How to Unclog the Drain

It is an inevitable and frustrating fact of life that drains will get clogged. But before you call the plumber or run for that bottle of Draino, try these tips for unclogging your drain.

What You Will Need:

  • Rubber gloves
  • Tea Kettle
  • Baking Soda
  • White Vinegar
  • Old rag or towel
  • Rubber plunger
  • Screw driver
  • Bucket
  • Plumber’s Snake

Unclogging the Kitchen Sink

*If your kitchen sink has a garbage disposal, and you believe the clog is in the disposal, check the tips below for unclogging a garbage disposal.

  1. Wear rubber gloves as unclogging a sink can be a nasty process.
  2. If you have standing water in the sink, scoop it out into a bucket and dispose of it. Boil a kettle of plain water and slowly pour into the clogged drain.
  3. If the clog remains, baking soda and vinegar may do the trick. Scoop out any standing water (if the standing water is from the boiling water you poured in, let it cool first!) Pour ¼ cup of baking soda into the drain, followed by a cup of white vinegar. Plug the drain up with an old rag or towel and allow the baking soda/vinegar mix to work for about 15 to 20 minutes. While this is happening, boil more water in the kettle.
  4. Remove the towel and slowly pour the boiling water from the tea kettle into the drain.
  5. If the clog remains, try a rubber plunger. Fill the sink with about 1 inch of water, place the rubber cup of the plunger directly over the drain, making sure it is flush so a tight seal forms (note: you may have to stand on a chair or step stool to position the plunger properly).
  6. With quick, jabbing motions, push the handle of the plunger up and down about 10-20 times. The plunger should be sealed tightly around the drain so that the plunger itself doesn’t move, but the rubber cup goes up and down, forming a suction on the drain.
  7. If clog remains, try a plumbers snake.
  8. Place a bucket under the P-trap under your sink (the P-trap is the curved part of the pipe leading from the drain—like an elbow).
  9. With the screwdriver (or whatever other tool is needed for your particular P-trap), remove the P-trap. Be careful as whatever standing water you have in the sink and the pipes will spill out. This is why you have the bucket in place.
  10. Look up into the pipe leading to the sink, and if there is any clog in there, dislodge it.
  11. Look in to the P-trap, and if there is a clog lodged in there, fish it out with either your hands or a wire coat hanger. If neither of those pipes are clogged, then your clog is probably further down.
  12. Insert the plumber’s snake into the pipe that goes into your wall. Once you hit resistance, you’ll know you’ve found the found the clog. Tighten down the nut at the base of the snake, and start twisting, pulling the snake in and out a bit as you do to help dislodge the clog. When the snake moves without resistance, you’ll k now the clog is gone.
  13. Reattach the P –trap, and run the water to make sure the clog gets flushed through.
  14. If the drain remains clogged or slow running, it may be time to call your plumber.

WE DO NOT recommend using harsh chemical drain cleaners (i.e. Liquid Plumber, Draino, etc.) on the kitchen sink. These products are extremely corrosive and toxic and residual chemicals can pose a serious danger.

Unclogging the Bathroom Sink

  1. Most bathroom sinks have a drain stopper that needs to be removed before you can tackle the clog.
  2. Once you removed the drain stopper, wipe it down with an old rag or cloth.
  3. Follow Steps 2 through 14 listed above for unclogging a kitchen sink.
  4. As a last resort, if none of these other methods worked, you may want to try a chemical drain cleaner such as Liquid Plumber or Draino. NOTE: These chemicals are very harsh and corrosive. Always exercise caution when using any of these products, and make sure to follow all directions carefully!

Unclogging a Bathtub or Shower Drain

  1. Clogs to your bathtub or shower drain can be the most difficult to remove.
  2. Remove your tub stopper (if you have one) and wipe it down.
  3. Wearing rubber gloves clear any visible material from the mouth of the drain.
  4. Try clearing the clog following Steps 2, 3 and 4 listed above for unclogging your kitchen sink.
  5. If a clog remains, try a plunger. Fill the tub or shower with about ½ inch of water, place the rubber cup of the plunger directly over the drain, making sure it is flush so a tight seal forms. With quick, jabbing motions, push the handle of the plunger up and down vigorously about 10-20 times. The plunger should be sealed tightly around the drain so that the plunger itself doesn’t move, but the rubber cup goes up and down, forming a suction on the drain that will hopefully help to dislodge the clog.
  6. If the water still does not drain, try a plumber’s snake. If you are working with a tub drain, some disassembly is necessary before you can do this.
  7. If you are working on a tub drain, remove the lift assembly (the attachment that makes your water flow switch from tub faucet to shower head). To do this, typically you must remove the screws on the overflow plate and pull it way, then pull the interior lift mechanism through the overflow opening.
  8. Place the snake through the overflow opening (it is too difficult to go through the main drain because of the curve of the tub pipes). Once you hit resistance, you may have found the clog. Tighten down the nut at the base of the snake, and start twisting the snake, pulling it in and out a bit as you do. When the snake moves without resistance, you’ll know the clog is gone. If the clog does not dislodge, it may be in the trap underneath your tub. This can be very difficult to access and fix yourself, especially if your tub or shower is located on the second floor (first floor tub traps may be accessed through a basement or crawl space). At this point, it may be best to contact a plumber.

It is NOT generally recommended that you use chemical drain cleaners on a tub or shower because of the risk of toxic backup.

