The Best Ways To Unclog A Drain

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Unclogging a drain is usually fairly simple, and something that can be handled by most people without the need for an expensive visit from the plumber. While there are caustic chemicals such as Drano that can be used for clogged drains, these should be avoided if possible. Not only are these very toxic, but if the chemical does not work to remove the clog and you need to resort to mechanical means, you run the risk of having the drain opener splash up onto your skin. Review the following ways to unclog a drain for your best bet at free running pipes.

Nontoxic Ways To Unclog A Drain

  • If your kitchen sink is draining slowly, it might be clogged with a buildup of grease. Squirt some dish soap down the drain, then boil water, and pour into the drain slowly, pausing periodically for several seconds to give the grease time to dissolve.
  • For a slow-draining bathroom or kitchen sink, try baking soda and vinegar. Use a cup or pitcher to remove any standing water from the basin. Then pour ¼ cup of baking soda into the drain, followed by a cup of white vinegar. There will be immediate fizzing and foaming, caused by a chemical reaction between the acidic vinegar and the alkali baking soda. This will often soften and break away small clogs caused by hair, grime, oils and gunk that can build up in a drain. Let the mixture sit for an hour, then flush the drain with boiling water.
  • If it’s your bathtub drain that is slow, you can use the same baking soda and vinegar mixture to loosen the clog. After pouring the baking soda and vinegar into the drain, cover with the drain stopper. Let the mixture sit for an hour. Then fill the tub with water. Lift the stopper, and let all the water drain out. Often, the pressure of the draining water will flush away any softened gunk that was slowing the drain.

Easy Mechanical Ways To Unclog A Drain

  • Hair and residue is the most common cause of clogged sinks and tub drains. First, remove the drain stopper. These often unscrew easily with just your fingers. Take a wire coat hanger, and straighten it out as much as you can, squeezing the hook to flatten its curve. Use the hook to fish down several inches in the drain, removing wads of hair and sludge. You might want to wear rubber gloves while doing this, or use paper towels to remove the sludge from the hanger. Once you have removed all the hair you can, flush the drain with hot water.
  • If the slow draining continues, you can try plunging your sink or tub drain with a cup plunger. Start by blocking the overflow opening with a wet washcloth. Fill the tub or sink with enough water to cover the head of the plunger. Apply a coating of petroleum jelly around the rim of the plunger to help create a good seal, then place the plunger over the drain, and forcefully work the plunger up and down several times. Check to see if the drain is flowing freely; if not, continue to plunge for a few more minutes. If you are rewarded with a rush of water flowing freely down an unplugged drain, rinse with hot water, and consider the job done.
  • If plunging does not solve the problem, it’s time to try a plumbing snake. These useful tools are inexpensive and easy to use. Before starting, have an old bucket handy for collecting debris, put on rubber gloves and lay old towels around your workspace.
  1. Insert the tip of the snake into the drain, and turn the handle clockwise. The snake will make its own way down the pipe; do not force it.
  2. If you feel resistance, reverse the direction of the crank to pull the snake back out. Remove any debris caught on the tip.
  3. Reinsert the snake, and make your way to the area of resistance. Gently work the snake back and forth, trying to grab onto the clogged material in the drain.
  4. Rewind the snake, and remove debris from the tip.
  5. Continue until you no longer encounter resistance in the pipe.

ways to unclog a drain

Unblocking A Toilet

  • If your toilet is refusing to flush, or even worse, overflowing onto the bathroom floor, immediately turn off the water by rotating the toilet’s supply valve. This will be right behind or next to the commode.
  • Next, add some dish detergent to the toilet water, along with a couple of cups of hot water. This will help soften and break up the offending clog. Lay old towels around the toilet, and get your handy flange plunger.
  • Place the plunger over the toilet’s exit hole, and make sure you have a good seal. Then firmly and rhythmically plunge without breaking the seal around the exit hole, pushing the plunger down steadily and pulling up sharply. After a few plunges, stop and see if the water goes down the drain. If it does not, repeat the plunging process.
  • If plunging does not remove the toilet clog, you can try a toilet auger. This is similar to a drain snake, but has a protective coating that won’t damage the porcelain of the toilet.
  1. Put on gloves before handling a toilet auger.
  2. Place the tip of the auger into the toilet, and angle down the exit hole.
  3. Crank the auger clockwise to advance the tip. Continue until you feel resistance.
  4. Rewind the auger, remove any debris from the tip, then reinsert it into the toilet.
  5. Gently advance and pull back the auger until there is no further resistance.
  6. Plunge more time to be sure the blockage is removed.
  7. Flush toilet.

If you are unable to unplug your clogged or slow-draining sink, bathtub or toilet with the above measures, it’s time to call in the professionals. A plumber will have knowledge and tools to tackle the worst clogs that don’t respond to simple home methods.

Last Updated: June 14, 2012
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About Michelle Ullman Michelle Ullman has lived and gardened in Southern California since childhood. A freelance writer, she covers topics ranging from gardening to home improvement to health issues. She also has experience as a catalog copywriter and poet. Michelle has trained and worked as a respiratory therapist and surgical technologist, but prefers to spend her time gardening, and walking with her dog. Michelle holds a Bachelor's Degree from Redlands University in Business Management. 

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