How to Unclog a Drain

A Do It Yourself Guide

Plumber unclogging kitchen sink
Robert Daly / Getty Images

A clogged drain is perhaps the most common plumbing problem in the home. Your first thought might be to call a plumber or buy a pricey drain cleaning chemical. It’s not like you can just ignore this problem; not for long anyway.

What you may not know is that many times a stopped up drain can be cleared by using a plumber’s helper, aka a plunger.

Difficulty: Easy

Time Required: 5 Minutes or less

Here's How:

  1. Make sure there is standing water – if there isn’t already standing water, fill the basin with two or three inches of water.
  1. Create a vacuum – air vents and adjoining drains should be sealed. It is necessary to create a vacuum so the water in the drain can force the clog to move down the pipe.
  2. Cover drain with the plunger suction cup – place the suction cup of the plunger directly over the drain making sure to cover it completely.
  3. Push & Pull – use both hands to apply as much force as possible to the suctioning. Pulling is just as important as pushing. The key is to get the clog moving; the direction isn’t important.
  4. Remove plunger – after you have pushed and pulled several times, pull the plunger completely off the drain. Give it a few seconds to see if the water is going down the drain.
  5. Repeat – repeat steps 3-5 a couple of times. It can take a couple of tries to get the clog moving.


  1. Kitchen Sink: Make sure to have standing water on both sides of the sink. Place the stopper or towel on one side and plunge the other. It may be helpful to have someone help by holding the stopper in place since the plunging action may pop it out. If this doesn’t clear it, try switching sides.

    If plunging does not clear the stoppage you could try clearing the drain by taking the trap apart or by using a snake.

  1. Bathroom Sink: Cover the air holes in the sink with a rag or some duct tape before you plunge.

    As with the kitchen sink, if plunging does not clear the bathroom sink you could try clearing the drain by taking the trap apart or by using a snake.

  2. Bathtub: Tubs can be a bit trickier because you have to block off that overflow before you give it a good plunging. Otherwise, all the water and force generated by the plunging action will come out the overflow. I recommend taking the overflow cover plate off and plugging the hole with a large rag (be sure it isn’t in too far so you can take it back out). Once this is secure you can plunge the drain.

    For a stubborn clog, you could also try using a snake to clear the tub drain.

  1. Showers: No air holes or overflow to cover; just put the plunger over the drain and plunge.

    For a stubborn clog, you could also try using a snake to clear the shower drain.

  2. Toilet: A plunger works here most of the time and I believe you should have one handy for those emergencies. Some good back and forth plunging action can save you a service call from your plumber.

    When plunging doesn't clear the clog you could try using a toilet auger.