Plumbing systems clog — all of them. It’s a fact of life. But a clogged tub, sink, or toilet doesn’t have to mean an expensive call to a plumber. In fact, most of you already have everything you need to handle almost any clog you could come across — without disassembling any plumbing. Here’s how it works:
Step 1: Plunge
Think your plunger is for your toilet only? Don’t let’s be ridiculous. If your kitchen or bathroom sink or even your tub is clogged:
- Let the water run long enough to completely cover the lowest inch of the plunger,
- Cover any other holes (the other drain of a two-bowl sink, the overflow holes of your bathroom sink or bathtub, and so on) by stuffing a wet range into them, and
- Plunge with abandon.
This simple trick will clear up 90% of apartment plumbing clogs. The only potential problem is if your bathtub or bathroom sink is curved up too much in the immediate vicinity of the drain, a plunger might not be able to make a seal against the porcelain.
Step 2: Augur
This gets a bit more tricky, but can still be done with household items. If the plunger isn’t moving the clog, grab a wire hanger. Undo the wire hanger and straighten it out. Then take the end with the twisty-twisty bit (not the hook), and bend the last inch or so sharply back toward the main body, forming a barb.
- Stick that barb down the drain.
- Keep feeding the hangar down until you reach resistance.
- Grab the hangar by the shaft with one hand and the hook with the other, and use the hook to gently twist the hangar while you keep poking at the clog. You should find that at some point you either break through, or hook something.
If you break through, poke several more times and try to bust up as much of the clog as you can. If you hook something, gently attempt to pull it back out of the drain. (Be prepared with a bucket or something similar, because the clog will almost certainly be composed of something wet, gross, and probably full of hair.)
Step 3: Fizz
Drano is both expensive and highly toxic — but you have the alternatives in your kitchen already. Just like a middle school science fair, you’ll be playing with baking soda and vinegar! For a drain:
- Carefully pour about a half-cup of baking soda into the clogged drain.
- Then pour about a half-cup of vinegar after it.
- If applicable (i.e. not a toilet), block up the drain so that the foaming action forces the fizz into the clog rather than away from it.
- Repeat the last two steps with the other half of the vinegar 2 minutes later.
- Allow to sit for 15 minutes
- Pour a teapot or saucepan full of boiling water down the drain.
- Wait 15 more minutes. If the drain is still clogged, try again up to 4 rounds.
If you’re dealing with a toilet, instead:
- Pour an entire cup of baking soda into the water.
- Then pour two entire cups of vinegar into the water.
- Then pour a teapot or saucepan of boiling water into the water.
- Wait about half an hour.
- Normally, you’ll find the toilet has drained — if not, try a plunger. If that still doesn’t work, add another 1-and-2 cups of baking soda and vinegar and wait another 30.
Don’t pour Drano after vinegar. It’s not as dangerous as Drano and bleach, which will kill you dead, but it does form some nasty gasses that are not healthy to breathe. This means that you will, sadly, have to call a plumber if none of these work — but done correctly, that should be a vanishingly small part of the time.
How to fix a clogged drain
Typically, clogged drains are the result of a foreign object or debris getting stuck in a drain pipe, or built-up residue that makes it impassable. Sometimes, the challenge is how to unclog a drain with standing water. If you didn’t catch the clog fast enough and water has backed up, it could make for a messy situation.
Drain cleaner. Often a sink clog can be remedied with drain cleaner, which is available at your local hardware or home improvement store. If you think that the clog isn’t too bad, you could also try vinegar and baking soda. If you prefer the non-chemical approach, try pouring some vinegar down the drain, and then follow it with baking soda. The combination will cause a fizzing reaction (that looks like carbonation) that can be effective for minimal sink clogs.
Plunging. A plunger can be a quick solution when fixing clogged sink pipes. This takes some patience and a little practice. There are mini-plungers designed for a clogged bathtub drain, shower or sink, that might work better than a standard toilet-sized model.
Snaking. A drain snake is a very simple tool that can be used to dislodge a clog. It’s a small piece of plastic that can be inserted into the drain, and it has little “teeth” on the sides to provide resistance against hair that could be built up and causing the clog. You can view a video from This Old House to see one technique for snaking your drain.
