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My Garbage Disposal Is Spinning but Not Draining

a garbage disposal that is spinning but not draining

A garbage disposal is one of the most valuable conveniences in the modern kitchen. Mounted below the sink drain, the garbage disposal uses several blades that spin like propellers to grind solid food waste into bits. These small bits are washed away through a grey-water plumbing system.

The garbage disposal reduces waste odors and makes kitchen clean-up significantly quicker and easier.

Until it stops working, that is.

There are a number of reasons that a disposal might stop working. Luckily, most have simple fixes that a homeowner can troubleshoot themselves. More severe issues may require the help of a licensed professional, who can do so quickly and with minimal disturbance.

A garbage disposal that has stopped working will often prevent your sink from draining. And, unground matter in the unit can clog your system until it has been cleared.

Sometimes a garbage disposal will sound like it’s working properly (you can hear the blades spinning). But, the garbage disposal water is backed up and not draining, or draining very slowly. This is almost always an issue of impacted food waste clogging up the plumbing.

Typically, there are two reasons why this might happen. First, too much food is in the garbage disposal and it has caused a blockage. Second, something went down the garbage disposal that shouldn’t have.

a clogged kitchen sink

How To Unclog A Garbage Disposal

There is a popular “quick fix” for a disposal whose blades are spinning but aren’t draining. You can attempt to clean the unit by filling the disposal with ice cubes and then turning it on. Let the unit run until the ice is completely ground up. You’ll be able to hear the change in the sound of the blades as they return to their normal spinning.

Grinding the ice cubes can clean the blades, and the broken ice works to dislodge anything that may be stuck.

Often, this simple trick is all it takes to clear the system and allow your sink to drain normally again. If not, you may need to get a little more “hands-on” with the clearing process. At this point, many homeowners opt to reach out to a specialist. A licensed professional will be able to efficiently clear any blockages and get your disposal running.

Make sure that all power to the disposal unit is off before trying the following steps:

  • Remove any solid waste from the sink, drain and disposal chamber with tongs and dispose of it in the trash. Solids can further plug the system in the next step, making the problem worse.
  • Leave a couple of inches of liquid in the sink and, using moderate pressure, plunge the drain with a suction plunger. Be sure the plunger is completely covering the drain to maintain sufficient suction. This may dislodge the clog, allowing the sink to drain. If so, reach in and remove any solids again, before turning the unit back on.
  • Use a flashlight to check the disposal chamber for foreign objects that may be preventing the unit from turning. Pieces of bones, broken dishes or cutlery are often the culprit. Remove any items using a pair of pliers if necessary.
  • If the sink will still not drain, remove any cleaning supplies or stored items from under the sink. Then, place a bucket beneath the disposal unit to catch the grey water remaining in the sink. Unscrew the discharge from the unit, remove the disposal drain trap, and pull out the drain line over the bucket to check it for blockages.
  • If the drain line is plugged, use a plumber’s auger or a short plumbing snake to clear the blockage. If the drain line is clear, the blockage is likely to be in the sink plumbing itself, or even further down the line.
  • Reassemble all of the parts, resume power to the disposal, and test the unit by running cold water and turning it on. If water flows normally, without backing up into the sink, you fixed it!

If these steps don’t resolve the problem, it’s probably not your garbage disposal that’s causing the problem. Instead, you likely have a blockage further down your drainage system. If this is the case you should consider calling a professional plumber to deal with your plumbing problem.

a kitchen sink

What NOT to Put in a Garbage Disposal

Let’s face it…the convenience of a garbage disposal unit can cause a false sense of security in homeowners. It may seem like you can stuff anything you want down the drain and the magic disposal just makes it disappear.

Unfortunately, this is simply not the case.

Here a are few of the things you shouldn’t use a garbage disposal for and that commonly lead to blockages or even burned-out units.

Coffee Grounds

Coffee grounds turn into a thick sludge in the disposal “gluing” other wastes into solid chunks. These grounds are a major cause of backups and blockages in disposals. Toss your java sludge into the compost bin, or use them in your garden, and protect your pipes.

Grease and Fats

Another major cause of drainage problems is liquid fats and grease. Fats and grease turn solid when they hit cold pipes and trap other food materials to cause clogs.


For many years, folks believed that you could throw eggshells in the garbage disposal and that they were actually good for the garbage disposal. They believed eggshells helped to clear clogs and even sharpen the blades. This turns out to be a myth, and the shell particles themselves are neither helpful, nor particularly harmful to your disposal.

The thin, sticky membrane that lines the inside of an eggshell, however, is another story. This gluey lining can get wrapped around the disposal blades. Also, they can clog up the unit’s impeller where it can collect other particulates until a clog forms.

Like coffee grounds, save your eggshells for the compost bin or the garden. Your plants will love the additional calcium!

Potato Peelings

Because of their high starch content and fibrous skin, potato peels form a slimy glue-like mush when ground up. This thick goop can plug drainage systems and even freeze up moving parts in the disposal system.

Solid Bits and Bones

Animal bones, seafood shells, nutshells, fruit pits and other hard or solid scraps of food can damage the blades of your disposal and jam moving parts of the disposal mechanism.

Dry Food that Swells

Dry foods that expand on contact with water are a no-no for garbage disposals. Water-clogging blockages are almost inevitable when foods like rice, beans, or pasta get stuck in the system dry and then expand as they absorb moisture.

Worse, when they reach the lower parts of your home’s drainage system, swelling and causing future blockages there, the results can be much more damaging.

Broken Glass or Metal

Plates, glasses and other breakables sometimes don’t survive the handwashing process. It happens to the best of us. However convenient it may seem at the time, never try to run even the smallest of these broken fragments through your garbage disposal system. They can cause serious damage to the blades and other components and can jam moving parts.

Follow the steps for cleaning out the disposal (above), and be sure to wear heavy gloves to protect your hands from cuts and scratches when retrieving shards of glass or metal from the disposal.

On the other hand, countless types of softer foods are perfectly acceptable for the garbage disposal. This is what makes it such a valuable kitchen companion.

For the health of your disposal system, remember to run cold water whenever using it. Additionally, let the water run for 10 to 15 seconds after using the disposal. This will make sure that all solids get carried out of the unit and through your waste-water system.

This helps prevent clogs (both immediate and in the future) and helps minimize bacteria-feeding wastes and bad smells that can accumulate in your disposal and drain.

Though there are some home remedies for simple issues, a garbage disposal is a complicated piece of machinery, and your waste-water system is even more so.

If you’re not 100% confident that you can resolve drainage or disposal issues yourself (and not just make them worse), save yourself the time, money, and aggravation of complicated and costly repairs by contacting someone who can fix your garbage disposal quickly and effectively!

ABC Can Get Your Garbage Disposal Working Again

A garbage disposal that isn’t working can cause huge disruptions in your life. Instead of prolonging the issue by trying to fix it yourself, contact ABC Home & Commercial Services. Our licensed pros will efficiently locate the issue and then get to work on making all garbage disposal repairs.

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