How To Unclog a Kitchen Sink

Plumber unclogging kitchen sink
Robert Daly / Getty Images
Overview
  • Working Time: 60 mins
  • Total Time: 60 mins
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Estimated Cost: $0 to $30

A clogged kitchen sink is a common plumbing problem that can be quite disruptive. Through daily use, debris slowly builds up in the drainpipes of the sink and eventually leads to a clogged drain. Fortunately, clearing a stopped up kitchen sink is not a difficult project. The following steps show how to unclog a kitchen sink by starting with the easiest method and progressing to a more involved process for difficult stoppages. You can stop whenever the clog is removed.

how to unclog a kitchen sink
The Spruce / Hilary Allison

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Drain plunger
  • Channel-lock pliers
  • Small brush or old toothbrush
  • Bucket
  • Drain snake

Materials

  • Mild cleanser (if needed)
  • Baking soda (optional)
  • Vinegar (optional)

Instructions

  1. Try a Plunger

    The first step to clearing a clogged kitchen sink is to use a plunger. Although using a plunger may appear to be self-explanatory, it is possible to use it incorrectly. The key is to create a tight seal with the cup of the plunger against the bottom of the sink as you pump the tool up and down. On double-basin sinks, it helps to seal one drain opening while you plunge the other. Running an inch or two of water in the sink will help seal the cup of the plunger against the bottom of the sink.

    The vast majority of kitchen sink clogs will be cleared with a plunger. If not, proceed to the next step.

  2. Clean Out the Trap

    When you have a stubborn kitchen sink clog that cannot be cleared with a plunger, cleaning out the drain trap may do the trick.

    The shape of the trap serves an important purpose, but it can easily become clogged with debris washed down the sink drain. Removing the drain trap will give you direct access to the clog, making it easy to clear it out. This is usually very easy to do by loosening slip nuts that hold the curved trap end to the drain tailpiece and the trap arm, using channel-lock pliers. The trap may have some standing water in it, so place a bucket beneath the trap when you remove it.

    If the clog is not in the trap bend itself, you can visually inspect the surrounding pipe—the trap arm and the beginning of the branch drain. If you can see the clog, it is easy to clear it out. Scour the inside of the trap bend with a small brush while you have it disassembled. If you still cannot see the clog, then the blockage probably lies somewhere in the branch drain, and you'll need to proceed to the next method.

    Trap drain
    Aaron Stickley
  3. Use a Drain Snake

    When a kitchen sink clog cannot be cleared by using a plunger or by removing the trap, the next approach is to snake the drain. There are various manual and electric-powered drain snakes available, but for kitchen sinks the most surefire tool is a small powered drain snake, which looks like a power drill with a drum attached to the front. Inside the drum is a coiled cable that extends out from the tool to auger into the drainpipe when the motor is activated. There are also larger motorized drain snakes that are a better choice for major clogs.

    A power snake is not a tool most people need to own, but they are widely available for rental at tool lease centers and home improvement centers. A hand-powered snake, on the other hand, is an inexpensive tool that is well worth keeping in your plumbing toolbox.

    Whatever form of snake you use, the process for using the tool begins by removing the trap. Then, the snake's cable is fed into the trap arm and into the branch drain by rotating the drum. The tip of the cable will penetrate and snag the clog when it reaches it, allowing it to be broken apart or extracted from the drain.

    Plumbing top snake
    Aaron Stickley
  4. Maintain With Drain Cleaner

    If clogs are a common occurrence for your kitchen sink, it may be a good idea to use a mild drain cleaner on a regular basis. When you notice that the kitchen sink is draining slowly, using a drain cleaner may prevent a complete blockage. This simple preventive measure can save you time and frustration down the road.

    Drain cleaner in drain
    Aaron Stickley

    Caution

    Avoid using caustic chemical drain cleaners to clear clogs. These chemicals are highly acidic and can cause burns to skin and damage to pipes. Gentle cleaners are a better choice. Or use a baking soda and vinegar solution.