How to Unclog Any Drain

Baking soda and white vinegar in glass containers on corner of bathroom sink

The Spruce / Sarah Lee

Project Overview
  • Total Time: 15 - 45 mins
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Estimated Cost: $10 to $60

Drains handle all of the water that we send down, plus hair, grease, and other solids, so it’s natural that at some point they will clog. 

With most clogged drains, there’s no need to pull out your phone to contact a plumber. Several inexpensive, efficient, and fast methods will help you power through smaller clogs in sinks, tubs, showers, and toilets. In no time at all, you’ll be up and running.

5 Ways to Unclog Any Drain

Method Uses Clog Depth, Maximum Cost
Plunger Toilet, tub, shower, kitchen sink 3 feet $5 to $15
Hair Remover Tool Bathroom sink, tub, shower 39 inches $2
Removing and Cleaning Sink Trap Bathroom sink, kitchen sink 3 feet No cost
Drain Snake Toilet, bathroom sink, kitchen sink, tub, shower 25 feet $25 to $50
Liquid Opener Toilet, bathroom sink, kitchen sink, tub, shower 18 inches $5 to $15

Sink or Toilet Plunger

A plunger is a flexible rubber bell- or cone-shaped tool with an operating handle at the end. A plunger forces water into the drain pipes, pushing the clog onward.

This time-tested drain-clearing method excels at unclogging toilets and is moderately successful at clearing kitchen sinks, tubs, and showers. Plungers sometimes do not work on bathroom sinks due to the configuration of the sink.

Hair Clog Remover Tool

A hair clog remover tool is a thin plastic cord with multiple spikes that is inserted into a drain, then removed. The spikes are designed to snag hair in the sink drain.

Hair clog removers work moderately well for bathroom sinks, and they do have some limited use for bathtubs and showers. Hair clog removers do not work on toilets or kitchen sinks. 

Removing and Cleaning Sink Trap

Cleaning the sink trap involves detaching the plastic or metal P-trap drain from below the sink, removing the clog by hand, then reattaching the cleared trap.

While messy, removing the sink trap is also the ultimate way to clear bathroom sink drains or kitchen sink drains. As long as the clog is located at some point in the P-trap or in the first few inches of the home’s drainpipe, you should be able to physically remove it.

Tip

If you are considering snaking your bath or kitchen drain, the fastest and most effective option is to remove the trap and clean it or insert the snake through the trap instead.

Drain Snake (Auger)

A drain snake or drain auger is a manual tool with a flexible metal cable coiled up inside a drum. The user turns the drum to extend the cable up to 25 feet into the drain system. A metal corkscrew-like end snags the clog. The cable is pulled straight out with the clog attached.

Drain snakes are highly efficient at removing fibrous clogs located deep in the drain system and work on toilets, kitchen and bath sinks, tubs, and showers.

Liquid Drain Cleaner

Non-acidic liquid drain opener uses a mixture of bacteria, enzymes, and live culture to liquify organic substances that commonly clog drains like hair, grease, and paper.

Liquid openers work slowly and only moderately well at opening clogs that aren’t too deep.

Warning

Never use a drain cleaning liquid with sulfuric acid (or any type of powerful, highly concentrated acid), as it can cause damage to the plumbing and larger water system.

Safety Considerations

All drain clearing methods bring you into contact with bacteria, especially with invasive methods such as removing the sink trap or snaking the drain. Be sure to wear waterproof gloves, a mask, and safety glasses.

Though hair clog remover tools are plastic, their spikes are still very sharp. Hold these tools only by the handle end. 

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Flange plunger (toilets)
  • Standard plunger (sinks)
  • Drain snake
  • Washcloth
  • Hair remover tool
  • Sink trap kit (sinks)
  • Bucket
  • Rags
  • Flashlight
  • Shop vacuum
  • Screwdriver

Materials

  • Paper towels

Instructions

How to Unclog a Toilet With a Plunger

For unclogging toilets, the best tool to use is a flange plunger. Wear waterproof gloves and safety glasses to protect yourself against splashes.

  1. Check Water Levels

    Make sure that the water in the toilet bowl is high enough to cover the plunger cup. If not, add enough water to the bowl from a bucket.

  2. Lower Plunger Cup

    Lower the cup of the plunger into the water at an angle, filling the cup with water

    Tip

    While it may seem better to fill the cup with air and force air into the drainpipe, it’s best to force water into the pipes. Air compresses more than water does, so it provides less force when you ram the plunger down.

  3. Push Plunger Down

    Firmly and rapidly push down on the toilet plunger, then pull up again. Do this several times.

  4. Reposition and Repeat as Needed

    If the plunger cup breaks its seal with the toilet bowl, reposition the cup and repeat the previous step.

  5. Flush the Toilet

    If successful, the water in the bowl should quickly drain out. Follow by flushing the toilet.

How to Unclog a Sink, Tub, or Shower Drain With a Plunger

Use a standard bell-shaped plunger for clearing sink, tub, or shower clogs. Wear waterproof gloves and safety glasses.

