How to Unclog a Sink

By: Kelly Boyer Sagert | Affiliate Disclosure

After you use your sink, whether in the bathroom or the kitchen, you may notice the water draining more slowly or there might be standing water that doesn’t seem to be going down the sink drain at all. In either case, a clog is probably the culprit, and the more quickly you address the issue, the less likely it will lead to bigger problems.

5 ways to unclog a sink

The methods used to unclog a kitchen drain and a bathroom drain often overlap, although clogs in the bathroom have a greater chance of involving hair than those in the kitchen—and those in the kitchen are more likely to involve food than clogs in your bathroom. Here are five different ways to unclog a sink.

Method #1: Plunger

Materials

  • A cup plunger—one with a flat rim and tight seal
  • Wet cloth

Instructions

  1. Partially fill the sink with hot water.
  2. If you have a double sink, use a wet cloth to seal off the drain on the other side.
  3. Place the cup plunger over the clogged sink drain, making sure the cup portion is covered with water. If not, add more hot water to the sink.
  4. Plunge up and down firmly, multiple times.
  5. When you dislodge the clog, rinse out the sink with warm water and remove the cloth from the other sin.

Method #2: Boiling water

Materials

  • Pot or kettle
  • Boiling water
  • Large bowl or plastic container

Instructions

  1. Put a pot or kettle of water on the stove and heat until it’s boiling.
  2. While waiting for the water to heat up, bail out as much water as possible in the clogged sink with a large bowl or plastic container.
  3. Once the boiling water is ready, pour it down the drain opening.
  4. Wait a few minutes before repeating the process (if the clog was not dislodged the first time).

Method #3: Baking soda and vinegar (or baking soda and salt)

Materials

  • Boiling water
  • Baking soda
  • White vinegar or apple cider vinegar
  • Salt
  • Sink stopper
  • Bowl
  • Measuring cup

Instructions

  1. Whether you use salt or vinegar, you’ll want to remove as much standing water in the sink first, preferably using a large bowl to bail out the water.
  2. After most of the water has been removed, pour a cup of baking soda into the sink drain opening.
  3. Then, pour a cup of vinegar down the drain.
  4. When the combined ingredients stop fizzing and bubbling, put a stopper in the sink.
  5. Wait for 10–15 minutes before pouring boiling water down the drain, repeating this process as often as needed to dislodge the clog.

If you prefer to use salt in this home remedy, here are the steps you should follow:

  1. Mix a cup of baking soda with a half cup of salt in a bowl.
  2. Pour the mixture down the sink drain and let it sit for a few hours.
  3. After the mixture has sat for an extended period, pour hot water down the drain.
  4. Repeat the process if the sink doesn’t unclog the first time around.

Method #4: Drain snake or coat hanger

If you still have a clogged drain after trying the previous methods, a drain snake or coat hanger may be your next best option. Note: this is also the best option for removing drains that are clogged with hair.

Materials

  • Drain snake or coat hanger
  • Large bowl, pan, or bucket
  • Tools to disconnect the P-trap and drain pipe, as needed; these can include an adjustable wrench and tongue and groove pliers
  • Old rags
  • New P-trap if the old one needs to be replaced

Instructions

  1. Locate the P-trap, which is found where the drain pipe curves underneath the sink.
  2. Put a bowl, pan, or bucket underneath the P-trap.
  3. Unfasten the P-trap and see if anything is lodged inside. If so, carefully clear it out with a drain snake.
  4. Replace the P-trap or install a new one, if needed.
  5. Run water in your sink to see if the drain is clear. If it’s not, disconnect the P-trap again and take the drain pipe apart.
  6. Run a drain snake in the stub that goes behind the wall to break up the clog.
  7. Reassemble the parts and then run water in the sink to make sure the clog is gone.

Method #5: How to unclog a kitchen sink with a garbage disposal

Materials

  • Boiling water
  • Baking soda
  • Vinegar
  • Salt
  • Sink stopper
  • Pliers
  • Flashlight

Instructions

  1. Before you do anything, unplug the garbage disposal and make sure there is no power going to the disposal.
  2. Use one of the baking soda mixtures found in method #3. If this doesn’t dislodge the clog after a few tries, use a flashlight to see if you can spot the item stuck in the garbage disposal.
  3. Use pliers or a similar tool to remove the obstruction.
  4. Plug the garbage disposal back in.
  5. Run water into the sink and turn on the garbage disposal. The drain should be clear.

If you find that none of these techniques work, you may need to call a professional plumber. 

How to avoid clogs in the future

To avoid clogged drains in the future, here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • Avoid putting grease or oil down your drain. While it may be warm and fluid when you pour it in the sink, it will eventually cool and form a sticky mass in the pipes. This will cause items that go down the drain to get stuck in the grease. 
  • Use a mesh screen in your sink drains to catch hair and other objects from falling down the pipes. This can also help prevent soap scum from causing a clog.
  • Clean the mesh screens regularly with soap and warm water.
  • After making a pot of coffee, throw old coffee grounds into the garbage or use them for composting material. Do the same with old food; use the garbage disposal to break down small amounts of food that fall into the sink—not as a way to routinely grind up food you don’t intend to eat.
  • Run cold water in your kitchen sink while the garbage disposal is grinding food scraps.
  • Keep water running in your bathroom sink while you shave.
  • Avoid leaning over the sink while you brush or cut your hair to prevent stray hairs from going down the drain.

How to keep your drains clear

Keep your drains clear by regularly performing these tasks every so often:

  • Regularly use a baking soda and vinegar mixture to help keep your drains and pipes clear.
  • Fill an ice cube tray halfway with vinegar and fill the rest of the space with water. Freeze the mixture, and then put the ice cubes down the drain. If the smell of vinegar causes you to wrinkle your nose, squeeze a lemon down the drain after the ice cubes have melted.

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