8 Ways to Fix a Clogged Drain

By Lucy Huber

A clogged drain requires your immediate attention, or you run the risk of a flooded kitchen or bathroom or losing functionality of your shower, tub, or sink. When your drain is clogged and water won’t flow, try these eight tips to fix a clogged drain prior to calling a plumber.

1. Use dish detergent

This simple fix could save you time and money. Before you try anything else, pour half a cup of liquid dishwashing detergent down the clogged drain. Fill a medium saucepan with water and place on the stove at medium high temperature to boil. Wait a half hour—so the detergent coats and lubricates the clogged

materials—and then pour the whole pot of water down the drain. Check to see if this loosens the obstruction.

2. Dislodge with a coat hanger

Clogs are often easily dislodged with a wire coat hanger. Straighten a hanger, leaving a small hook at the end. Insert the wire hanger to maximum depth into the drain and pull up to dislodge the obstruction. This must be done in one motion—do not move the hanger up and down repeatedly, as that could push the clogged material even deeper into the drainpipe. After you pull out the obstruction, run hot water down the drain to clear any remaining debris.

3. Pour in baking soda and vinegar

This is a natural, easy way to clear your clogged drain. Fill a medium saucepan with water and boil it on the stovetop. Once boiling, take a half cup in a glass liquid measuring cup and mix with one cup of vinegar. Pour the rest of the boiling water down the drain. Follow by pouring one-third cup of baking soda down the drain. Pour the vinegar mixture down the drain. A chemical reaction will occur, and the mixture will likely fizz over the lip of the drain. Let the mixture sit for up to three hours, depending on the severity of the clog. To finish, boil another pot of water and pour down the drain to clear out the baking soda and vinegar.

4. Use a drain stick

This long plastic rod with barbs is available for $3–$9 online or at a local hardware store. To remove the obstruction, insert the drain stick into the drain and twist 5–10 times. Pull the drain stick up and out of the drain. Once debris is removed, pour a pot of boiling water down the drain to clear any remaining obstruction. This is particularly effective for clogs caused by hair.

5. Plunge the drain

Still stuck? Grab a plunger. Remove any drain stoppers or strainers. Plug any overflow drains with a wet washcloth to enable the plunger to suction correctly. To increase the suction, coat the outer edges of the plunger with petroleum jelly. Create a seal by placing the plunger directly over the drain. Fill the sink or bathtub with enough water to completely cover the head of the plunger. Plunge up and down without breaking the seal until the clog is dislodged.

Plunger and clogged sink. Pipe cleaning concept. Sanitary engineering work.

6. Try an auger

An auger is a long flexible tool with a metal coil at the end. Augers are effective for clogs that are deep in the pipe and cannot be reached with a drain stick, dislodged with a plunger, or broken up with detergent or baking soda and vinegar.

Place towels or rags around the area to avoid a mess. With an auger, you’re pulling the clogged material completely out of the drain rather than breaking it apart. Slowly insert the coiled end into your drain, pushing until you feel resistance. Twist the auger to grab the clog with the coil and slowly pull it back up and out of the drainpipe. There are several types of augers, also known as plumber’s snakes. Handheld ones—either with or without a crank—are simple to operate for most homeowners. More powerful augers can be motorized or attached to an electric drill. A drum auger has blades attached to the tip instead of a coil and should only be used by a professional, as they can damage pipes if used improperly.

7. Disassemble the drainpipes

This may be where you wish to call in a professional. But if you’re willing to disassemble the pipes, you can complete the project yourself. The goal is to remove the drain trap, the U- or P-shaped pipe underneath your sink. Prepare the area by moving away any loose objects or materials that would be in your way or restrict mobility. Turn off the shutoff valves, and place a bucket underneath the drain trap (the U-shaped pipe). Loosen the slip nuts (by hand or with pliers or a pipe wrench) that connect the pipes and remove the drain trap. Inspect the trap for a clog—if there, clean it out. If not, inspect the trap arm—the pipe that connects the drain trap to the wall. You can disassemble the trap arm using the same steps if the clog is in this part of your pipes.

8. Use chemical drain cleaner

As chemical drain cleaners work by creating a potentially toxic chemical reaction and only work on hair or grease clogs, reserve the use of chemical drain cleaner as your last viable option. To use a chemical drain cleaner, pour the contents down the drain and wait until the chemical reaction clears the clog, usually 60–90 minutes. Chemical drain cleaners can damage pipes and release toxins in your house for months after use.

How to avoid clogged drains

The best strategy to avoid a clogged drain is to keep it clear of food, debris, hair, and cooking grease. Kitchen sink drain strainers and stopper baskets only cost a few dollars and can be picked up at most hardware stores, big box stores, or online. Similar products exist for shower and bathtub drains.

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