Plunging Sink

The Spruce / Sarah Lee

  1. Wet a Washcloth

    Thoroughly wet a washcloth and set it aside for now.

  2. Remove Drain Stopper or Cover

    Remove the pop-up drain stopper from the sink basin or bathtub. For showers, remove the drain grate.

  3. Add Water as Needed

    If the sink basin, tub, or shower pan does not already have enough water in it to cover the plunger’s cup, add water with a cup or bucket.

  4. Cover Overflow Hole, If Necessary

    Fold the wet washcloth into a square and cover the sink or tub’s overflow hole with it (showers do not have this). It helps to have an assistant hold the washcloth so that you’ll have both hands available to work the plunger.

  5. Lower Plunger

    Lower the plunger’s cup into the water at an angle to fill the cup.

  6. Push Plunger Down

    Firmly push the plunger down and then up again. Repeat several times.

  7. Run Hot Water

    After the drain is clear, run the hot water for a few minutes.

How to Unclog a Sink Drain With a Hair Remover Tool

Sink drain hair removal tools are usually sold in multiples. You may purchase a simple tool that lowers straight into the drain and pulls straight up, clog attached. Or you may choose a tool with a small crank for turning the spiked end once it’s in the drain—much like a true sink auger.

  1. Remove Stopper

    Remove the pop-up drain stopper from the basin.

  2. Insert Tool

    Push the spiked end of the tool into the drain. If the tool hits a block, push it up and down several times.

  3. Remove Tool and Clog

    Slowly remove the tool. The clog should be on the tool. Use the paper towels to remove and dispose of the clog.

  4. Use Handle (Optional)

    If the tool has a rotation feature, push the spiked end of the tool into the drain. Hold the center of the handle with one hand and the crank with the other hand. Turn the crank several times. Pull straight up to remove the tool and the clog.

How to Unclog a Drain by Cleaning the Trap

To remove and replace a sink P-trap, you’ll need old rags for better grip, a flashlight, and waterproof gloves. 

Clearing Sink Trap

The Spruce / Sarah Lee

  1. Get a Bucket

    Place a bucket under the sink centered directly under the current P-trap. Have rags nearly.

  2. Remove Curved Portion

    Remove the curved bend portion of the P-trap by turning the slip nut on both ends. You may need to use a rag for better grip. Water should pour out of the bend when removed. Set the piping in the bucket.

  3. Remove Trap Arm

    Remove the straight trap arm by unscrewing the slip nut that secures the trap arm to the drainpipe in the wall. Set this in the bucket.

  4. Clean Removed Items

    Clear P-trap by taking the items outside, pouring out the water in the bucket, and hosing out the pieces. If the pieces are overly greasy and dirty, discard them and use a new P-trap.

  5. Replace Parts

    Replace the new P-trap in the opposite order you removed the pieces by first attaching the new trap arm to the wall, then attaching the bend between the trap arm and the sink. Secure all slip nuts.

  6. Test P-Trap

    Test by running water and checking underneath for leaks.

How to Unclog a Drain by Snaking It

To unclog a drain by snaking it, you’ll need a sink or toilet snake (or auger), towels, and if possible, a shop vacuum.

Warning

Experts recommend inserting a drain snake through the trap, not the drain itself. While accessing the trap (as described above) is manageable enough for most DIYers with sink drains, it can be difficult with shower or bathtub drains and may require a plumber. If you decide to insert the snake in the drain anyway, take care not to damage the drain or plumbing.

  1. Remove Drain Cover or Grate


    Remove the sink pop-up drain stopper or shower/tub drain grate.

  2. Remove Water

    Remove as much water as possible from the basin, tub, or pan with the shop vacuum or by soaking up the water with towels. If this is not possible, you can snake the drain through standing water.

  3. Insert Snake

    Insert the corkscrew end of the drain snake into the drain as far as it will go on its own. Tighten the thumbscrew on the drum.

  4. Rotate Snake

    Rotate the drain snake by turning the handle.

  5. Retract Cable

    Slowly retract the cable into the drum to remove the clog at the end of the cable.

How to Unclog a Drain With Liquid Drain Cleaner

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  1. Remove Drain Cover or Grate

    Remove the sink pop-up drain or shower/tub drain grate.

  2. Remove Water

    With the shop vacuum, remove as much water as possible.

  3. Pour Cleaner

    Pour the liquid drain cleaner into the drain. Consult with the product’s instructions for the amount to use. Toilets often require twice as much cleaner as sinks, tubs, or showers.

  4. Let Drain Cleaner Sit

    Wait at least an hour. Many green drain cleaners require 24 hours.

  5. Flush Drain

    Flush the opened drain with hot water.

When to Call a Professional

If the clog is threatening to spill into your home, call an emergency plumber immediately. Removing some hard objects such as rings from drainpipes is difficult for do-it-yourselfers, but a plumber might be able to assist. Most consumer-grade drain snakes reach to 25 feet. For clogs that extend beyond 25 feet, have a plumber clear the drain.