8 Ways to Get a Clogged Sink or Tub Drain Moving Again

Plunge into DIY clog removal

Deane Biermeier
Written by Deane Biermeier
Reviewed by Joseph Wood
Updated May 11, 2022
Boy in the bathroom washing hands
Photo: PeopleImages / iStock / Getty Images
Difficulty

Easy

Simple project; big impact.

Time to complete

1 hour

Cost

$10–$35

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What you'll need:

TOOLS

  • Plunger
  • Plastic drain cleaning tool
  • Drain snake
  • Screwdriver
  • 1-gallon bucket
  • Cloth rag
  • Large tongue and groove pliers
  • Pliers

SUPPLIES

  • Water
  • Dish soap
  • Baking soda
  • Distilled vinegar or lemon juice
  • Drain cleaner

Sink and tub drains are rarely at the forefront of our thoughts—until they stop working. Most of the time, these systems work flawlessly, and they don’t require much attention. However, when drains become clogged with hair, fats, oils, starch, or foreign objects—not only does it keep water from draining—but it can plug up your day as well. 

Fortunately, not every stopped drain means you’ll have to shell out big bucks to cover the cost of drain cleaning. You can clear a drain using a few things you may already have around the house. Here are some time and money-saving tips to try before you call the plumber.

Steps to Unclog a Sink or Tub Drain

Sink and tub drains look different because a tub drain usually has most of its parts hidden under or behind the tub, while a sink drain is often exposed. However, both work in the same way, and you can use mostly the same techniques and tools to unclog either type.

  1. Try Hot Water

    Saucepan with boiling water on top of gas stove
    Photo: ablokhin / iStock / Getty Images Plus

    If your drain is clearing slowly and there’s no standing water left in it, hot water is sometimes enough to dissolve a fatty or oily drain clog. 

    1. Bring approximately 1/2 gallon of water to a boil.

    2. Slowly pour the water directly into the drain.

    3. Flush the drain with hot tap water for five minutes.

  2. Cut Grease With Dish Soap

    hand holding dish soap bottle
    Photo: Robin Gentry / iStock / Getty Images Plus

    In some cases, dish soap can break down a greasy clog and get things moving again. However, don’t go overboard, as too much soap can lead to suds. If the soap fails to go down the drain, it can coagulate into a greater clog. 

    1. Squirt approximately 1 ounce of dish soap directly into the affected drain.

    2. Slowly pour boiling, or near-boiling, water directly into the drain.

    3. Flush the drain with hot tap water for several minutes.

  3. Break Up a Clog With Baking Soda

    Woman making natural house cleaner with baking soda
    Photo: Aygul Bulte / iStock / Getty Images Plus

    A method of homemade drain cleaning you can try is mixing baking soda with lemon juice and water or vinegar. 

    Baking soda and lemon juice method:

    1. Mix 1 cup of baking soda with 3 cups of boiling water and 1 cup of lemon juice.

    2. Slowly pour the mix into the slow drain.

    Baking soda and vinegar method:

    • Pour 1/2 cup of baking soda directly into the drain.

    • Immediately pour 1/2 cup of white vinegar into the same drain.

    • Pour several cups of boiling water into it.

    • Let it sit undisturbed. It may take up to an hour to see results.

  4. Remove a Clog With Basic Tools

    Pile of metal coat hangers on a table
    Photo: DAVID / Adobe Stock

    If the drain still runs slowly after trying to clean it out using gentle methods, it’s time to go after the clog with tools. Plastic drain cleaning tools are 24-inch to 36-inch long strips that have barbs cut into them. They’re inexpensive and designed to grab ahold of clogs and pull them out the way they went in. 

    1. Insert a plastic drain cleaning tool into the drain as far as it will reach.

    2. Slowly pull the strip straight back out. Be patient. The barbs can make taking it out somewhat frustrating. Try twisting the tool slightly to scour the surfaces and if it feels stuck. 

    3. Alternatively, you can try breaking up the clog with an untwisted metal coat hanger with a small hook at the end. Be careful that the hook is compact, or you could get the whole apparatus stuck.

