How to Unclog a Sink: 8 Ways to Beat Tough Kitchen Clogs and Make Sure They Never Return

Mariel Loveland
Written by Mariel Loveland
Updated August 17, 2022
A beautiful kitchen sink
Photo: annaia / iStock / Getty Images

What goes down must come up, at least when you have a clog that’s totally stuck

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A clogged kitchen sink is a real drag and makes doing the dishes impossible after a big family dinner. Luckily, there are several homebrew DIY methods for how to unclog a sink, so you don’t always need to bring in a plumber or resign yourself to living in kitchen misery. This guide will show you how to break up tough clogs using common supplies you can probably find underneath your sink.

What Causes a Clogged Kitchen Sink?

There are several reasons you may have a clog in your kitchen sink. Most of the time, the culprit is food or kitchen grease. When we wash food off our plates, tiny bits can get caught in the pipe system below the drain. Similarly, grease that makes its way down the drain can solidify once it cools and builds up inside the pipes. 

Luckily, sinks have a part known as a P trap, S trap, or J trap somewhere under the drain (usually hidden in your under-sink cabinetry). Ideally, this curved pipe catches larger items before they make their way into the rest of your home’s pipe system and cause major problems. Most of the time, the clog gets stuck inside the trap, and you need to reach it to remove it.

How Much Does It Cost to Unclog a Kitchen Sink?

If you can’t kick a clog on your own, professional drain cleaning costs $60 to $300 for most homeowners. If the clog extends to your main sewer line, you could pay as much as $800, but unclogging a kitchen sink costs less than $215.

Prepping to Unclog Your Kitchen Sink

Before you can dislodge a clog in a sink, you need to do a little prep work. First, stop running the tap. If the drain is slow-draining but still works, wait for the water to run out. 

If the sink is fully clogged and the water won’t drain, you’ll need to remove the standing water by hand. You can use a wet-dry vacuum or a bucket. If you use a bucket and plan to dump the water down a different drain in your home, make sure there aren’t floating bits of food that could potentially create another clog.

Once your drain is no longer a tiny swimming pool, you can start the unclogging process. If you have a garbage disposal, make sure it’s switched off. Always use caution when putting objects into a drain with a disposal.

How to Unclog a Sink

How to unclog a kitchen sink depends on what it’s clogged with. Some clogs are tougher than others. Regardless of whether you’re unclogging a double kitchen sink with standing water or a single sink, always start with the mildest method to avoid ruining your pipes. 

If you’ve got PVC pipes or your sink won’t drain at all, avoid using boiling water. Only use a chemical cleaner as a last resort since they’re corrosive. Here are some options for how to fix a sink clog. 

1. Use Baking Soda and Vinegar

A woman using baking soda to unclog sink drain
Photo: New Africa / Adobe Stock

There are plenty of homemade solutions to clear a clogged sink, so start with the stuff you already have in your home. Baking soda and vinegar are the go-to here. 

  1. After removing any standing water, pour 1 cup of baking soda down the drain and use a spatula or spoon to push it down.

  2. Follow this by pouring 1 cup of white vinegar down the drain. 

  3. Place a stopper or cover on the drain to seal it and prevent backflow.

  4. Wait for 15 to 20 minutes, remove the cover, and run hot water down the drain.

2. Use Hot Water 

Baking soda and vinegar didn’t work? Hot water is a surprisingly effective way to get a clogged sink moving again

  1. Bring about 1/2 gallon of water to boil on your stove. 

  2. Wait for the water to cool down until it’s no longer boiling, and then pour the hot water down your sink drain. 

  3. Run your faucet after a couple of minutes to see if it worked. If it's still clogged, repeat the above process.

  4. After two tries with no success, move on to another method. 

Remember: Never pour boiling water down the sink to unclog a drain since it could cause damage if you have PVC pipes in your plumbing. 

3. Try Good Old Dish Soap

One of the primary causes behind kitchen sink clogs is grease, so you should never pour grease down your kitchen sink. Luckily, your average bottle of dish soap cuts through grease like a hot knife through butter. 

  1. After removing any standing water, turn on the hot water (this method won’t work if there is no drainage at all).  

  2. Squirt a generous dollop of dish soap (about 1 cup) down the sink, and let the hot water push it through the pipes. 

  3. Let the mixture do its thing for 10 to 15 minutes, then check on your work. 

  4. Repeat if necessary, but avoid mixing liquid dish soap with chemical agents like liquid drain cleaner.

4. Break Out the Plunger and Wire Hanger

If you’re wondering how to fix a sink clog that won’t dissolve, sometimes the only way out is up. You may not have all the tools of a professional plumber, but you can certainly jury-rig a solution with a wire hanger and traditional plunger—they’re not just for plunging the toilet

  1. Pour some water in the sink until it pools up, and then use a standard plunger to plunge the drain opening and loosen up any gunk. 

  2. Untwist a wire coat hanger to make it as long as possible. Create a hook (the size of a paper clip) at the end by bending and twisting it into shape. 

  3. Fish the wire down the drain until you feel resistance—that’s the clog. 

  4. Push, twist, jiggle, and snag whatever is clogging up the pipe. Bring it up through the drain. 

  5. Feel free to repeat this process as many times as necessary. 

Don't use a plunger if you’ve already used a chemical cleaner. The last thing you want is caustic chemicals splashing around.

