Garbage disposals are a convenient and popular kitchen feature that makes it easy to get rid of food scraps without putting them in your regular trash. So if you're wondering how do I snake a clogged garbage disposal drain, you've already got some problems on your hands because you can no longer get rid of that food waste easily.
Clogged garbage disposal drains might smell bad or cause problems in your sink with water that is backing up. Clogs like this can be messy and they keep you from using your disposal and your sink, but knowing how and when to snake the drain will turn this into a minor inconvenience that is resolved relatively quickly.
What Is a Snake?
When you're talking about drains, a snake is not a reptile that slithers around on the ground. This is a tool that is used by plumbers to clean out drains of all kinds and sizes, from small sink drains to large sewer drains.
This is not a tool that is only available to plumbers, however. Snakes can be purchased at home improvement stores.
Plumbers’ snakes are somewhat stiff cord-like tools that are usually made in neutral colors like black and gray. Snakes are available in a variety of sizes and lengths and they look sort of like a long coil of metal or plastic rope.
A standard sink drain snake will work to clean out a garbage disposal drain. And once you have this tool in your arsenal, you can address any sink clog that occurs in your home.
How to Snake a Clogged Garbage Disposal
Anyone can learn how to operate a plumber's snake to clean out a drain. However, a snake will not always remove all clogs all the time.
It is a good idea to start with a snake because most of the time, this will fix the problem. If it doesn't, there are additional steps you can take to deal with your clogged disposal drain.
Prep the Area
Start by getting yourself and the area around the sink ready, as snaking a drain can be messy. You will want safety glasses to protect your eyes from any debris that may come out of the drain.
Put on a pair of gloves. You will be glad you have them on when things get messy.
Place towels down around the sink area to protect the counters, cabinet, floor, and faucet. Cover as much of the surrounding area as you can because this will save you on cleanup energy later.
Use the Snake
Turn off the garbage disposal. Make sure it is completely turned off and double-check to ensure that it is.
If anyone else is around, make sure they know not to turn on the garbage disposal for any reason while you are working.
First, remove any basket strainers or any obstructions blocking the drain, even if they are blocking the drain only partially. Insert the business end of the snake into the drain.
Turn the handle of the snake to push the coil forward and down into the drain. You will be moving the handle clockwise.
Hold the snake so that that coil will point downward, down into the pipe where the clog is located. Work carefully, moving the handle steadily but at a slow pace.
Find the Clog
Work slowly and precisely to send the snake down into the drain pipe, rotating the handle the entire time. When you feel resistance, you have located the clog.
Once you have found the clog, move the snake up and down and side to side in order to loosen and break up the clog. Keep moving the snake and try rotating it a few times to break up and push down the clog through the pipe.
You might need to use a little force here but do not be too aggressive. You don’t want to punch a hole through the pipe and give your drain line a leak in addition to the clog.
Removing the Clog
When the snake feels like it is moving more freely, turn the handle to bring it back up. Do this slowly because debris from the clog will come out of the drain with the snake.
When the snake is out of the drain, turn on the water as high and as hot as it will go to flush the drain and check to see that the clog is gone. When the water runs freely, you have unclogged the drain.
Clean off the snake and clean out the sink, then check the drain again to make sure water is flowing down it. The hot water will help push remaining clog debris out of the drain line, so run this for a few minutes even if the water is draining freely.
Dealing With a Tough Clog
If snaking the drain this way does not work, you could have a particularly tough clog or the clog could be farther down the drain line.
There is another way to access the drain line that will allow you to reach farther down the drain. Go beneath the sink to locate the P-trap, the curvy part of the pipe right underneath the sink.
Place a bucket right under this section of pipe and use channel locks, also known as channel pliers, to remove this section of pipe, which is known as the P-trap.
Water will probably come out of the pipe when you remove it. Don't be surprised if food waste is trapped in here as well.
Dump the pipe out in the bucket and place the pipe to the side. Now, you can place the snake directly into the pipe.
Repeat the same technique as before to push the snake coil into the drain pipe and attempt to locate and break up the clog from here. If a 20-foot snake is not finding the clog, the clog is located farther down the line and you will need a professional plumber to remove it.
If you can find the clog and break it up this way, rinse the P-trap out thoroughly. A wire brush can be used to clean the inside of the trap effectively.