  5. Use a Trusty Plunger

    Plumber using plunger in bathroom sink
    Photo: Jasmin Merdan / Moment / Getty Images

    Plungers effectively remove clogs by breaking them up with suction action that helps water push them through the system. You’ll need to do some preparation before plunging, and the prep depends on which drain is clogged. 

    Bath Sink Prep:

    • Before using a plunger to unclog a bathroom sink, take out the stopper by reaching behind the drain plumbing with pliers and gently removing the stopper lever nut.

    • Remove the sink drain stopper and replace the lever and nut.

    • Plug the overflow drain hole by stuffing the corner of a cloth rag into it. Plunging will create necessary air pressure in the drain to help move the clog. The rag will keep this pressure from escaping.  

    Double-Basin Sink Prep:

    Tub or Shower Drain Prep:

    • For tub drains, remove the overflow drain cover with a screwdriver and plug the hole by stuffing a cloth rag into it. 

    Prep for All Drains:

    • Run water until there’s an inch or two of standing water in the sink or tub. 

    • Place the plunger over the drain and ensure the plunger lip sits flush on the bottom. You may have to bend the plunger rim backward to help it seal against a sink.

    • Vigorously move the plunger up and down several times without breaking contact with the bottom of the sink or tub.

    • Flush with hot water for several minutes.

  6. Take Apart the P-Trap

    Plumber removing bathroom sink p trap
    Photo: Westend61 / Westend61 / Getty Images

    For more serious clogs, you may have to do a little deconstruction to get the heart of the matter. This method works well for sinks and tubs that allow access to the trap from a lower floor.

    "For a tub, first pull the overflow trip lever," says Joseph Wood, Expert Review Board member, Master Plumber, and Founder of Boston Standard Company. "For a sink, pull the horizontal lift rod from the pop-up assembly. This lift rod goes into the vertical plunger that stops up the sink water (not all sinks use this type like vessel sinks). If you pull the lift rod and pull up the plunger, you can often go right down the drain from there with success, especially with a small hair tool or coat hanger."

    1. Place a bucket under the P trap. 

    2. Loosen the plastic nuts that hold the trap together. Use large tongue and groove pliers or a dry cloth rag if you need help gripping the nuts. 

    3. Remove the trap’s elbow and clean out the debris. 

    4. Replace the P trap and test the drain.

  7. Use a Drain Snake

    If you’ve disassembled the P trap and there wasn’t anything lodged inside, it’s time to try using a drain snake. Manual sink drain snakes are available at hardware stores for under $25. More expensive models are available that attach to a power drill. 

    • Pull out 12–16 inches of drain snake from the coil housing or drum, and tighten it in place with the thumbscrew. 

    • Insert the snake’s end into the drain as far as you can. For unclogging tub drains, insert the end into the overflow drain.

    • Twist the drum several times until it spins freely.

    • Turn the thumbscrew to release the snake.

    • Insert more snake length into the drain until you feel resistance.

    • Lock the thumbscrew, and twist the drum until it spins easily.

    • Again, release the snake at the thumbscrew. Insert another couple of feet of the snake, until you feel resistance. 

    • Tighten the screw, and spin the drum again.

    • Repeat several times if necessary until you can push in several feet of the snake with no resistance.

    • Twist the thumbscrew to release and turn the drum counterclockwise to retract the snake. 

    • Flush the drain with hot water for several minutes. 

  8. Use Liquid Drain Cleaner

    There are several pros and cons of liquid drain cleaners to consider before grabbing a bottle of it. If you choose to use a liquid or chemical drain cleaner, use it sparingly and cautiously. "This would always be the last option or last resort for me," says Wood.

    Generally, you can simply pour drain cleaners directly into the affected drain. However, carefully follow the individual product directions on the bottle you choose.

Unclogging a Drain Yourself vs. Hiring a Pro

If you’re unable to clear the clog or the drain still runs slowly after trying some of these methods, your drain plumbing may be experiencing more significant problems, such as a clogged sewer line or blocked plumbing vents. It may be time to call a local plumber to assess the situation. 

If the clog is too advanced, you can’t seem to keep your drains clear, or if you’re concerned about the integrity of the plumbing itself, it's time to call in a local drain cleaning company who can take care of the problem for an average cost of $220.

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Get quotes from top-rated pros.