Three Quick and Easy Ways to Unclog a Sink Drain

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  • 01 of 06

    Clogged Sink Drains

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    Occasional clogs in sinks, tubs, or shower drains are a fact of life. They are usually caused by localized clogs in the drain trap or branch drain for a single fixture. However, if you have several fixtures that are draining slowly or not draining at all, the problem may be in one of the main drain stack or sewer lines in your home.

    This article will discuss three easy fixes to try before calling in a plumber. 

    In this tutorial we'll also discuss the right plunger or auger to use for sinks, tubs, and showers, and what to do if the clog is a bit more stubborn. 

    Tools and Materials You May Need

    • Cup drain plunger
    • Washcloth or duct tape
    • Sink auger (for stubborn clogs)
    • Channel-type pliers (if needed)
    • Bucket (if needed)
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  • 02 of 06

    The Easy First Approach: Boiling Water

    Close-Up Of Water Boiling In Teapot
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    Most clogs in sinks and tubs are due to a combination of hair, grease, soap residue, and tepid water that are trapped in the drain trap right below the drain opening. If you have metal pipes, then try to loosen the clog with hot water—very hot. Pouring a pot of boiling water directly down the drain into the trap may dissolve the clog, especially if it consists of soap scum or grease. Hot tap water won't do the trick—it has to be boiling water.

    CAUTION: Do not pour the boiling water directly on a porcelain sink, but rather down the drain. And do not use boiling water if you have plastic PVC pipes since water hotter than 175°F.  can soften some types of PVC pipe. For plastic pipes attempt to clear the clog using a plunger.

    1. On your stove, boil a gallon of water in a large pot or tea kettle.  
    2. Carefully carry it over to the clogged sink.
    3. Slowly pour the boiling water into the drain (not directly onto the porcelain), and see if it dissolves the clog.
    4. If not, proceed to the next step, which uses a plunger.
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  • 03 of 06

    Try a Drain Plunger

    Plumber unclogging kitchen sink
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    Two types of drain plungers are common for home use: the cup plunger, and the flange plunger (also called a toilet plunger). For working in sinks, showers, and tubs, use a cup plunger.

    1. If you are working on a bathroom lavatory sink, seal the sink overflow outlet found at the top of the sink bowl, just under the rim. Use a piece of duct tape to cover the sink overflow hole. Another approach is to block the overflow opening with a damp cloth. If you are working on a bathtub, then duct tape over the overflow opening at the front of the tub. 
    2. If the clog is in a kitchen sink, remove the basket strainer. If the clog is in a bathroom sink, remove the drain stopper. Try lifting it out or turning and lifting.
    3. Fill the sink bowl halfway with water. On a tub or shower, fill the bottom of the tub or shower pan with several inches of water. This will allow the cup of the plunger to form a tight seal.
    4. Place the cup plunger over the drain opening and make sure it has a good seal against the surface around the drain.
    5. Using quick, sharp plunges, pump up and down several times to attempt to clear the obstruction. You may need to hold your hand over the duct tape or wet cloth sealing the overflow opening—the air pressure caused by the plunging motion may cause the tape to loosen. 
    6. Once cleared, let the faucet run for several minutes. Remove the overflow outlet seal and replace the drain stopper or sink basket.
    7. If the clog was not removed, proceed to the next step.
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  • 04 of 06

    Use a Sink Auger for Stubborn Clogs

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    If the plunger did not clear the clog, other tools are available, such as a sink auger (also called a drum or canister auger), or a drain-cleaning snake. Of these, the sink auger is preferred for its clean ease of use and convenience. 

    1. With the drain stopper removed, extend the auger cable into the drain opening. When you feel it bump up against the clog, pull out about 12 inches more of the cable and tighten the set screw on the cannister
    2. Turn the crank handle of the auger with firm but gentle pressure.
    3. Extend more cable as required until you feel you've worked through the clog. This should work if the clog is in the trap.
    4. Repeat and then flush with hot water from the faucet once the drain starts to flow.

    If you have extended cable all the way through the trap without contacting a clog, then the clog is probably in the branch drain or the vertical drain stack in the wall past the branch drain. To get at these pipes, move to the next step.

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  • 05 of 06

    Removing the Drain Trap and Auguring the Branch Drain

    Water leak - flood in the bathroom.
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    For clogs beyond the trap, getting to them is a bit more work but still fairly easy.

    1. Place a bucket under the trap to catch the water that will come out once the trap is removed.
    2. Loosen the slip nuts at each end of the trap with channel-type pliers or a pipe wrench. Remove the slip-nuts and the trap. Note how the nylon slip washers are oriented on the pipe, to make reassembly easier. 
    3. Dump the water in the trap into the bucket. Water will also drain from the disconnected ends of the pipe. 
    4. Extend the auger cable into the flat section of drain pipe. When you feel it against the clog, pull out about 12 inches more of the cable and tighten the set screw
    5. Turn the crank handle of the auger with firm but gentle pressure.
    6. Extend more cable as required until you feel you've worked through the clog.
    7. Reassemble the drain trap and flush the drain with hot water from the faucet to clear any remaining debris.
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  • 06 of 06

    What About Chemical Drain Cleaners?

    Pouring chemicals down a sink
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    Don't use them. Chemical drain cleaners are no friend to the environment or the drain pipes in your plumbing system, and these caustic chemicals can be very dangerous to use. 

    In addition to their danger, chemical cleaners rarely work on stubborn clogs. And after they fail, you will be left with a sink full of water and toxic chemicals that need to be bailed out by hand.

    The methods described above will almost always work to clear a drain clog, and if they don't you're better off calling a plumber and avoiding chemicals.