Flush the P-trap with water and then re-install it. Now, flush out the drain line with water and check to see if the clog is gone.
Other Ways to Clean the Drain
If you can't access a snake or the snake just isn't getting the job done, there are some other DIY methods you can try to remove a clog.
Pour about a box of baking soda down the garbage disposal. Baking soda is not incredibly expensive and if nothing else, you can make your drain smell a little better by doing this.
Pour two cups of vinegar down the drain. The combination of baking soda and vinegar creates a fizzy cleaning solution that will deodorize the drain and help to break up clogs.
The combination of the acid in the vinegar and the bubbling chemical reaction with the baking soda can sometimes remove clogs naturally.
Don't use the drain for about 20 minutes while this combination of baking soda and vinegar works together. Once this amount of time has elapsed, run water in the drain to flush the baking soda and vinegar solution and to see if the cog is now gone.
You may be tempted to try another liquid drain cleaner that is available over the counter...but don't.
Liquid drain clears are more powerful formulas that dissolve clogs. But they can also eat holes in some pipes, which leads to much bigger problems.
Plumbers and homeowners alike use plungers to address clogs. To use one, cover the drain completely with the plunger and press down to create a firm seal around the drain.
Run the faucet to get a little water in the sink, enough to cover the bottom lip of the plunger.
Somewhat vigorously, push the plunger up and down. Put some real oomph into it and move as aggressively and quickly as you can.
The idea is that the suction created by the plunger will force the clog to dislodge and plungers are made of rubber, so it is okay to be aggressive. You will not do damage to your sink or drain this way, so have at it.
This job can get quite dirty, as the clog may come up into the sink instead of going down, so be ready for that. Either way, the goal is to remove the clog so it's okay if things get a bit messy.
Preventing Garbage Disposal Clogs
Garbage disposals should not be treated as though they can handle anything. Lots of food waste items can create clogs, so it's important to know what you can put down a disposal and what you can't.
Grainy food scraps, like coffee grounds and eggshells, clog up garbage disposals. Potato and banana peels, which seem like something any garbage disposal should be able to handle, can actually create a paste-like substance that causes clogs.
Don't put very hard items down the disposal, either. Bones, ice cubes, corn cobs, and similar hard food scraps should not be put down your drain.
Stringy foods, including pasta, celery, and asparagus, can also clog up the disposal drain.
Remember to put only food waste down the disposal. Waste from plants, for example, does not belong here and can cause drain problems.
Snaking Out a Garbage Disposal Drain
Snaking out drains can be messy but it can save you a lot of money because if you can dislodge the clog and get the drain flowing smoothly again, you can avoid calling a plumber. Every homeowner should learn how to use a snake because clogs are going to happen and this is the most effective tool for getting those drains clean again.
Clogged Garbage Disposal Drain FAQ
How do you unclog a garbage disposal that won't drain?
If you have a garbage disposal drain that is clogged and not draining, you have some options for clearing the clog. A simple mixture of baking soda and vinegar could eat away at the clog.
Plumbers' tools, such as a plunger and a snake drain, are also highly effective at removing clogs. Try these methods first, as you will resolve most clogs this way.
What's the best thing to use to unclog a garbage disposal?
A plumber's snake is often the most effective tool for removing clogs, even when they are deep in the drain line.
Can you plunge a clogged garbage disposal?
Plungers can be used to unclog sink drains, even garbage disposal drains. However, make sure you are using a sink plunger and not a toilet plunger.
Both items are widely available and incredibly common household items, but sink plungers are smaller and designed to fit over the standard drain size found most commonly in sinks. Toilet plungers are larger and more difficult to manage from the angle you will be working at when addressing a sink clog.
Why is my garbage disposal backing up into my kitchen sink?
When a drain line is clogged, the water going into the drain line has nowhere to go. It ends up backing up and sometimes, the excess water may be pushed out into the second sink in a double-sink configuration.
This happens because the water is not draining down the line properly, and it almost always indicates that a clog is blocking the pipe.
Why does my garbage disposal run but not drain?
The garbage disposal can turn on and engage even if there is a blockage that is preventing the water from draining, because the clog is down in the drain pipe and not inside the disposal itself. You can still snake out the clog by going through the garbage disposal right into the drain pipe.
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