disposal.

Whoa! don’t drop the disposer first thing. While you can probably fix it that way it is way more work than is necessary.
Do this, making sure that the disposer is off reach in and make sure that the grinding wheel can turn, and there isn’t something jaming it (My wife ran a dish cloth in ours once, jamed it right up. If you find anything in there remove it and make sure the table can turn.
Now go under the sink. Find the pipe that is the disposer discharge. It will come out the side of the disposer and make a quick 90 to go straight down. Remove this pipe. Place a pan under the drain pipe first to catch any water that leaks out. After you have remove the drain pipe reach in and make sure the discharge port is not jamed with onion skins. Once you know this is clear pour a small amount of water into the sink, it should flow freely out the discharge port. If it does you disposer is clear, and the problem lies in the pipes.
You did not say if you have a double bowl sink, and since I don’t know what the code calls for in your area, I will speak in general terms. If you have a double bowl sink usually the drain from the disposer goes into a fitting (disposa-T?) that also has the drain from the other bowl coming into the side of it. The entire think looks like a capitol T laying on its side. The clog could very easily be in the top of this T, as there is a restriction there. Reach in and check it. If it is clogged clean with a coat hanger or screwdriver. Pour water throgh and check for drainage, if good reassemble.
next in line (or directly after the disposal if a single sink) is the trap. Usually shapped like a U stuff can collect in the bottom of the U and block drainage. Remove the trap, and check to make sure it is clear. Again afterwards check the flow. If you still have not found the problem, it is probably time to call a plumber as you are getting into some serious pipe surgery. :eek:
NOTE: When reassembling use new gaskets, and double and tripple check for leaks after total reassembly. I even go so far as to leave a pan under the sink for 2-3 days, just to make sure I don’t have any leaks.
In the future don’t attempt onion skins, corn husks, artichokes leaves, or dish cloths. Ask me how I know this.

One more thing. If you pull the trap and find it is full of gunk (congealed grease etc, you might want to consider a new trap rather than cleaning the old one. If metal, that gunk will coorode the inside surface of the trap and make it rough which makes the gunk want to collect easier.
Plastic (if allowed by code in your area) is a great thing since gunk tends not to collect, and it does not corode.

Sure, the proper way to deploy the plunger depends on where the clog is here. I just wanted to point out it’s reasonable to try some plunging before you go and take the plumbing apart, or disengage the disposal. Plunging is less effort, and in my hands at least, usually works.

Let’s make this easy. Use Liquid Plumber (or similar). I’ve done it many times to no ill effect. There’s nothing delicate about your disposal compared to the rest of the plumbing. I personally think the liquid works better than the crystals, but YMMV.

I would only add that a garbage disposal is not for disposing of garbage. Garbage belongs in the trash bin. The disposal will take care of bits of food that are washed off your plate, but they aren’t designed to take your peelings, eggshells, leftover grease, etc., regardless of the name of the machine. Exercise some judgement and you shouldn’t have future problems.

Got to disagree with you on this one. If for whatever reason it doesn’t clear the clog you are now stuck with a sink/disposal/drain full of caustic chemicals and anything else that you do (plunging, sticking hands in to clear jams, disassembling and cleaning) is nastier and riskier.

I’d go with Rick’s advice - a wrench, a catch basin, a couple junky towels and some dish gloves is all you need. Probably a big wad of crap in plain sight once you undo some simple connections. You can also take that opportunity to hose out the U/P trap and so forth.

Once it’s clean and reassembled, I’d recommend that you follow it up with a general de-gunking by pouring some vinegar & baking soda down the drain, wait a few minutes for it to thoroughly fizz itself out and then wash it down with a kettle of boiling water. I do this and it cleans a lot of crud out and the drains run better.

This worked well for me when I helped a neighbor a couple weeks ago. It takes about 30 seconds to fix this way, without all the futzing around. A couple years ago, I disconnected the pipes in her kitchen. The clog shifted from one side of the sink to the other. The plunger technique solves the problem nicely.
Some of the worst things for a disposal are peelings from potatoes and bananas, chicken skin, and gristle. If you are going to peel several potatoes, do NOT throw them down a disposal and then flip the switch. Clog city.

I went brain dead one evening after supper, and loaded up the disposer with artichoke leaves. The undersink plumbing exploded; chopped up bits of artichoke everywhere.

No boiling water down the disposal. I’ve seen firsthand what it can do. There’s a plastic lining in there that WILL melt if exposed to too much boiling water. I’m sure some is fine, but I have seen it happen.

While I agree with you to a point, a decent disposal should be able to handle most food. Yea, stay away from fiberous things like peelings, but meat, eggshells, even bones are fine for a disposal. Heck, In Sink Erator actually suggets fruit pits as a method of cleaning the disposal. Though I tend to shy away from bones and pits, while they are good for the disposal, they are REALLY loud.

Dude, you need a better disposal. I have on many occasions peeled 4 lbs of potatoes, carrots and whatever else and ran the entire mess down the the hatch. However you have to use a lot of water if you are running a large amount of stuff down the hatch.
FTR, I think I have had one clog in ten years. took the outlet off and had it repaired in about 5 minutes. ::: shrug:::

My disposal comes with a little crank that goes into a hole in its bottom and lets you turn the blades safely. This works better than doing it by hand from above. That’s the first step, the little reset button is the second.

The people who owned the house before us put the disposal in backwards, so taking it off is not easy or fun. Try every other alternative first - but I’d be very nervous about Liquid Plumber in a kitchen sink. I have a hard time believing you’d get much of it to the source of the clog.

The other week, GrizzWife informed me that the disposal was “making weird noises”.
I grabbed my flashlight out of my scuba bag and went to peer into the innards of the disposal.
In there I saw the remains of a baby-food jar. Many large pieces still intact.
Two minutes later I reported to my wife that I’d solved the problem.

She - “Was there something in the disposal?”
Me - “Yep.”
She - (cringes) “Was it something I dropped in there?”
Me - “I dunno. I guess it could have been me.”
She - “What was it?”
Me - “A baby-food jar.”
She - “Was it broken?”
Me - “Oh yeah.”
She - “And you got it out that fast?”
Me - “Yep!”
She - “Did you cut yourself? Did you use the tongs?”
Me - “Nope. just filled the sink with water and flipped the disposer on. GGGRRRRRRRAWWWWWwwwwwwwnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn.” <mimicking the sound of the dispoal eating the glass shards then running clear>
She - :eek:
Me - :smiley: “It went down just like <snap> THAT!”

A former housemate of mine did this. Nice girl but just not a master of critical thinking. Put 2-3 artichokes worth of leaves down the disposal. Might as well have been a coil of hemp rope.

Hm. I’ve never had a problem with this and I’ve drained many a pot of pasta down several disposals, no trouble.