Should You Use Drain Cleaner in a Garbage Disposal?

Will a Drain Cleaner Hurt a Garbage Disposal?

A clogged garbage disposal is usually easy to unclog without using chemicals but most folks just crave the instant fix offered by chemical drain cleaners. Should you do that though?

Are drainers cleaners the best way to unclog garbage disposals? Or rather, will a drain cleaner hurt a garbage disposal when used to unclog it?

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While chemical drain cleaners are effective in breaking down clogs, they are not safe to use in a garbage disposal. Their active ingredient (sodium hydroxide) releases heat when it combines with water, which can damage the garbage disposal and drainpipes. They also produce harmful fumes when mixed with other chemicals like bleach or ammonia.

A garbage disposal is assembled used rubber seals which prevents it from leaking. The heat generated by chemical drain cleaners is enough to cause deterioration of the seals resulting in a garbage disposal leaking from the bottom.

You can get away with using a chemical drain cleaner once but you should not get in the habit of always using them. The heat generated will cause metal drainpipes to weaken and leak or deform plastic drainpipes.

Can You Use Drano is a Sink with a Garbage Disposal?

Drano is probably one of the well-known drain cleaners and it is quite effective in clearing clogs as well. Should you however use it in a sink with a garbage disposal?

Drano’s active ingredient is sodium hydroxide, also known as a caustic soda or lye. When combined with water, it releases heat which destroys a garbage disposal’s seals and drain line. It can also burn your skin or produce harmful fumes if combined with other chemicals like bleach.

One thing some people do is use a chemical drain cleaner like Drano and when it does not clear the clog they upgrade to a more powerful chemical like bleach. The sodium hydroxide present in the drain cleaner will react with the bleach and produce fumes that are toxic when inhaled.

In short, the long-term effects of using liquid drain cleaners in your garbage disposal and drain lines  will hurt your finances (and probably healthy) more than their satisfaction provided by their results.

The end does not justify the means.

So, how then should you unclog a garbage disposal? There are actually several ways you can do that.

Alternative Ways to Unclog a Garbage Disposal

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When you have a clogged garbage disposal, there are 2 things you first need to establish before picking the best method to unclog it.

  • Are the blades spinning?
  • If you have a double-bowl kitchen sink, is the other sink bowl clogged as well or it is just the side connected to the garbage disposal?

If the garbage disposal blades are not even spinning but it is humming, it is a sign that the garbage disposal is being supplied with power but the blades are jammed. On the other hand, if the blades are not spinning and the unit is not humming, it is not being powered.

When you have a double-bowl kitchen sink and only the one with a garbage disposal is clogged, it then means the clog is restricted to the garbage disposal and its drain hose/pipe.

If instead both the sinks are clogged, the problem is definitely with the drain line. It is important to remember both sink bowls use a single drain line with the 2 sinks connected using a tee.

The following are some of the best methods to unclog a garbage disposal:

1. Use the Garbage Disposal wrench

If your garbage disposal is not spinning but it is humming, you definitely are dealing with jammed blades.

The first thing to do here is to turn off or unplug the garbage disposal from the electrical outlet to avoid electrical shock. You should also never stick your hand inside the garbage disposal to avoid being injured by the blades.

If you look at the bottom of the garbage disposal, you will see a small opening in the middle. That is provided so that you can manually turn the blades.

Grab the Allen wrench that your garbage disposal came with (or any other Allen wrench so long as it is the right size) and start turning the blades with it. In the beginning it will be hard but it will ease after a few rotations.

You can now remove the Allen wrench and plug in the garbage disposal. Check if the clog is cleared.

2. Plunge It

A plunger can dislodge light clogs if used the right way. The first thing to do is to make sure you are using the right plunger and not a toilet plunger.

In order to plunge effectively, make sure you have some water inside the sink. The water should be enough to cover the plunger’s rubber cup.

Start by plunging gently to properly engage the plunger then plunge aggressively for about 2 minutes without lifting the plunger. Lift the plunge and check if the water is draining out on its own.

