How to Unclog a Drain

It's easy to unclog a drain when you use these tried-and-true unclogging strategies.


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When water drains sluggishly out of kitchen and bathroom sinks there's likely an obstruction stopping up the system. Happily, these plumbing problems can be fixed by anyone who is comfortable handling tools and doesn't mind getting their hands a little dirty.

Start with the easiest unclogging method and if that doesn't work, proceed from there. That way, if the clog is at the top of the drain, you've saved yourself from dismantling the trap. Read on for the steps to take.

Step 1: Gather Your Tools

A progression of unclogging steps ranges from cleaning the stopper and strainer to vigorous plunging and even cleaning the trap and snaking the pipes. So, since you're unlikely to know where the unclogging task will take you, it's important to have a variety of tools and supplies at hand. Here's a list of what you're likely to need, with instructions on their use to follow: Pliers, screwdriver, wire clothes hangers, plastic drain stick, bottle brush, heavy-duty plunger, wet rags, pipe wrench, and plumbing snake/cable auger.

Step 2: Start Simple

Before you dismantle plumbing pipes, check if the blockage lies near the top of the drain. Pull out the sink stopper by turning the stopper with your fingers; some stoppers will need to be removed by loosening a pivot under the sink using padded pliers. Depending on the drain setup, there might be a strainer or screen that can be removed, as well. Oftentimes, as these pieces are removed, the blockage will come with it; keep a bucket handy to contain the debris. Clean the stopper and strainer. Insert a plastic drain stick or a bent clothes hanger into the drain to hook and remove other clogs. Run hot water through the drain to wash away gunk disturbed during the unclogging process. If the water drains properly, replace the strainer and stopper. If not, try using a plunger to clear the pipes.

Step 3: Take the Plunge

Use a quality plunger (there are small versions designed for sinks) to try to shift whatever is clogging the pipe. First, create a vacuum by blocking the sink's overflow hole and drains in adjacent sinks with wet rags. Fill the sink with a couple of inches of water, set the plunger over the drain, and apply strong pressure as you push and pull the plunger; if the clog has moved, the water will begin to drain. Continue plunging until water drains freely. Run hot water through the drain. Clogs not moving? Remove the trap and work farther into the drainpipes.

Step 4: Dismantle the Trap

A sink's trap is an easily accessed U-shape drainpipe designed to capture debris or accidentally dropped items. Access the trap from under the sink; place a bucket beneath it to catch water and debris as you disassemble the pipes. Newer sink traps might have a removable square or hexagon plug at the base of the U that allows you to access trap and adjacent pipes for cleaning. For metal traps sans plugs, use a pipe wrench to loosen the couplings that hold it in place. PVC traps often can be unscrewed using your hands. Clean out the trap and adjacent pipe areas using a bent wire or bottle brush. Reassemble pipes and flush with hot water to ensure the drain is clear. If water isn't draining well, remove the trap and twist a plumber's snake or cable auger into the pipe between the trap and wall to grab and remove the clog.

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