Preventing a clogged drain
As they say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and the same applies when dealing with a clogged drain. Even if you’ve become a pro at fixing the situation, you’d much rather not have the clogs at all.
- In the kitchen, take care when disposing of grease and oil in the sink. Find alternate methods when possible, and when you must dump small amounts of grease down the drain, always run hot water.
- Keep your garbage disposal clean, and always run water when using it. In a sink without a disposal, use a strainer to catch pieces of food and debris to place in the trash.
- In the bathroom, use a drain cover or strainer to catch as much hair as is possible. Clean the visible areas of drain openings frequently when you see debris has begun to collect.
Most of us can’t repair every issue that arises in our homes, but if you can learn how to unclog a kitchen drain or clogged bathroom sink, for example, you could save yourself some money and the headaches finding a reliable professional for the job. We’d also like to hear about your DIY experiences in the comments below. What tips or tricks can you share that worked for you?
Pop-Up Type Bathtub Drain
Probably the worst type of drain for catching hair is the pop-up style of drain stopper. There is nothing to stop the hair from leaving the tub and getting into the drain and there is lots of stuff in the drain for it to catch on. The first thing to do is grab hold of the pop-up stopper and lift it out of the drain. It is hinged and bends at the hinges to allow removal and reinsertion into the drain. After removing the pop-up take the 2 screws out of the overflow plate and lever up high on the side of the tub under the spout. With some wiggling and pulling the plate and its attached linkage should pull out of the overflow tube. On the bottom of the linkage there is a wire shaped like a spring and it is almost certain that there will be a large amount of hair wrapped on this. Using the hooked wire or, the mechanics parts retriever, check to see if you can remove any more hair caught in the tub shoe which runs from the tub drain to the tee. Then check down the overflow to the p-trap below. Once you are certain all the hair has been removed reinsert the pop-up stopper into position. It should go in and land in the closed position. After the pop-up stopper is in place reinsert the linkage into the overflow and screw the plate and lever back into position.
Grid Type Bathtub Drain
The grid type bathtub drain is probably the least likely bathtub drain to have a clog. The grid stops a large amount of the hair from going down the drain keeping it right on top of the grid where it can be picked up after using the tub. Some hair may make it through the grid where it then usually accumulates on the screw that secures the grid in place and on the crossbars that the screw threads into. Simply remove the screw securing the grid in place and clean the hair from the cross bars and screw using needle nose pliers, the hooked wire, or, the mechanics parts retriever. Also take the 2 screws out of the overflow plate and lever up high on the side of the tub under the spout. With some wiggling and pulling the plate and its attached linkage should pull out of the overflow tube. On the bottom of the linkage is a barrel shaped piece, this barrel is what blocks the flow of water coming out of the tub. Seldom is this barrel shaped piece a problem but clean it if needed. While the overflow is open check the drain down through the overflow to the p-trap using the hook shaped wire or the mechanics parts retriever to see if there is any hair that is further down in the drain. Once you are certain all the hair that was in the drain has been removed reinstall the parts you have removed back into place.
Lift and Turn, Toe Tap, and Flip Lever Bathtub Drains
The lift and turn, toe tap, and flip lever bathtub drains are just about as notorious for being hair catchers as the pop-up type. Once again there is nothing to stop the hair from leaving the tub. Just like the drains above the stopper will need to be removed to clean the hair out from the drain. With lift and turn drains they are removed by either partially closing the stopper and turning it to unscrew the drain or, removing the knurled knob from the top of the stopper and then unscrewing the screw underneath. Toe tap stoppers remove by just gripping the stopper and unscrewing it. Flip lever stoppers are usually just a push in friction fit device so pulling them out is usually a matter of pulling along with some twisting and rocking. Once the stopper has been removed the hair will be usually caught on the crossbar underneath the stopper where it can be removed with needle nose pliers, the hook shaped wire or, the mechanics parts retriever. Also take the 1 or 2 screws out of the overflow plate and lever up high on the side of the tub under the spout and remove the plate. Check down the overflow tube to the p-trap using the hook shaped wire or, mechanics parts retriever to see if there is any hair further in the drain. Once you are certain all the hair has been removed reattach the overflow plate and stopper back on place.
