How to Use a Plunger to Unclog a Sink Drain

Woman wearing yellow washing up gloves to unblock sink using plunger, close-up
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A clogged sink drain is one of the most common plumbing problems. It is also one of the easiest DIY jobs. 

For bathroom sinks, the job may be as simple as pulling out the pop-up plug out and cleaning it off. Often, hair, grease, and cosmetics will bunch up along the pop-up shaft and block the sink drain. If you pull the pop-up out and it is clean, then the project becomes a bit more involved, but may still be very easy.

 The following information on using a plumber's plunger can be applied to both bathroom and kitchen sinks.

NOTE: there are several types of plungers available; what you want for unclogging a sink drain is a standard cup-style plunger. 

Difficulty Level

  • Easy

Time Required

  • 10-15 minutes

Tools & Materials You Need

  • Cup-style plunger
  • Rag

Here's How

  1. When plunging a double-basin kitchen sink, block the drain opening on one basin.  Similarly, when plunging a bathroom sink make sure to plug up the overflow opening. This can be done by shoving a wet rag into it. This will seal the drain and allow the force of the plunging action to be directed at the clog. 
  2. Place the plunger cup over the drain opening so it covers the opening fully. Run a small amount of water in the sink—enough to cover the cup of the plunger. 
  3. Thrust the plunger in an even up and down motion. The suction force of the up stroke is just as important as that of the downstroke. Try to keep the seal between the rubber plunger cup and the sink surface intact. You may actually be able to feel the moment when the clog loosens, as the plunger handle may suddenly get easier to pump. 
  1. After about six pumps of the plunger, pull the plunger away from the drain opening and see if the water drains away. If it does, you have successfully loosened the clog. If not, then repeat the process.
  2. If you are having difficulty getting a good seal between the plunger cup and sink basin, apply some petroleum jelly around the cup.
  1. After the drain clog is cleared, run a lot of hot water to flush any debris on into the main drain line. This will help prevent a new clog from forming.
  2. If plunging does not push the clog into the main stack then you will have to snake out the drain line. But in a surprising number of cases, you will have cleared your clogged drain without even getting your hands dirty.