5 Ways To Clear A Clogged Drain

With all puns possibly intended, most folks know the sinking feeling of a clogged drain. These inconveniences typically come at the worst time, when the sink is full of food, toothpaste or worse items we dare not name (for your sake and ours). While the situation is usually pretty gross, getting out of this sticky situation doesn’t have to be so nasty. This guide on how to clear a clogged drain will help.
Calling a plumber to unclog a drain can be very expensive. And, in some cases, it’s a DIY-able job. The following are a few ways to clear a clogged drain, and some methods may work better than others in particular situations.

A Word About Liquid Drain Cleaning Chemicals

Before we go too deeply into the different methods for unclogging drains, we need to talk about liquid drain cleaners. It’s important to know how these work and the dangers they can create before pouring one down a sink drain.

Liquid drain cleaners are really just for drains that are slowing, whether it be from hair, food or other blockages. These chemicals’ corrosive properties break down the obstruction to allow wastewater to flow through. They must be used with caution and it’s a good idea to wear protective gloves, glasses and a respirator.

Never pour liquid drain cleaner down a drain that is completely clogged. If the waste water doesn’t drain at all, the liquid chemical will sit on top of the clog. Inevitably, someone will have to plunge or snake the drain, and that liquid cleaner can be hazardous to their eyes and skin.

1. Boil the Clog Away

One method for clearing a mildly clogged (or clogging) drain is to pour boiling water down the drain. The idea here is that the extremely hot water will break the clog down until it can pass down the drain.

Boil eight to 12 cups of water in a pot. Carefully bring it to the sink and pour it down the drain, roughly two or three cups at a time. Allow the hot water to sit for a minute before pouring more down the drain. It may be necessary to repeat this process a few times before the clog clears.

Note that this method is anything but a sure thing for fully stopped drains. The water already in the sink will instantly cool the boiling water to a point where it may not be hot enough to clear the clog. However, this can be a viable option for slow drains.

2. Try a Clog-Busting Household Cleaner

In some cases in kitchen sinks, a clogged drain may be the result of grease build-up. Dish soap is designed for cutting through grease, and it can make quite a difference with a clogged drain, as well.

Squeeze a few tablespoons of dish soap down the drain and let it sit. If the dish soap is able to reach the clog, it will begin to break down the grease and its bond to the pipe. After a few minutes, give the clog the boiling water treatment, pouring a few cups of boiling water down the drain at a time. This may clear the clog or at least get the drain flowing again.

It may be possible to break up a bathroom sink clog with a similar method, opting for baking soda, lemon and vinegar instead of dish soap. Simply pour ½ cup of baking soda down the drain followed by ½ cup of white vinegar, and then one cup of lemon juice. Follow this mixture with five or six cups of boiling water and allow the combination to sit for a few hours before checking.

3. Take the Plunge

If the above methods didn’t work, it may be necessary to use a plunger to clear the clog. Be sure to use a sink plunger for sinks and a toilet plunger for toilets. Toilet plungers have an extended flange that fits down into the toilet drain, while sink plungers just sit on top of the sink drain.

Place the plunger over the drain. If this is a sink, be sure to block the overflow hole (typically near the rim of the sink) with a finger or wet rag. Also, fill the sink slightly with water. Slowly push down on the plunger’s handle to force water through the drain. Release the overflow hole, allow the plunger to rise again, block the hole and repeat until the sink is clear.

There aren’t overflow drains for toilets, so DIY plumbers don’t need to worry about holding their hands over a hole inside of the bowl. Ensure that the toilet flange is popped out of the bottom of the plunger before placing it in the toilet. Hold the plunger at an angle to fill the bell with as much water as possible. Next, place the plunger in the toilet drain and begin plunging. Stop every few plunges (10 or so) to refill the plunger bell and then continue. Hopefully, this will push the clog through the toilet and clear the drain.

4. Snake the Drain

If the plunger isn’t able to break up the clog, there is a good chance that the dish soap or baking soda concoction didn’t do anything. In this case, it may be necessary to snake the drain.

Use a plastic drain snake for sinks. These snakes are narrow, relatively flat and flexible, and have a series of barbs. Feed the snake into the drain a few inches at a time before pulling it back out and cleaning the snake off. Repeat until you’re able to pass the entire snake into the drain. Run the water to see if the drain is clear.

For toilets, it may be necessary to use a toilet snake, also known as a closet auger. These long-handled tools fit down into a toilet drain, and the user pushes the snake through the toilet while cranking the handle. This will typically clear most clogs within the toilet.

5. Call a Professional

Unless you’re comfortable taking your drain pipes apart, the next step is to call a professional. The drain may need snaking with a full-length drain snake to remove the clog, and that professional will be very happy to hear that there isn’t any liquid drain cleaner waiting for them inside those pipes.