Cable Controlled Bathtub Drains (Not Pictured)
These drains have a lot of variables as to how they disassemble, but, in most cases the pop-up will just lift out of place. Underneath the stopper there will be a grid with a guide for the stopper and some type of linkage that lowers or raises the pop-up. Lift the stopper out and remove the hair using needle nose pliers, the hook shaped wire or, mechanics parts retriever. Methods used to get into the overflow to remove hair from further in the drain will vary depending on the manufacturer and I would recommend consulting the manufacturer’s instructions to avoid breaking anything.
How To Clear A Clog
Most slow or stopped drains can be easily fixed with DIY methods, so no expensive plumber is usually necessary. You could easily spend over $100 to have a professional come out and do it for you, but you could also attempt to do it yourself using one of the methods listed below.
- Snake It Out. One of the most effective ways to clear a bathtub drain clogged with hair, is to reach in and pull it out. It’s pretty gross to look at and touch, and it can stink pretty bad if it’s been in there a while, but when you remove it with a tool designed for the job, you can be pretty sure that water will flow will be back to normal when you finish. There are several tools available to do the job, but they’re all basically just long skinny things with some sort of hook or catch at the end. To use it, you need to remove the strainer that covers your drain, and then insert the drain snake all-the-way. Once you feel the blockage, you pull it back out to collect the accumulated debris. Most will come out with the first attempt, but you may need to repeat the process in order to eliminate the clog completely. Be sure that you push it in far enough because the curved part(trap) of the pipes may feel like the problem, but it can often occur past the trap.
- Burn It Out. Chemical drain treatments are a favorite of many because they’re so easy to use, but they’re also quite dangerous, and not exactly fool-proof. In most cases, enough of the toxic liquid will burn through and dissolve the stuff stuck in your drain, but in other cases, it will just be a waste of money while it makes the air in your bathroom difficult to breathe. To use it, make sure you read the directions for the specific product you’re using because they all vary a little. The basic usage instructions will always require you to pour a certain amount down the drain, and then let it sit to do the work. Once the clog is dissolved, after about 15-30 minutes, flush the drain with water, and it should drain quickly.
- Bubble It Out. Baking soda and vinegar have proven to be a powerful combination for unclogging backed up drains, and it can be the perfect home remedy because most people have both ingredients on hand already. When the two substances react, they bubble and fizz, and this action works well to free stubborn debris and get the water flowing again. You’ll want to use equal parts baking soda and vinegar, and to try this method, simply add the baking soda down the drain, and then pour in the vinegar. You’ll be able to hear it bubbling to know it’s working, but just let it sit for several minutes to give it time to work. Once the job is done, flush with hot water to finish, and the water should travel down the drain quickly and efficiently.
- Plunge It Out. When liquid solutions won’t budge it, but pulling it out seems way too yucky, a toilet plunger can be your best friend. With tub drains it can be a little bit tricky, but with the right steps, you can use the pressure created by the plunger to force the clog down the drain. To make it work right, it’s important to cover the overflow drain holes that every tub has because if you don’t, you won’t get the right level of suction. You’ll also need to fill the tub with a couple inches of water if there isn’t already standing water in there. After covering the top holes and filling with water, position the plunger over the drain, and push straight down several times. It should be a little bit difficult to press on the plunger, but it should only take a few up-and-down motions to eliminate the most stubborn debris. Use a quick motion, and plunge about ten times before lifting up and checking your work. When successful, the drain should immediately begin draining as soon as you lift the plunger up off the drain.
- Sweat It Out. Many clogs are created by body oils and other greasy build-up. When this oily grime combines with hair and other stuff, it can be pretty tough to remove, and many of the above methods won’t work. Fortunately, there’s a simple solution to clear drains that are clogged with greasy grime. When you pour salt down the drain, and then follow with boiling hot water, it can help to loosen this sticky blockage, and allow it to wash away. One cup of salt and a single kettle of prepared water is usually all it takes, but if the water doesn’t flow freely after a single application, just follow with another to finish the job.
