How to Unclog Any Drain
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.
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.
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.
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
- Hair remover tool
- Sink trap kit (sinks)
- Shop vacuum
- Paper towels
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.
Check Water Levels
Make sure that the water in the toilet bowl is high enough to cover the plunger cup. If not, add more water to the bowl.
Lower Plunger Cup
Lower the cup of the plunger into the water at an angle, filling the cup with water.
Push Plunger Down
Firmly and rapidly push down on the toilet plunger, then pull up again. Do this several times.
Reposition and repeat as needed. If the plunger cup breaks its seal with the toilet bowl, reposition the cup and repeat. If successful, the water in the bowl should quickly drain out.
Flush the Toilet
Remove the tank lid from the toilet, and locate the round rubber trap door (called the flapper) at the center of the tank bottom; this is your emergency water shutoff if the toilet is still clogged.
Flush the toilet. If it flushes normally, you're all done, and you can set the lid back on the tank.
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.
Wet a Washcloth
Thoroughly wet a washcloth and set it aside for now.
Remove Drain Stopper or Cover
Remove the pop-up drain stopper from the sink basin or bathtub. For showers, remove the drain grate.
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.
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.
Lower the plunger’s cup into the water at an angle to fill the cup.
Push Plunger Down
Firmly push the plunger down and then up again. Repeat several times.
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.
Remove the pop-up drain stopper from the basin.
Push the spiked end of the tool into the drain. If the tool hits a block, push it up and down several times.
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.
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.
Get a Bucket
Place a bucket under the sink centered directly under the current P-trap. Have rags nearly.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Remove Drain Cover or Grate
Remove the sink pop-up drain stopper or shower/tub drain grate.
Remove as much water as possible from the basin, tub, or pan with the plunger, shop vacuum, or by soaking up the water with towels. If this is not possible, you can snake the drain through standing water.
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.
Rotate the drain snake by turning the handle.
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
Watch Now: Safe Homemade Drain Cleaner Recipe
Remove Drain Cover or Grate
Remove the sink pop-up drain or shower/tub drain grate.
With the plunger or shop vacuum, remove as much water as possible.
Pour the liquid drain cleaner into the drain. Consult with the product’s instructions for the amount to use. Wait at least an hour. Many green drain cleaners require 24 hours.
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.
Zehbour Panossian et al. Corrosion of carbon steel pipes and tanks by concentrated sulfuric acid: A review. Corrosion Science, vol. 58, 1-11, 2012. doi:10.1016/j.corsci.2012.01.025
Upstairs Bathroom Drainage Problems. International Association of Certified Home Inspectors.