All plumbing systems develop clogs—there’s no way to avoid it. We’ll show you how to clear stubborn clogs in a kitchen sink, bathtub, toilet, and floor drain.
These proven techniques will dislodge virtually any clog. If you can’t clear a clog after a few attempts, make sure you admit defeat and turn the job over to a drain-cleaning service or licensed plumber. Exerting too much force can permanently damage a pipe or fixture.
That said, specialized plumbing tools used to combat clogs are affordable, and they’re available at any hardware store or home center; you can even rent some.
How To Unclog a Toilet
Attempting to force a clog through a toilet with a plunger can often make the problem worse. Instead, create a seal and slowly push down on the plunger before pulling it back sharply. The suction can help pull the clog back up toward the bowl, breaking the blockage and allowing gravity to take over.
For stubborn clogs, a plunger might not do the trick. Instead, a tool called a closet auger fits down inside the toilet bowl and allows the user to feed a cable through the toilet without scratching the coating. These augers can bust up clogs or hook the clog and pull it back through the bowl.
How To Unclog a Lavatory Sink
Plungers are excellent at unclogging sinks, but it’s important to use the right technique. All code-compliant lavatory sinks have overflows an inch or so from the rim, and plunging often results with pressure coming back through the overflow instead of pushing the clog. Cover this hole with a rag and hand pressure while plunging to take advantage of the hydraulic pressure.
When the plunger won’t do the trick, it might be necessary to use a wire drain snake. To use a drain snake, remove the pop-up assembly in the sink and gently feed the wire into the drain while cranking the handle. Once the snake makes a bit of progress, advance a bit more wire from the snake and continue. This will break the clog up and push it through the pipe.
For bathrooms with dual sinks, the sink drains often meet together at a T or Y fitting. In sinks with T fittings, a snake fed through one sink drain can run across the pipes and into the other sink, rather than running down the drain toward the clog. In those cases, it might be necessary to cut out the T, snake the drain, and then replace the fitting with a Y-type fitting.
How To Unclog a Bathtub
When plunging a shower drain, the same rule applies as they do with sinks: cover the overflow. The easiest way to seal the overflow is to remove the cover, place a rag over the hole and apply hand pressure. This will allow the plunger to build up the pressure in the drain system, hopefully pushing the clog through.
But, when a plunger won’t work, that overflow serves another purpose. When this is the case, feed the snake through the overflow opening and down into the drain system. The route provided by the overflow is a straight shot to the trap, avoiding the tight turn caused by the drain T.
How To Unclog a Drain Pipe
Sinks, toilets, and showers run into larger drain pipes, and those pipes sometimes clog as well. However, code dictates that there be a clean-out fitting installed at every change of direction. Simply remove the cap with a pair of pliers or a wrench, and use this access for clearing the clog.
One way to unclog a pipe is to use a larger wire snake. These snakes are more powerful, longer, and often feature more aggressive tips for breaking the clog up or hooking it for removal. Simply feed the wire snake through the drain, and continue advancing it until the clog is clear. One important tip though: If possible, run water through the pipes while snaking the drain. This will allow the freshly loosened build-up to flush through the system rather than just settling back in place.
There are also drain-cleaning bladders that utilize hydraulic force to clean clogs. These rubberized bladders hook to the end of a hose and fit inside a cleanout. As the hose fills the bladder, it expands to seal off the pipe. At the tip of the bladder is a hole that shoots water into the drain pipe, pressurizing it until the clog has nowhere to go but forward and through the system. Note that this system can potentially damage older pipes.
How to Clear a Floor Drain
In many basements, garages, and laundry rooms there are floor drains that carry away wastewater from central air conditioners, washing machines, water heaters, and snow-covered cars.
Over time, these drains collect large quantities of soap scum, laundry lint, sand, and slimy bacteria that crystallize inside the long drainpipe. To break through these tough blockages, you’ll need the extra clog-clearing muscle of an electric power auger.
- Rent a power auger with at least 50 feet of cable. Start by removing the strainer that covers the drain hole.
- Then, look for a clean-out plug on the side of the drain basin.
- Remove the plug with a wrench. That allows you to bypass the trap and feed the cable directly down the pipe.
- If the drain doesn’t have a clean-out plug, you’ll have to snake the cable through the trap; this is a somewhat more difficult approach.
Using a Power Auger
- Plugin the power auger and position it near the drain. Most models are fitted with a foot-pedal switch, leaving both of your hands-free to guide the cable.
- Feed several feet of cable down the drain pipe. Set the motor for clockwise rotation, then step on the switch to start the cable turning.
- Push the cable into the pipe until you feel resistance or hear the motor start to bog down.
- Stop the motor, reverse the rotation and back out a few feet of cable.
- Switch back to clockwise rotation and feed the cable farther down the pipe. Repeat this back-and-forth procedure until the clog has been cleared away.
- Retrieve the cable and flush out the drainpipe by pouring several buckets of hot water down it. If the water still drains sluggishly, run about 2 feet of cable directly down the trap.
- Before replacing the clean-out plug, wrap Teflon tape around its threads; this will make it easier to unscrew the plug in the future. Caution: Failure to replace the clean-out plug will allow dangerous sewer gases to seep into the house.
Chemical Clog Remover is Rarely the Answer
Chemical clog removers are really only suitable for occasional use in slow drains, as they aren’t effective against actual stoppages. In fact, pouring liquid clog remover into a drain can make the job more dangerous for anyone who needs to remove that clog with a snake or plunger. Also, chemical clog removers are bad for the environment and can eat away at metal pipes, causing drains that flow too well—right onto the floor.
Tools You’ll Need to Unclog a Drain
- The first tool to reach for when trouble arises is a plunger. This plumber’s friend clears clogs from most fixtures, including sinks, tubs, and toilets. Every homeowner should keep one handy.
- To dislodge clogs located farther down the drainpipe, use a cable auger, or plumber’s snake, a long, flexible steel cable wound around a spool that’s fitted with a hand crank. Cable augers are available in lengths up to 100 feet, though a 25-foot model will suffice for most any household clog.
- A closet auger is specifically made for snaking out toilets. It, too, is equipped with a hand crank, but instead of a spool, the cable is encased in a rigid shaft. The auger end is bent at a precise angle to fit through the tight curves of a toilet trap.
- For a very large clog or one that’s far from the fixture, rent an electric power auger. This machine—basically a large cable auger powered by an electric motor—is very effective at cutting through virtually any clog, even tangled tree roots. Before bringing home a power auger, be sure the rental agent shows you how to safely dispense and retrieve the cable.
Richard demonstrates how to handle simple clogs in a bathroom sink, kitchen sink, and toilet using different mechanical devices and the proper techniques. When using a plunger he recommends creating a seal with the flange and pulling back on the plunger allowing the clog to break up. A closet auger is used for toilet clogs and has a protective sleeve to ensure that the porcelain toilet isn’t damaged. K-3 Toilet Auger manufactured by Ridgid.