5 Ways to Clear a Clog That Don't Involve a Trip to the Cleaning Aisle

Candace Nelson
Written by Candace Nelson
Updated October 15, 2021
faucet running water bathroom sink
Photo: New Africa / Adobe Stock

Pro plumbers say they’d never use store-bought drain solutions. Here’s what they recommend instead.

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You may be the most disciplined sink user in the world, and yet somehow your drain still clogs. Soap scum, toothpaste, and shaving cream love to build up in your plumbing pipes, leaving nothing but standing water in their wake. You know how this story ends.

But you don’t have to run to the hardware store to buy a clog remedy and get the water flowing again. You can clear a drain using a few things you may already have around the house. Here are five ways to power through a blockage that don’t require a trip to the store.

1. Pour Hot Water Down the Drain

When you notice water is slowly draining down your sink, pour some hot—but not boiling—water down any clogged drain. This will help dissolve whatever is gunking up the drain and move through your plumbing system. Boiling water could melt plastic pipes, particularly if it gets stuck in one spot because of the clog. Keep the water below the point of bubbling to play it safe and avoid pipe damage. 

Using hot water to unclog drains is also a great way to prevent future clogs. Fill your sink with hot water every couple of weeks then pull out the stopper to let the water drain quickly. Forceful gravity should help push debris through the pipes and keep additional buildup from forming.

2. Use a Plunger

Plungers aren’t just for toilets, they work for sinks as well. In fact, a plunger is a handy tool to have around the house because it can be re-used on any type of drain. Fill the sink with a few cups of water then position the plunger over the drain with the stopper open. Pull up on the plunger handle. Pump a couple of times to allow the suction to loosen whatever is blocking the drain.

3. Grab a Wire Coat Hanger

A wire hanger might not hold your sweaters securely, but it can help unclog a drain. Untwist it to make the wire as long as possible, then bend a little paperclip-sized hook at the end. Slowly fish it down the drain until you feel resistance—that’s probably the clog. Push, twist, or give it a jiggle to snag whatever is stuck in the pipe. Wipe and dispose of whatever crud the wire found and run the water to flush the drain.

Note that you may need to fish the wire through your drain a few times to break up the clog completely.

4. Take Apart the P-trap

The P-trap is the curve in the pipe under the sink. It’s also where you’ll find most sink clogs. Clearing a drain may require disassembling the P-trap. To take apart the P-trap and locate the buildup, you’ll need a bucket, wrench, towels, and something to clean the pipe with, like a brush or towel.

  1. Turn off the water at the sink

  2. Place the bucket under the P-trap to catch any gunk or debris

  3. Use your wrench to unscrew the nuts on either side of the bent part of the pipe

  4. Jiggle the pipe to shake loose the debris 

  5. Use the brush to clean out the pipe 

  6. Put the cleaned pieces back together, using your fingers to tighten the nuts. Then use your wrench to give them another quarter turn. Be careful not to overtighten the nuts, as too much force can crack the pipe 

  7. Run the water with the bucket still in place to confirm that everything in the P-trap is watertight

5. Cut Through Grease With Dish Soap

The main cause of kitchen sink clogs is cooking grease. A quick solution for combating grease buildups could be found in the bottle on your kitchen counter: dish soap. As you’ve learned from decades of TV commercials, dish soap cuts through grease. Start by sending hot water down the drain, then squirt some dish soap in the sink and let the hot water push it through the pipes, hopefully taking the grease clog with it.

Should You Use Store-Bought Cleaners to Unclog a Drain?

Bypassing a plumber for a bottle of drain cleaner is not always the right move. The drain cleaning solutions you find in most plumbing aisles can be harsh and erode pipes. Plus, most heavy clogs need to be pulled out rather than broken up to truly flush the system. It’s best to skip these solutions and opt for one of the household items above.

When to Call a Pro

If you’ve tried these home remedies and can’t clear the clog, you may need to enlist the help of a drain cleaning professional to rid your most stubborn clogs (or troubleshoot other problems). Cleaning most drain clogs is a pretty quick job for a trained professional. It shouldn’t take more than an hour.

Prevention Is the Best Drain Cleaner

Now that your pipes are clear, take steps to prevent future clogs. The easiest way is with strategically placed trash cans and compost pails near your sinks and drains. Use the appropriate receptacle—rather than the sink— for things like dental floss, feminine hygiene products, cooking grease, and food scraps.

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