How to Unclog Any Drain in Your Home

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

The Spruce / Sarah Lee

Overview
  • Working Time: 15 - 30 mins
  • Total Time: 15 - 30 mins
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Estimated Cost: $0 to $20

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

Safety Considerations

While clearing drain clogs requires no sharp tools or dangerous materials, keep in mind that drain clogs are often laden with bacteria. It's a good idea to always use basic safety gear, such as rubber gloves and eye protection, to prevent contact with skin and eyes. After clearing a clog, take the time to thoroughly clean up.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

Using a Plunger

  • Eye protection
  • Rubber gloves
  • Cup-type drain plunger

Cleaning the Drain Trap

  • Bucket
  • Eye protection
  • Rubber gloves
  • Channel-lock pliers
  • Small brush

Snaking the Drain

  • Bucket
  • Rubber gloves
  • Eye protection
  • Channel-lock pliers
  • Drain snake

Using Eco-Friendly Drain Cleaners

  • Pot to boil water
  • Rag or drain stopper

Materials

Using a Plunger

  • Rag

Using Eco-Friendly Drain Cleaner

  • Boiling water
  • Vinegar
  • Baking soda

Instructions

How to Unclog a Drain Using a Plunger

Every home should have at least one drain plunger—it's even better to have a couple, including a specialty flange-type toilet plunger. You can purchase a mini plunger for less than $5 at most hardware stores.

  1. Block the Overflow Opening

    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. Position the Plunger

    Place the plunger cup over the clogged drain, making sure the opening is completely covered. While holding the plunger firmly in place, fill the sink with water just enough to cover the cup. This helps create a tight seal.

    Black plunger unclogging bathroom sink with yellow gloves

    The Spruce / Sarah Lee

  3. Pump the Plunger

    Use quick, sharp up-and-down motions to loosen the clog. Make your thrusts as even as possible and keep the seal intact.

  4. Check Your Progress

    Check your progress after about six plunges. If you break the seal between the cup and sink surface and the water begins 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.

  5. Rinse the Drain

    Once the clog is clear, run hot water for a minute or so to make sure all the leftover debris is washed away.

Tip

For toilet clogs, there a special type fo plunger, known as a toilet plunger or flange plunger. It has a sleeve-like extension that allows the cup of the plunger to seal tightly into the toilet drain opening when you pump the handle.


How to Unclog a Drain by Cleaning the 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. Many drain clogs occur when this trap becomes filled with hair, soap, or other debris.

  1. Remove the Trap Bend

    Position a bucket beneath the drain trap. Using channel-lock pliers or a pipe wrench, loosen the slip nuts on each side of the trap bend and slide them off the threaded fittings, which will free the trap bend. Some types of drain traps have nuts that can easily be loosened by hand.

    Dump any water inside the trap bend into the bucket.

    Black drain tap separated above blue bucket with yellow gloves for cleaning

    The Spruce / Sarah Lee

  2. Clean Out the Trap Bend

    While wearing rubber gloves, clean out the trap bend of hair or other debris. Then, scour the inside of the pipe with a small brush, such as an old toothbrush.

  3. Reassemble the Trap

    Reposition the trap bend so one end slides over the drain tailpiece, and the other end fits against the angled flange on the trap arm. Slide the slip nuts down onto the threads of the fitting, then hand-tighten them. Often, tightening firmly by hand is adequate. Or, you can use channel-lock pliers to tighten the nuts.

  4. Rinse the Drain

    Run water through the drain and look for leaks at the trap fittings. If necessary, tighten the joints slightly more using channel-lock pliers.

How to Unclog a Drain Using a Snake

A plumber’s snake is a good investment for any homeowner. This tool allows you to clear clogs that lie beyond a fixtures drain trap, somewhere in a branch drain or even the main drain line. The price for the tool varies from around $10 for a small manual snake that will clear branch drain clogs, to more than $200 for a power auger that will clear many main drain clogs. For most homeowners, a simple hand snake is the best choice. Power augers can be rented when they are needed.

Using a drain snake is a messy operation, so eye protection and rubber gloves are a must for this task.

It is sometimes possible to run a small drain snake directly down through the drain opening on a sink, shower, or bathtub, but the better strategy is usually to remove the drain trap and snake through the trap arm and into the branch drain.

Tip

Drain snakes, too, come in special types designed for use with toilets. A toilet auger is a long-handled tool with a special sleeve that rests in the bottom of the toilet bowl to prevent the metal cable from scratching the porcelain. Despite its unusual look, a toilet auger is used the same way as any other drain snake.

  1. Remove the Drain Trap

    Place a bucket beneath the drain trap to catch water, then use channel-lock pliers to unscrew the slip nuts on the drain trap bend. Remove the trap bend, empty any standing water into the bucket, and inspect the trap for clogs.

    A small drain snake can usually be run into the angled trap arm, but you can also remove the entire trap arm to make it possible to snake directly into the branch drain opening in the wall.

  2. Feed the Snake into the Drain

    Feed the end of the snake's cable into the drain opening. When you feel slight resistance, lock the handle down, then turn the crank and gently apply forward pressure to the cable. Normally, this first resistance occurs when the tip of the snake cable is encountering a bend in the drain pipe; turning the crank and applying pressure will push the cable past this bend and onward into the drain.

    Don't apply too much pressure at this point, as it is possible to bend the cable completely around so the tip begins to come back toward the drain opening.

  3. Snag the Clog

    When you feel the tip of the cable reach a solid obstruction, it probably has reached the clog itself.

    Now, begin turning the snake handle in earnest, applying slight forward pressure. As the cable tip pokes partway into the clog, the handle will become harder to rotate. Keep cranking to force the tip of the cable well into the clog. When you feel the cable begin to move freely, the tip has probably punctured through the clog.

  4. Extract the Clog

    While continuing to turn the handle of the snake, begin to extract the cable back out of the drain. With canister-type snakes, you can periodically pause to feed cable back into the canister before relocking the cable and continuing to extract it.

    Make sure to have the bucket positioned under the drainpipe opening as the cable tip approaches, as it may probably has a large mass of dirty material snagged. As the tip reaches the opening, gently wiggle it free and allow the cable tip and debris to drop into the bucket.

  5. Reassemble the Trap and Rinse the Drain

    Using channel-lock pliers, reassemble the drain trap fittings. Run water for one to two minutes to thoroughly rinse the drain and flush any remaining debris into the main drain. As the water is running, check the trap fittings and tighten them if you see any leaking.

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How to Unclog a Drain Using Eco-Friendly Drain Cleaner

Traditional drain cleaner is filled with dangerous chemicals that can be harmful to both your family’s health and to your pipes. But with just a few common household ingredients, you can create your own eco-friendly drain cleaner 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. This solution often works for clogs that consist mostly of soap or grease.

For tougher clogs, you'll need 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 of times for especially difficult blockages.

When to Call a Professional

While the vast majority of drain clogs occur in drain traps or branch drains—both of which are easy enough for homeowners to deal with—there are some clogs that usually call for professional help. When a clog is so severe that floor drains are backing up, or if all fixtures in the home are affected, it usually indicates a main drain clog. These major clogs often require large power augers to clear. While such tools are available to rent, they are heavy machines that are difficult and messy to use. The best option in such cases is usually to hire a professional drain-cleaning service, of which there are many.

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