3. Try Baking Soda, Vinegar and Hot Water

Baking soda and vinegar will clear most clogs but most people rush for chemical drain cleaners since this solution takes a while to work while chemicals offer instant gratification. The good thing with baking soda and vinegar apart from being effective in clearing clogs is that they have no negative effects on the plumbing and are also septic-safe.

Vinegar and baking soda react very fast when mixed together in a fizzing reaction and it is in that process that they are able to break down clogs. 

For them to work however, you need to make sure that the sink has no standing water. Excess water in the sink will dilute the solution reducing its effectiveness.

  • Start by remove any standing water inside the sink as well as inside the garbage disposal. Hand towels will work very well here.
  • Pour 1 cup of baking soda inside the garbage disposal.
  • Follow it up slowly with 2 cups of baking soda.
  • Wait for about 15 minutes.
  • Dump about a gallon of boiling water inside the garbage disposal.

Check if the clog has cleared.

While baking soda and vinegar are effective in breaking down clogs, the hot water dissolves any remaining gunk (especially those caused by grease) and flushes everything else down the drain.

4. Remove and Clean the P-trap

If you look underneath your kitchen sink, you will notice that a section of the drain line is curved to form the letter ‘U’ or an inverted ‘P’. That is called a P-trap or a drain trap.

Its job is to hold a little amount of water at all times, which acts as a barrier preventing sewer gases from coming up into the house. Its shape also allows it to trap any potential drain clogs instead of clogging the drain line farther away.

If you have a clogged garbage disposal, there is a very big chance that the clog is actually in the P-trap or the tee joining the 2 sink bowls to a single trap. By removing and cleaning the P-trap you will have fixed the problem.

This is actually one of the easiest and fastest ways to clear a garbage disposal. You really don’t need a chemical drain cleaner to get the job done.

  • Start by removing all the stuff you have stored underneath you kitchen sink.
  • Next place a pan or bucket under the trap. This is to drain the water already inside the trap instead of spilling it on the floor.
  • Disconnect the P-trap. As you will notice, a P-trap has 2 connections; a long and a short leg. Start by disconnecting the short leg so that the water can flow out via gravity. In most of the time, the connections are hand tight and you won’t need a wrench. Only use a wrench if the connections are too tight.
  • Check if the P-trap is clogged as well as the tee connection to the garbage disposal. If the tee is clogged as well, disconnect it too.

Note that some garbage disposals are connected to the drain line using a hose and a not a plastic pipe. You will need a screwdriver to disconnect the hose from the garbage disposal.

  • Clean the P-trap and tee and connect them back.
  • Before connecting them back, you can check if the drain line sticking from the wall is clogged too. If it is, a drain snake will help to clear it. Snaking a sink drain from here is way more effective that having to go through the trap.
  • Check if that fixes the problem.

How to Prevent a Garbage Disposal from Clogging

A garbage disposal is designed to grind food waste into tiny pieces that should easily flow through the drain lines and out into the sewer. Why then would it clog?

Garbage disposals clog when you put in something that you shouldn’t put in. Some of the waste you shouldn’t put in a garbage disposal are:

  • Pasta
  • Potato peels
  • Egg shells
  • Nuts
  • Coffee grounds
  • Celery
  • Bones
  • Fruit pits
  • Oatmeal
  • Pumpkin
  • Fibrous vegetable
  • Corn husks

Another thing you should avoid pouring in garbage disposal is grease. Grease is sticky and combines with other substances to clog not only your garbage disposal but also sewer line.

You should also have the cold water running when using the garbage disposals. As the food waste is spun and grinded inside the garbage disposal, the water creates a strong centrifugal force which forces it out and down the drain.

Something else you can do to prevent clogs and a smelly garbage disposal is to use baking soda and vinegar to clean it.  Do that about once a fortnight.

Also, fill the garbage with ice cubes and add a ¼ cup of rock salt. Run the garbage disposal with cold water until all the ice melts. The ice and salt scrapes the sides of the garbage disposal removing all food scraps and also sharpens the blades.

At the end, start the garbage disposal and throw in slices if lemon one at a time to leave it smelling fresh.

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