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Troubleshooting a Garbage Disposal Backing Up in Your Sink


A garbage disposal unit is a handy kitchen appliance designed to shred food scraps into small particles and send them down the drain. However, if your garbage disposal backs up in the sink, it can be a frustrating and messy issue to deal with. In this article, our licensed plumbers at Orange County Plumbing Heating & Air Conditioning discuss common causes of garbage disposal backups in the sink and steps to troubleshooting and fixing the problem.

Causes of Garbage Disposal Backups

  1. Clogs in the Drain Line: One of the most common reasons for a garbage disposal backup is a clog in the drain line. Over time, food particles, grease, and debris can accumulate in the pipes, obstructing the flow of water and causing backups.
  2. Insufficient Water Flow: Proper water flow is essential for the garbage disposal to work effectively. If you don’t run enough water while using the disposal, food particles may not be adequately flushed down the drain, leading to backups.
  3. Wrong Food Items: Garbage disposals are designed to handle certain types of food waste. Hard items like bones, fruit pits, and hard shells can damage the disposal and cause clogs.
  4. Improper Usage: Some people misuse garbage disposals by overloading them with too much food at once or by putting in non-food items like utensils or plastics, which can jam the disposal and lead to backups.

Troubleshooting Steps

If your garbage disposal is backing up in the sink, follow these troubleshooting steps to identify and resolve the issue:

  1. Turn Off the Disposal: Before attempting any troubleshooting, turn off the garbage disposal and unplug it or switch off the circuit breaker to ensure your safety.
  2. Check for Visible Blockages: Inspect the sink drain and disposal chamber for any visible blockages. Use a flashlight to look down the disposal and remove any foreign objects or large food particles that you can reach safely. Always use tongs or pliers, never your hands.
  3. Clear the Drain Line: If you suspect a clog in the drain line, you can try to clear it using a plunger or a drain snake. Create a tight seal with the plunger over the sink drain and plunge vigorously. If this doesn’t work, consider using a drain snake to reach deeper into the pipes and break up the clog.
  4. Reset the Disposal: Most garbage disposals have a reset button on the bottom. After clearing any blockages, press this button to reset the disposal. It may have shut off due to overheating or overloading.
  5. Run Hot Water: After clearing blockages and resetting the disposal, run hot water down the drain for a few minutes. Hot water can help dissolve grease and wash away remaining debris.
  6. Use Ice Cubes: To help clean the blades and remove any remaining debris, you can drop a few ice cubes and some rock salt or vinegar into the disposal and run it for a minute.
  7. Check for Leaks: Sometimes, a backup in the sink can be due to a leak in the disposal or the drain line. Inspect the disposal unit for any signs of water leakage. If you find a leak, it may need professional repair or replacement.
  8. Consult a Professional: If you’ve tried the above steps and your garbage disposal continues to back up, or if you suspect a more complex issue like a malfunctioning motor or damaged blades, it’s advisable to consult a professional plumber or appliance technician. They have the expertise and tools to diagnose and fix the problem.

Preventive Measures

To avoid future backups in your garbage disposal, consider implementing the following preventive measures:

  1. Run cold water before, during, and after using the disposal to help flush food particles down the drain.
  2. Avoid putting hard or fibrous materials, such as bones, fruit pits, celery, and corn husks, into the disposal.
  3. Regularly clean your disposal by grinding ice cubes and citrus peels to help keep the blades clean and odor-free.
  4. Have a professional plumber perform routine maintenance and inspections to keep your garbage disposal in good working condition.


A garbage disposal backing up in the sink can be a frustrating issue, but with the right troubleshooting steps and preventive measures, you can often resolve the problem and prevent it from happening again. Remember to prioritise safety, and if the problem persists or seems complex, don’t hesitate to call professional help from Orange County Plumbing Heating & Air Conditioning to ensure the proper functioning of your garbage disposal.

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Orange County, Tustin, 92780 | (714) 400-2913