Unclogging a Garbage Disposal

What You Will Need:

  • Allen wrench (or similar tool that came with garbage disposal)
  • Tongs
  • Long-handled wooden spoon
  • Flashlight

The Unclogging Process:

  1. If your garbage disposal makes no noise at all when you turn it on, it may not be clogged, it may just need to be reset. Under the sink, on the base of the disposal, you should find a small button (usually red) which needs to be pressed to reset the disposal. It’s dark under the sink, so you may need a flashlight to find it.
  2. If the garbage disposal works but is clogged (humming noise), first unplug the disposal or turn it off using the circuit breaker. In either event, there should be NO POWER going to your disposal while you are working on it. Again, if this knocks off power to your kitchen, use your flashlight to finish the unclogging job.
  3. Using tongs, remove loose debris from your garbage disposal.
  4. Underneath the sink, using the allen wrench (or the tool that came with your disposal), loosen the nut on the bottom of the disposal base.
  5. Using the handle of the wooden spoon, rotate the blades of the disposal counter-clockwise. This should finish dislodging any stuck items.
  6. Tighten the nut again on the bottom of the disposal base.
  7. Plug the disposal back in or turn the power back on and with water running, turn on the disposal—it should be working fine. If it is not, there may be a problem with the disposal itself, and you should contact an appliance maintenance or repairman.

Additional Tips and Advice

  • NEVER use a plunger on a drain after you have applied any liquid drain cleaner, for at least 24 hours.
  • Wipe out your sink, shower and tub after each use to help prevent clogs.
  • NEVER remove the P-trap if you have poured liquid drain cleaner into your pipes—most drain cleaners are very corrosive and if they leak onto your flooring, clothing, or skin, they will cause serious problems and injuries.
  • NEVER place your unprotected hand into a garbage disposal, even if the power is turned off—the blades are still very sharp and can cause serious injury.

Comments

  1. Richard, Gassville, AR says:

    For a shower drain, the cause is no doubt – HAIR! There is a commercial tool in the plumbing department of large hardware stores, sometimes under a name of “Drain Ripper.” This is a length of about 1/2 inch wide plastic about 30 inches long and looks like a double-sided rip saw (one can be made in a pinch by cutting notches in plastic stripping from boxes).

    Put on vinyl gloves and then run the Drain Ripper down the drain, give it a couple turns and remove. Remove the glob of hair and dispose or/and then try again. Flush the drain and dispose of the Drain Ripper.

  2. Mike says:

    Kitchen drains are often clogged with pasta or rice. If these products were recently poured down the drain, DO NOT USE HOT WATER. Hot water causes these products to swell, clogging the drain even more. Get a garbage disposal. Fill that sink with cold water, plug the second sink tightly and hold the plug down with your hand with sink half filled with water. Turn on the garbage disposal & remove the disposal sink drain plug. This might force clog down the line. Drain lines are usually 11/2 inch or 2 inch in the sinks & 3 inch outside the house to the street. The clog either has to be cleared inside or pushed into the larger pipe & washed away. Doesn’t work, follow plunger or drain snake procedures.

  3. Nic says:

    The drain for the kitchen sink was clogged “down stream” of the Y-joint connecting the two halves of the double sink. Water would drain very slowly, but the water from the dish washer had partially filled both halves of the sink. I did the baking soda/vinegar mix action a few times in each drain. I used one box of baking soda and about a half gallon of vinegar. During the 20 minute wait, I boiled about two gallons of water. That water drained slowly so I boiled more water and that second dose of water did the trick. Thanks for the help. You saved me the cost of a plumber.

  4. Annie says:

    Tub/Shower won’t drain so I purchased a throwaway snake to use, assuming hair and “gunk” was the culprit. The problem was that the snake would only go into the shower drain for a couple of inches. There was some sort of change in direction or trap or something. Your advice to remove the lift assembly and go through there was perfect!! I’d never have guessed to do that, but this unhandy 57-year-old with naught but the disposable snake and a screwdriver was able to open the drain and save $185. Thanks for the excellent advice. I like the feeling I have when I can accomplish these “simple” tasks by myself. THANK YOU! None of the other sites on the net even mentioned unscrewing the lift assembly, pure genius!

  5. Doreen says:

    Bought yam noodles in the store and some slipped down the drain and clogged it.

    Tried a plunger; didn’t do much, just made a mess.

    Tried Drainol; didn’t do much, just made a stinky mess.

    Tried taking apart the J trap and running a stiff wire up through it. Ugghh, slimy black sludge, but it didn’t work.

    Put more drainal in and am going to let it sit overnight. Any other suggestions?

  6. Tracey says:

    Thank you so very much. As a single woman, I wasn’t sure where to start. My kitchen drain was plugged and I couldn’t figure out how to work the plumbers snake. I ended up filling one sink with cold water while holding the plug in the other sink. I flipped on the disposal and it worked!

  7. Anne says:

    My waste disposal works, but the water will not go down. The other sink is not blocked, so I presume it’s in the wall. We took the trap off and just the water came out, nothing else. I presume this is in the wall? Can anyone help? Thanks.

  8. Drain Cleaning says:

    Nice article and great advice; when all else fails, a drain snake always works!

  9. Carolyn says:

    We have a septic tank. The drain is stopped in the kitchen…should we use the same methods?

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