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How Do You Unclog a Kitchen or Bathroom Drain?

Written by Rachel Vega and Doug Bonderuds
Updated June 11, 2021
Sink drain
Follow these steps to troubleshoot a clogged sink drain. (Photo by Steve Mitchell)

Before you phone a plumber, you might be able to unclog that drain yourself

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5 Ways to Unclog a Drain

A clogged drain doesn’t just throw a wrench in the immediate course of your day; the fear of the unknown compounds it. From the item lodged in your pipe to the effort required to unclog the drain (or whether it will require a professional), clearing your drain can take your mood from brilliant to blah.

Still, backed-up pipes happen. But that doesn’t mean you can’t free your clogged drain with some simple tools and know-how.

What Gear Do I Need to Unclog My Drain?

  • Rubber gloves and wire coat hanger

  • Cup or flange plunger

  • Boiling water

  • DIY drain cleaner

  • Handheld snake

How Do I Unclog a Kitchen or Bathroom Sink?

Clogs can occur anytime gunk binds with other solid or semi-solid waste, stopping liquid from flowing to the sewer. Often, the clog is the result of dirt, soap, and hair building up over time. Other clogs can occur from grease or food solids plugging your kitchen sink’s drain or garbage disposal. 

Your bathroom is not safe from blockages, either; waste (or your toddler stuffing an entire roll of toilet paper down the drain) is as likely as to cause toilets to back up, and hair is a prime suspect in your shower drain. Even a piece of jewelry can clog a sink! 

No matter the source, it’s important to free it quickly so you can get back to your day. While serious clogs may require hiring a local plumber, you can try a few techniques to help free your clog before calling in the pros.

How to Unclog a Shower Drain

Before you rent a plumber’s snake, it’s worth your time to peer into the pipe. A tangled mess of hair in your shower drain may not require any tools other than a pair of rubber gloves and a wire hanger. 

Here’s what you’ll need to do:

  • Access: Remove the drain guard and any excess hair from the surface. Take care not to push the clog deeper

  • Extract: Fashion a hook from a wire hanger to capture and remove clumps of hair

  • Clear: Pour boiling water down the drain to loosen and clear the remaining debris

Plungers For Bathroom and Kitchen Drains

Before you open a bottle of commercial drain cleaner or schedule an appointment with a local  drain cleaner, a trusty plunger can clear the majority of clogs. But did you know that not all plungers work on every drain?  

The cup plunger is the universally recognized plunger with a suction cup attached to a wooden handle. A flange plunger, on the other hand, has a piece of rubber extended from the cup. This extra rubber is ideal for toilets and shop floor drains, while a cup plunger works best on drains with flat surfaces such as kitchen sinks or showers. 

The proper plunger creates a firm seal around the drain, maximizing suction strength when plunged. Steady plunging in 30-second increments should help to loosen the clog and clear your drain. Plus, it’s a good arm workout!

How to Unclog a Drain With Boiling Water

Hot water can sometimes be enough to loosen your clog. Binding agents such as dirt, grease, and soap breakdown with applied heat. To free your clog with boiling water, heat the water in a pot or tea kettle. Once the water reaches a rolling boil, transfer to the drain and pour it down towards the blockage. You might have to do this several times before the clog comes free, but don’t give up! Your patience can pay off!

How to Unclog a Drain With Baking Soda and Vinegar

Sometimes your plunger may need a little help. Drain cleaner can loosen tightly bound hair and grime by pouring some onto the blockage. 

Popular liquid and foam drain cleaners use strong chemicals to liquefy the material clogging the drain enough to release the clog. If you want to be chemical-free, you can make your own environmentally friendlier drain cleaner.

Combined, vinegar and baking soda react with each other to create foaming. The chemical reaction of the vinegar and soda help dislodge clogs. Flushing the drain with boiling water afterward will also help sweep away the clog. 

Here’s how to make your own eco-friendly drain cleaner:

  • Pour 1 cup of baking soda into your drain

  • Pour 1 cup of vinegar down the drain

  • Wait for the reaction to subside, then pour a gallon of hot water down the drain

How to Unclog a Drain With a Hand-Operated Drain Snake

Deep clogs that are out of a wire hanger’s reach may require a secret weapon: the hand snake. Hand-operated snakes are smaller versions of the equipment professional plumbers use and can be purchased at your local hardware store for between $10 and $30. A drain snake is a long steel wire, capable of bending around curved pipes, with a wire hook on the end. Once the snake reaches the clog, spin it around and pull up the gunk.

Keep Clogs Away With Routine Drain Maintenance

As pipes age, the risk of clogs increases. But you can practice to help avoid clogs and keep your drains running properly through regular maintenance routines:

  • Install a drain guard to physically protect your drain against solids

  • Run hot water down your drains after each use

  • Routinely treat your drains with the baking soda and vinegar method mentioned above

Some clogs are just stubborn. Despite your best efforts to free your drain, it might be necessary to call for help. Professional plumbers and drain cleaners have even more capabilities to unclog your drain when you don’t have the time, the patience, or the stomach to clear it yourself. 

For some, the peace of mind and service is money well spent to avoid battling what lurks inside your pipes. For others, the clog may be no match for those willing to take up arms to rid your house of the nasty, smelly, stubborn clog.

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