How to Clear Clogged Drain Lines
If plunging doesn't work, you may have to take more drastic measures to clean out a clog.
Few things slow down your morning routine as quickly as a clog. No one wants to wait for the toilet to flush or the sink to drain. Luckily, there are permanent fixes for even the most stubborn clogs.
First, try plunging the sink, toilet, or tub. Bail out most of the water but leave a couple of inches so the plunger can seal tightly around the drain opening. Seal any openings—such as the overflow openings of a bathroom sink or a tub—by firmly pressing a wet rag into the opening. When plunging a double-bowl sink, seal the drain hole of the other bowl. If you have a dishwasher, clamp its drain hose tightly before plunging so you won't force water back into the dishwasher.
If plunging doesn't work try using a hand crank auger, dismantling a trap, or forcing pressurized water into the drain. If more than one drain is stopped or runs slowly, take more aggressive steps. Auger through an intermediate cleanout or trap.
If that doesn't solve the problem, you may need to auger the main drain. This step-by-step tutorial shows you how to do just that. With a rented power auger you'll need an hour or two to run it through a main drain. Prep for the job by clearing the area and gathering materials for cleanup afterward. You'll also want to identify and open traps and cleanouts.
What You Need
- Hand-crank or power auger
- Adjustable wrench
- Pipe wrench
- Pipe-thread tape
- Replacement cleanout plug
Step 1: Remove Cleanout Plug
Remove a cleanout plug using an adjustable wrench or a pipe wrench. A cleanout usually provides access to the main or secondary stack.
Step 2: Attach Drill
Many hand-crank augers have a shaft that attaches to a standard power drill. The resulting tool is more powerful and easier to use than a basic hand-crank auger. Use this tool to auger through intermediate drains.
Editor's Tip: Use a variable-speed drill only—a single-speed drill turns too quickly, which can jam the auger in the pipe.
Step 3: Open Main Drain Cleanout
The main drain, the line coming from the street to your house, may be clogged by tree roots that have grown into it. (Many old drain lines are made of clay or have permeable joints.) Open the cleanout plug. If you have a metal cleanout plug, you may have to loosen it with a hammer and chisel.
Step 4: Auger the Main Drain
Rent a power auger with several bits to handle various obstructions. Rental staff can advise on which bit to use. Select the bit and attach it with the setscrew provided on the cable end. Position the auger close to the pipe to minimize the length of exposed cable. Make sure cords are not lying in water. Plug in the auger. Wear heavy rubber gloves. Push the cable into the drain until you hit an obstruction. Switch on the auger and use the foot switch to start the cable rotating. Let it run for a while, then turn off the auger and push the cable in farther.
Know Your Types of Traps
A single drain cover on a bathroom floor opens to a drum trap. A house trap typically has two trap covers near each other on the floor. Both can be augered.
How to Remove a Brass Plug
Almost every cast-iron cleanout has a brass plug, often painted over. Try to remove it with a pipe wrench. (If you reuse the brass plug, first wrap the threads with pipe-thread tape.) If it won't budge try to turn it with a hammer and cold chisel. Install an expandable rubber replacement cleanout.
How to Auger from the Roof
The easiest way to auger a stack is from the roof, pushing down. That way, you have gravity on your side. Be sure to establish firm footholds before working on a roof.