A garbage disposal is a very convenient kitchen appliance but does require some maintenance because it can get clogged or obstructed. If there is something stuck in the garbage disposal, like a penny, ring, or utensil, or if it becomes clogged for other reasons, you need to be able to safely remove the obstruction.
If you have dropped something down your garbage disposal, it may not be lost forever. However, you will need to be very careful as you try to retrieve it.
What is the Safest Way to Get Something from a Garbage Disposal?
There’s no one-size-fits-all solution for retrieving items stuck in your garbage disposal. It all depends on the nature of the item, the part it got stuck in and the tools available.
The first rule of working with garbage disposals is to never — under any circumstance — put your hand into the garbage disposal. Call a professional plumber if the item is of great worth as you do not want to risk damaging it.
But you don’t have to spend extra dollars on every other item. Here are some do-it-yourself tricks to enable you to get almost anything that falls into your garbage disposal.
1. Turn The Power Off
The first step is to shut off the power to the garbage disposal. The switch will be located under the cabinet, near the disposal, or on a wall nearby. If you cannot find the switch, unplug the disposal unit.
If there is no plug and no switch, as is the case with some older models, then go to your fuse box and turn off the circuit breaker that includes the garbage disposal. Ensure that the power is switched off. Forgetting to switch off the power is one of the worst mistakes to make.
2. Reach Into The Drain Opening
In some cases, you can retrieve a fallen item through the drain’s opening, eliminating the need to take apart the plumbing below your sink. First, if the drain has a stopper, you’ll have to remove it so that it won’t get in the way. Next, you’ll need to pick a tool with which to pluck or fish out the fallen object.
Use a Magnet
Before you proceed with this trick, make sure you are dealing with metallic items only, or else you’ll be fishing around your disposal for days. To retrieve that ring, tie a long piece of string around a heavy-duty magnet and slowly lower it into the garbage disposal. Use those fishing skills and wiggle the magnet around a bit.
You can also use a telescoping magnet, which is essentially a wand you can extend with a magnet at one end. You can also tie a magnet to some string or a thin rod and fish inside the drain with that. Lower the magnet into the drain, and pull it back up slowly so that it has a better chance of attracting the object.
Important Tip: pure gold and silver are not magnetic, but if the jewelry is only plated in gold or silver, the magnet trick still might work on the metal underneath the plating.
Use A Grabber Tool
To get better reach inside the drain than in the previous method, you may need to use a four-pronged pick-up tool. This tool is made of a flexible, wound-metal cable with a handle at one end and four retractable claws on the other.
Because it’s bendable, you can work this tool farther down the drain than a telescoping magnet, and you can use the claws to grab onto your lost item. You can also use this device to clear clogs caused by hair.
Use A Kitchen Utensil
Because you should never put your hand in the garbage disposal, you will need a few tools to help you dislodge the item. Put a battery-powered headlamp around your forehead and turn it on.
If you do not have one of these, ask an assistant to hold a flashlight over the disposal. Point the beam into the disposal to see if you can find the item.
Should you see anything, try to retrieve it with tongs, wooden spoons or another long kitchen utensil. Whatever you do, avoid sticking your hand down there – it’s sharp!
3. Check The P-Trap
If the magnet trick didn’t work and you aren’t able to locate your missing artifact by looking down the disposal with a flashlight, chances are it made its way to the P-trap.
Have you ever looked underneath your kitchen or bathroom sink and noticed a pipe that curves like the letter P? This is known as a P-trap, an area in your plumbing with a permanent pool of standing water that prevents sewer gases and waste from backing up into your drains. When you drop something small down a sink drain, there’s a big chance that the object will end up in the P-trap.
Retrieving an item from a P-trap requires some skills as well as tools. If you have any doubts about your ability to take apart a few pieces of the plumbing under your sink and reassemble them, contact a plumber for help.
Meanwhile, you can learn more about how to remove the P-trap from our guide on How to Disconnect a Garbage Disposal.
Here are some instructions:
- Place a bucket or another large container underneath the P-trap to avoid a mess and to catch whatever falls out of it.
- Locate the compression nut on both ends of the trap (the curved part of the piping that holds water).
- Loosen the nuts with caution.
- Gently lower the trap and let the water inside it spill into the bucket. Hopefully, at this point, your lost item will spill out with the water. If not, it might be caught in the muck that can build up inside of the trap.
- Clean the trap’s interior until you locate your lost item.
- Try not to overtighten the compression nuts while reattaching the trap to your piping.
4. Clear The Disposal
If you have metal stuck in the garbage disposal, you can attempt to disassemble and clear it. Remove the rubber drain funnel if there is one. Then, shine a flashlight down into the unit to see what is causing the issue.
If you see a foreign object or a clog, first try removing it with some long-nose pliers or long-handled tongs — again, do not put your hand in the disposal.
Even if you’re sure to power to the unit is off, the blades are sharp and can still cause injury. Wait 15 minutes for the engine to cool, turn the unit back on and attempt to use it with running water. If it’s still not working, the impeller (the blades that grind up the garbage) may be stuck.
To free the impeller blades, try dissolving the clog and using a plunger. To plunge the unit, again make sure the power is off first. Cover the entire opening of the garbage disposal with the plunger, then run a little water to be sure the edges of the plunger are covered and get good suction.
Plunge the unit several times, wait 15 minutes for the engine to cool, then try turning it on. If the unit is still not working, proceed to dissolve the built-up residue.
You can check our detailed guide on How To Unclog A Garbage Disposal to make the process more efficient.
What to Do If You Do Not Find Your Item
If you do not see your item in the garbage disposal, you will need to call a professional plumber, who will remove your garbage disposal system to retrieve the item. Do not try to do this yourself, as a garbage disposal system can be a complicated system to disassemble and reassemble.
However, our article on How to Disconnect a Garbage Disposal will walk you through the step-by-step process.
Never put your hand in the garbage disposal and know when it’s time to call a professional. If you lose something valuable down the disposal, like an heirloom ring, it’s a good idea to call a professional right away to avoid damaging the object. If you just need to get something out or unclog the unit, there are several things you can do on your own to retrieve lost objects and clear obstructions.