Different Ways Of Unclogging A Drain
- Boiling water
- Drain Snake
- Homemade Drain Cleaner
There are different types of clogs — some are worse than others — so what you’re going to want to do is figure out a way that works for you. Generally speaking, you’re looking at four different ways of unclogging a drain: you can boil water, you can use a plunger, you can snake it, or you can make your own drain cleaner. Let’s take a look at each of these.
The first option for clearing a drain is by using boiling water to open it. As long as the drain is relatively minor, this method should work. First, when your drain is slow, make sure that there isn’t any water in the pipe. Next, boil a pot of water and (carefully) pour directly into the drain to flush it. It should only take one, maybe two flushes to remove the blockage. Any more than that and the clog might require a different method.
Next up we have a plunger. This useful tool has been clearing clogged drains for years. Nowadays you can buy small cup plungers, which are easy to use and relatively inexpensive. To use it, place the plunger over the clogged drain and plunge as hard as you can.
One thing to note.
Unlike with the technique with the boiling water, this time you DO want there to be water in the drain. The plunger is designed to pressurize the water and force it through the pipe, thereby clearing the clog. If there’s no water, then you’re just pushing air, and the clog will persist.
When boiling water and plungers don’t work, try using a drain auger (also called a drain snake). You’ll find drain snakes in most hardware stores. Some drain snakes are manual and some are electric.
One advantage of using a drain snake is you get to reach blockages deep within the pipes.
- Put the end of the snake into the drain and twist the handle.
- Push the drain snake and find the blockage.
- Twist the snake until you the blockage frees.
- Verify that the blockage is gone by running water.
To use a drain auger/drain snake, start by putting the rear end of the drain snake into the drain hole and twisting the handle. Next, you’ll want to push the drain snake further until you feel the blockage.
Once located, turn the drain snake around until you feel the blockage free. You’ll be able to tell whether or not the drain is clear by running water for several minutes.
If part of the blockage is still in place, the water will continue to drain slowly.
- 2 cups or vinegar
- ½ cup of baking soda.
- Start by pouring a pot of boiling water into the drain.
- Pour the baking soda into the drain and let sit.
- Finish with 2 cups of vinegar and 1 cup hot water.
- Close/plug the drain and let sit for at least 20 minutes.
- Flush with another pot of boiling water.
Store-bought cleaners contain dangerous chemicals and if you’d prefer to avoid using a chemical-based based drain opener, consider making your own homemade, natural drain cleaner from baking soda and vinegar.
Start by pouring boiling water down your drain (that might be enough to clear it, but if not, keep reading).
Pour the baking soda into the drain and let it sit for a few minutes, then pour the vinegar in with a cup of hot (not boiling) water.
You’ll want to plug the drain at this point because there’s going to be a chemical reaction that you don’t want overflowing. Let the mixture sit for 15-20 minutes and then flush the drain with another pot of hot to finish the job.
Ta-da! Your drain is clear.
Are you battling with a clogged toilet? Here’s how you can unclog your toilet with ease.
- Depending on the nature of the substance that caused the toilet block, you can use an enzyme waste dissolver to get rid of the blockage. An enzyme waste dissolver only works on organic waste products. After pouring the stated amount in the toilet bowl, wait for a few hours or overnight so the mixture can take effect.
- A home remedy for a clogged drain made from baking soda and vinegar can also be used to unclog the toilet. It is the same combination we use for our homemade glass cleaner. Simply pour the mixture into the bowl and let it sit for a few hours before flushing.
- Drain snakes can be used to unclog a toilet following the same procedure used in unclogging a drain. If you do not have access to a drain snake, try using a wire coat hanger.
- Plungers are the perfect tool for clearing your clogged toilet. Put on protective gloves and coveralls before using a plunger. Opt for a more durable plunger and use it the same way you would when clearing the drain.
- Only use chemical drain openers as a measure of last resort. Be careful when using this product and do not use a plunger right after to prevent toxic substances from getting in contact with your skin or eyes.
- A wet/dry waterproof vacuum can be placed in the toilet bowl to remove the blockage.