5. Clean the P Trap and Check the Garbage Disposal

In most cases, food clogs up in the garbage disposal and the sink’s trap. The trap is a small piece of piping shaped like a P, S, or J that rests beneath the sink. Check both the garbage disposal and the P trap for clogs. Give the trap a cleaning if necessary.

  1. Run the garbage disposal for two minutes and turn on the hot water, checking to see if that eliminates the clog.

  2. If the disposal won’t turn on, it probably overheated and automatically switched off. Restart your garbage disposal using the switch on the side or bottom of the disposal unit. 

  3. Next, go for the trap. Start by turning off the water supply to the sink and placing a bucket underneath to catch debris. 

  4. Use a standard wrench to unscrew the nuts on either side of the trap, removing the bent part. 

  5. Jiggle the pipe to loosen any gunk, and use a stiff cleaning brush to eliminate caked-on debris. 

  6. Put the trap back together, but be careful not to overtighten the nuts, as it can cause cracks in the pipe. 

  7. Run the water with the bucket in place to ensure a watertight seal, test for leaks, and turn the water back on.

6. Use a Chemical Drain Cleaner

Finally, you might want to consider using a chemical drain cleaner. Head to your local hardware store and pick up a purpose-made drain cleaner. Keep the pros and cons of liquid drain cleaners in mind, though. Repetitive use of these products can corrode pipes over time. 

  1. Follow the instructions on the packaging and pay special attention to any do’s and don’ts. For instance, don’t mix dish soap with a chemical drain cleaner

  2. Pour the indicated amount of drain cleaner down the drain and wait 15 to 20 minutes.

  3. Repeat if necessary. 

7. Snake the Drain

Handy homeowners can use a snake with a crank, known as a sink auger, to remedy deep clogs. You can also get a smaller drain snake without a crank, which sometimes comes in a kit with a chemical cleaner. This may be the best course of action if you’re unfamiliar with the drain snaking process. 

When snaking a drain, remember never to use excessive force. If you hit a blockage that won’t clear with firm but gentle pressure, try something else to avoid damaging your pipes. The steps are as follows:

  1. Insert the drain snake or auger cable into the drain's opening. You may have to remove the sink cap.

  2. Push the drain snake into the pipe or turn the auger crank until your tool reaches the clog. You should feel resistance.

  3. Keep pushing at the blockage until it starts to loosen, but don’t force it. Twist the snake or auger cable if it feels like your tool is getting stuck.

  4. Pull up the cable or snake.

At this point, the snake or cable should have grabbed the clog in the sink and dragged it out of the drain or loosened it enough so you could flush it down the pipe with water. Run the drain for a few minutes to ensure the clog is clear. 

8. Use a Wet-Dry Vacuum Cleaner

You can try using the hose on your wet-dry vacuum to dislodge tough clogs closer to the top of your drain. Set up your vacuum for wet use, then:

  1. Put the hose on the drain's entrance, creating an airtight seal. 

  2. Plug up the second drain if you have a double-sided sink. 

  3. Run your vacuum on the highest setting. 

This should pull up the clog, but if it doesn’t, try another method. Otherwise, you can hire a plumber.

How to Prevent a Clog in Your Kitchen Sink

The best way to prevent clogs is to avoid putting certain items down your drain. There are certain things you should never put down the garbage disposal either. These include:

  • Fats, oils, and grease

  • Produce stickers

  • Chunks of garbage

  • Solvents, paints, and turpentine

  • Car maintenance liquids like motor oil and antifreeze

  • Liquid medicine

  • Flammable or explosive substances

  • Flushable cat litter

  • Paper towels

  • Coffee grinds

  • Eggshells

  • Hair

Even if you’re careful, sometimes a clog is unavoidable. In some cases, your drain cover might be to blame, so use a drain cover made from a tighter mesh to catch food and other debris. Consider cleaning your drainpipes once a year to remove buildup that could cause a clog later down the line.

DIY vs. Hire a Pro

Most homeowners can clear a small clog in their sink, but not every clog is easy. Call a drain cleaning pro if you’re having trouble clearing a clog with the methods listed above.

Keep in mind that DIY jobs do have room for error. While a little vinegar and soap won’t cause any harm, some homeowners may not be comfortable removing their sink trap or using an auger. If performed incorrectly, these methods can cause further plumbing problems that require costlier solutions. It’s better to get it done right the first time.

Frequently Asked Questions

What dissolves blockage in a sink?

You can use vinegar and baking soda or dish soap to dissolve clogs in a sink. Other methods like chemical drain cleaners work well, but only because they’re corrosive chemicals; they can damage pipes and burn your skin, so proceed with caution.

How do you unclog a sink drain naturally?

If you want to unclog a sink drain without harmful chemicals, start with hot water (don’t use boiling water if you have PVC pipes). The hot water tends to melt stubborn fats that cause serious clogs. You can also try 1 cup of baking soda followed by 1 cup of vinegar. Wait 15 minutes, then run the hot tap to flush down the clog.

How do you unclog a sink that won’t drain?

If your sink doesn’t drain at all, you’ll need to remove the standing water before you can unclog the sink. Use a bucket or a wet-dry vacuum to remove as much of the water as possible before going in with a drain snake or auger.

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