How to Unclog Any Drain in Your Home

Plumber unclogging kitchen sink
Robert Daly / Getty Images

No matter where it happens, a clogged drain is a nuisance. Fortunately, it’s often a simple fix that homeowners can complete themselves. Here are a few techniques that can unclog just about any blockage in your home drains.

Keep in mind that while some tasks might be simple enough to perform without safety gear, it’s always best to opt for eye protection and rubber gloves.

Plunging

Most people think of toilets when it comes to plunging, but it’s an effective process for clearing sink clogs, too.

You can purchase a mini plunger for less than $5 at most hardware stores—the key is to make sure it’s cup-style.

Here's how to plunge a sink:

  1. Use a rag to plug up the overflow opening of the sink. For double-basin kitchen sinks, block the drain opposite of the one you’ll plunge and remove the strainer from the clogged side.
  2. Place the plunger cup over the clogged drain, making sure the opening is completely covered.
  3. While holding the plunger firmly in place, fill the sink with water just enough to cover the cup. You should have a tight seal.
  4. Use quick, sharp up-and-down motions to work out the clog. Make your thrusts as even as possible and keep the seal intact.
  5. Check your progress after about six plunges. If you break the seal between the cup and sink surface and the water drains, you’ve done your job. If the water level remains stagnant, re-establish the seal and keep trying. Often, you’ll feel the clog free itself because the plunger will get much easier to pump.
  1. Once the clog is clear, run about half a sink of hot water to make sure all the leftover debris is washed away.

Take Apart and Clean the U-Pipe (Drain Trap)

The U-shaped pipe found under just about every sink, often referred to as the drain trap, is prone to clogs and buildup. Taking it apart for a good cleaning now and then is probably a good idea anyway, but it can be especially useful if your drain is slow or clogged.

  1. Grab a plumber’s wrench and an empty bucket. Place the bucket under the U-pipe so that it will catch any debris or water.
  2. Use the wrench to loosen the slip nuts at each end, then remove them while holding the pipe into place.
  3. Once the slip nuts are set aside, flip the pipe over and empty it into the bucket. You can use a wire brush or old toothbrush to clean buildup inside the trap. Large clogs might be easier to grab with your fingers, but make sure you’re wearing rubber gloves.
  4. Clean the areas around the connection points, and run some hot water through the U-pipe to rinse it (Remember to use low pressure—the drain is going to empty directly into your bucket!).
  5. Re-assemble the drain trap and ensure that the nuts are tightly back in place.

Snake the Drain

A plumber’s snake is a good investment for any homeowner. Price range varies anywhere from around $10 for a small manual snake to more than $200 for a stronger, electric device. Eye protection and rubber gloves are a must for this task!

You’ll need an empty bucket as well as the snake. A light shining directly down the drain is handy if you have a helper or hanging light, but will only be able to help you get started.

Slowly feed the snake down the drain and through the pipe.

When it’s a few inches in, crank the handle steadily to navigate the auger head down the drain. Be prepared to work around curves and tight spots, but you’ll be able to feel a distinct blockage when you hit the actual clog.

When you find the block, there are a couple different ways it can go:

  • The auger head will poke partway through the clogged debris, and the lever will get more difficult to turn. You’ll need to keep cranking to make sure it’s got a steady hold on the clog–gently wiggle the snake loose, and then slowly pull it from the drain. Make sure the bucket is close enough that you won’t have to drip all over the counter or floor to transfer the clog debris.
  • The auger head will break up the blockage with its rotations. Cranking will feel a little more difficult at first, but gradually become easier as the clog clears up. Gently work the snake back and forth, up and down, and all around the sides to clean as much buildup as possible.

    For a basic plastic snake (with no crank), follow the same steps to guide it to the blockage. Once you feel firm resistance, slowly twist the snake around to gather a firm grip on the debris so you’ll be able to pull it out. Do so slowly, and twist the snake more if you feel it start to slip away from the debris. You may have to repeat this step several times to completely clear the block.

    Once the clog is clear and you’ve removed the snake from the drain, flush out the drain (and any potential lingering debris) with plenty of hot water.

    Try Homemade, Eco-Friendly Drain Cleaners

    Traditional drain cleaner is filled with dangerous chemicals that can be harmful to both your family’s health and your pipes. With a just a few common household ingredients, you can create your own eco-friendly de-clogging liquid that’s safer and equally effective.

    If the clog is relatively minor, you might be able to flush it out with water alone. Bring a pot of hot water to a boil on the stove. When it starts to bubble, take it off the heat and slowly pour the water into the clogged drain. It might drain slowly at first, but if the blockage clears, water will soon begin draining normally.

    For tougher clogs, grab some baking soda, white vinegar and a rag or drain stop. Pour half a cup of baking soda down the drain, then half a cup of vinegar. Immediately plug up the drain with the rag, and allow the concoction to bubble and dissolve through the clog. After about an hour, pour down a pot of boiling water, followed by more hot water from the tap.

    You may need to repeat the process a couple times for especially difficult blockages.

    Unclogging your drain can often be an easy fix but if it becomes a frequent issue, it can become a time-consuming nuisance. Consider following these tips–including insulating your pipes or adding mesh screens to your drains–to prevent future clogs.