How to Clear Any Clogged Drain? Common Tips, Possible Fixes and Prevention

Tom Hartelby Tom Hartel
male plumber using plunger bathroom sink

We’ve all been there – standing over the sink when all of a sudden the water backs up, failing to drain as it normally does. Whether it’s a utility sink, kitchen or bathroom sink, shower/tub drain or a toilet – when water fails to drain, we need to fix it and fast.

There are a number of tips we’re going to cover on this topic that can help you clear that clog on your own. However, if you aren’t confident implementing the solutions below or if you’re certain the problem is far too complex, having your plumber’s emergency number handy will be the perfect option for you.

Common culprits

Toilet paper, sanitary napkins and baby wipes are often the culprits in toilets. Hair and soap scum can be the guilty party in a shower drain and in bathroom sinks. Food, cooking oil, grease, dirt and debris are often the objects that foul up our kitchen drains.

The basics of your drains

If you’re like most homeowners, your drains are connected to a city sewer service. We need to understand that in many cases, the clog will be near to the drain in your sink, toilet or tub, but it might also be located far deeper into the piping system, which means DIY methods might not work.

The drainpipe from the city sewer service is usually around four inches in diameter, though some might be as small as three inches, so it’s easy to see how fast a clog can occur. This pipe is usually found under your yard, which connects to the main drain in the house, generally in the basement floor. When this main drain clogs, every drain in the house will be affected.

Approaching a main drain clog

Once you suspect that the main drain is the problem, do not flush a toilet. Do not run your dishwasher or clothes washer. If you really want to take extra precautions to ensure that nobody in your family adds to the problem, you can shut off the main water supply to your home.

In some cases, it could be the city drain that is backed up, though this is rare. To be sure, ask your neighbor if they are having any issues. If not, it’s a localized problem, which means you need to contact your plumber because it’s never recommended for a non-professional to tinker with the main drain.

DIY Tips for clearing obstructions in sinks

Your kitchen and bathroom sinks probably get the most action in your house. Rather than purchasing expensive (and caustic) liquid drain cleaners, try boiling water. Boiling water will dissolve most organic matter. A word of caution here – if you have PVC pipes, boiling water will loosen the joints. Also, if your sink is made of porcelain, boiling water will make it crack, which means you have to carefully pour the water in the drain only.

A hand plunger can push a clog through, clearing the way for water to drain as normal. First, take out any strainers that you might have in your sink. Make sure your plunger is the cup-shaped one, not flanged, as the flanged probably won’t work in your sink (those are made for toilets). Fill your sink full or partially full of water if it isn’t already, and make quick plunging motions to push the water through the drain, dislodging the clog.

Another application to try is baking soda and vinegar. If your sink has a slow drain, wait for the water to completely drain and pour half a box of baking soda into it. Then, pour a half-cup of vinegar into the drain and immediately stop it up with rags or a metal stopper if you have one available. Wait around 30 minutes, then remove the stopper and pour boiling water into the drain.

If boiling water and the vinegar/baking soda combo isn’t budging that stubborn clog, it’s time to bust out the “snake.” A snake is a handheld drain cleaning solution that utilizes a long wire that is coiled up into a spring-like configuration. They have an attachment to the front of the wire that will grab on to the clog and clear it out.

Finally, if you have the right tools on hand, you can get under your sink and remove the P-trap, which is the U-shaped portion of the pipe where many clogs will occur. You’ll need to put a bucket under it as there will likely be water and debris present. If you’re not confident in making this fix, contact your plumber.

Addressing a clogged tub drain

If you’re noticing a slower draining process in your shower, it’s not something that is going to fix itself, which means you need to address it before it becomes completely clogged.

You can start by using your plunger, just as you would in your kitchen or bathroom sink. Again, you’ll want to remove the screen in your drain before you start plunging. You might have to place a wet rag in the overflow plate for your plunging efforts to have any effect.

When the plunger won’t remove the clog, the snake is the next tool to implement. You’ll need to remove your overflow plate and remove all the stopper linkage attached. Then, feed your snake down into the tube. It usually takes about 30 inches or so of your snake wire to get to the problem area. Work the hand crank until you feel resistance, which will likely be the P-trap, and keep pushing through. Pull the cable back and begin running hot water down the drain to flush out the debris that has been broken up.

If things are draining as usual, just replace your overflow plate and all the assembly.

Clearing a toilet

Your trusty plunger is probably the main workhorse where clogs in your toilet are concerned. In most cases, you’re just plunging away debris that has been caught in the up-curving trap that exits into the drainpipe. A few quick plunges will clear just about all of these obstructions, but not always.

When the plunger fails to produce the desired results, your best friend is going to be a snake. You’ll need to make sure as you place the tip of snake into the bowl that the tip is aiming up and then feed it through the trap while cranking the handle clockwise. You might have to repeat this process multiple times before you clear the debris, especially if it’s something a toddler decided to try to flush.

For more information about attacking a clogged drain anywhere in the house, contact Old World Plumbing. We’re the plumbing experts that can assist you in getting after those stubborn clogs that conventional methods can’t handle.

Tom Hartel
President/Author
Tom Hartel

I acquired my expertise by directing day-to-day operations of the business for over 20 years. Continuous hard work helped me become a nationally recognized speaker and expert on plumbing and fire protection systems. In this blog, I share my knowledge that will hopefully help you make better decisions for your homes.

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