Possibly the most frequent and most irritating plumbing problem. If it’s not your kitchen sink backing up, it’s your toilet overflowing while you have company. Drains can be a pain, and it can be hard to tell whether to do it yourself or call a professional plumbing service.
We wrote this guide to help homeowners deal with clogged drains and find the right solutions. You’ll find basic drain care advice, advanced drain-clearing tools and techniques, and you might even avoid an appointment with a plumber. If not, we’ve got you covered.
Schedule an appointment on your timetable. Get your drain cleared. Get back to living life.
Section 1: Basic Drain Clearing
Section 2: Advanced Tools & Techniques
Basic Drain Clearing
Clearing A Slow Sink Drain
If you’ve got a sink that takes a long time to drain, try this to get it flowing again.
- Wait for the sink to empty.
- Remove the pop-up drain stopper (if there is one) and remove any hair or other debris.
- Pour hot (not boiling!) soapy water into the drain to melt any fats or oils.
- Use a bell-shaped sink plunger (not a toilet plunger) to break the clog loose.
If the clog is caused by a solid object, call a professional or schedule online to have it removed.
For more ideas, check out 5 ways to fix a slow sink drain from The Spruce.
Basic Toilet Plunging
Unclogging a toilet is probably the number one plumbing skill that everyone needs. Here is what you should know:
- If the toilet is overflowing, use the flapper (inside the tank) or the water stop (behind the toilet) to shut off the water and prevent further flooding.
- Make sure you’re using a toilet plunger. The classic cup-shaped plungers work for sinks or tub drains, but don’t do well in a toilet.
- If you know the toilet is clogged with un-flushable materials such as baby wipes, paper towels, child’s toys, or personal items, don’t use a plunger. This will only force the clog further into the plumbing system, making for a more expensive plumbing visit.
Slow Tubs & Showers
Most tub and shower drains get a lot of hair and soap. This combination can create a slimy mess which clogs your drain and backs up into your tub or shower pan.
To clean your shower drain, start by removing any visible hair or other debris from the top of the drain.
Next, disconnect the drain plug or cover (if equipped).
Once you’ve gained access to the drain pipe, reach inside with a pair of needle-nosed pliers or a long, narrow object.
Remove any debris that may be blocking the drain.
Clearing a Garbage Disposal
Be sure to turn off and unplug your disposal before putting anything in it – especially your fingers!
- Turn off the disposal switch.
- Unplug the disposal from outlet.
- Visually inspect inside the disposal using a flashlight, checking for leftover food waste, silverware, or other debris.
- Use a long dowel, wooden spoon or broom handle to spin the disposal blades. Make sure they rotate freely.
- Turn on hot water in the sink before attempting turning on the disposal to test.
Should I use a drain cleaning chemical?
Q: I found a liquid drain cleaner that’s supposed to do wonders for clogs. Should I use it to try and clean my drain?
A: No. Most drain cleaner chemicals are made of highly potent, hazardous substances which may damage your home or cause personal injury. They can dissolve hair, skin, and clothing – even some metals.
Drain cleaners also react with other chemicals already present in the drain, either from food waste or from previous cleaning attempts. The resulting chemical reaction can send potent acids out of the drain in an explosion.
Visit the Advanced Techniques section below for some drain cleaner alternatives, and if they don’t work schedule a plumber. If you use any chemical in a drain, warn your plumber in advance.
Advanced Tools & Techniques
So you tried all of the regular stuff and the drain is still clogged. Try these drain cleaning methods that our professionals use to free up a stubborn blockage.
Use a Toilet Auger
Also known as a drain snake, these will push through any clogs within about 3 feet of the toilet drain.
Insert the auger as far as possible into the toilet drain. Make sure the auger head is not left in the toilet bowl, as it can damage the porcelain.
Rotate the handle to break up the clog. If it feels like the auger has hooked into something, pull it out and dispose of whatever is stuck to the end.
DIY Toilet Brush Plunger
In a pinch, a toilet brush can work as an impromptu plunger. Wrap the end of the toilet brush in a plastic bag and tie or secure the bag with a rubber band. Push the brush head and bag into the flush passage with a few strong pumps.