Clearing Drains with a Plunger
Using Chemical Drain Cleaners
A stopped sink drain isn't just an inconvenience; it can sometimes be an emergency. It's always
best to prevent clogs before they happen. Be alert to the warning signs of a sluggish drain. It's
easier to open a drain that's slowing down than one that's stopped completely.
• Run or pour hot water down the drain to break up grease buildups.
• If hot water doesn't unclog the drain, there could be some object in the drain.
• To check, remove and thoroughly clean the sink pop-up stopper or strainer.
• Determine if the clog is close to the sink by checking the other drains in your home. If more than
one won't clear, something is blocking the main sewer.
• The most effective way to clear a clog is with a snake.
• You can try using a plunger.
Clearing Drains with a Plunger
The plunger is a good drain-clearing tool, but it often fails to work because it's incorrectly used.
Don't make the typical mistake of pumping up and down two or three times, expecting the water to
whoosh down the drain. Though no great expertise is needed to use this simple tool, here are a
few tips to guide you:
• Choose a plunger with a suction cup large enough to cover the drain opening completely.
• Fill the clogged fixture with enough water to cover the plunger cup.
• Coat the rim of the plunger cup with petroleum jelly to ensure a tight seal.
• Block off all other outlets (the overflow, second drain in a double sink, adjacent fixtures) with wet
• Insert the plunger into the water at an angle so no air remains trapped under it.
• Use 15 to 20 forceful strokes, holding the plunger upright and pumping vigorously.
• Repeat the plunging two or three times before giving up.
Using Chemical Drain Cleaners
Though routine use of chemical drain cleaners to prevent clogs may eventually damage your
pipes, these cleaners can be helpful in opening clogged drains. If water is draining somewhat, but
plunging has failed to open the drain completely, you may want to try using a drain cleaner.
Whenever you use chemicals, do so with caution and in a well-ventilated room. Be sure to take
• Never use a plunger if a chemical cleaner is present in the drain; you risk splashing caustic water
• Wear rubber gloves to prevent the chemical from burning your skin.
• Don't use a chemical cleaner if the blockage is total, especially if the fixture is filled with water. It
won't clear the blockage and you'll face another problem-how to get rid of the caustic water.
• Never use a chemical cleaner in a garbage disposal.
• Read labels and match cleaners with clogs. Alkalis cut grease; acids dissolve soap and hair.
• Don't mix chemicals. Mixing an acid and an alkali cleaner can cause an explosion.
• Don't look down the drain after pouring a chemical. The solution often boils up and gives off toxic
Before trying any drain-clearing methods on a plugged drain, check that the tub's pop-up stopper
is opening fully and is free of hair and debris. If the stopper isn't the problem, then the drainpipe is
probably clogged. First, try a plunger or chemical drain cleaner.
If these fail to do the job, you'll have to clear the trap with a snake.
• Most tubs have a P trap in the drain. In some homes, the tub may have a drum trap in the floor
near the tub instead (it will have a removable metal cover and a rubber gasket).
• Using a snake in a tub P trap is much like snaking out a sink trap. If you have a drum trap, first try
snaking it clear through the tub overflow.
• If that doesn't work, bailout all the standing water from the tub.
• Then, using an adjustable-end wrench, unscrew the trap cover slowly.
• Have rags ready for any water that wells up.
• Remove the cover, bail out and clean the trap.
• If, after this, water does not well up, snake toward he tub; if water does well up, snake toward he
• If you can't reach the clog from the trap, it's probably deeper in he main drain.
Though it may difficult to unclog a shower drain with a plunger, it's worth a try. If that doesn't work,
maneuver a snake down the drain opening into the trap. As a last resort, you can use a garden
• Attach the hose to an outdoor faucet or to an indoor faucet with a threaded adapter.
• Push the hose deep into the drain and pack rags into the opening.
• Turning the water on in short, hard bursts should open the drain.
CAUTION: Never leave a hose in any drain: a sudden drop in water pressure could siphon sewage
back into the fresh water supply.
Preventing Kitchen Drain Clogs
No plumbing problem is more common or more frustrating than a clogged drain.
• Kitchen sink drains clog most often because of a buildup of grease that traps food particles.
• Hair and soap are often at fault in bathroom drains.
Drains can usually be cleared easily and inexpensively, but taking some simple precautions will
help you avoid stop-ups. Proper disposal of kitchen waste will keep sink drain clogs to a minimum.
• Don't pour grease down the kitchen sink.
• Don't wash coffee grounds down the sink. Throw them out.
• Be sparing with chemical cleaners, particularly if you have brass, steel, or cast-iron traps and
drainpipes; some caustic chemicals can corrode metal pipes.
• If used no more than once every few months, cleaners containing sodium hydroxide or sodium
nitrate can be safe and effective.
• Clean floor drain strainers. Some tubs, showers, and basement floor drains have strainers that
are screwed into the drain opening. You can easily remove these strainers and reach down into
the drain with a bent wire to clear out accumulated debris. And be sure to scrub the strainer.
• Clean pop-up stoppers in the bathroom sink and the tub regularly. Lift out sink pop-ups once a
week and rinse them off.
• Every few months, remove the overflow plate on a tub and pull up the pop-up assembly to reach
the spring or rocker arm. Remove accumulated hair and rinse thoroughly.
• Keep the sewer pipes from the house free of tree roots that may invade them. If roots are a
particular problem in your yard, you may need to call in professionals once a year or so to clear
the pipes. They'll use an electric auger to cut out the roots.
• Flush the drain-waste and vent systems whenever you go up onto your house roof to clean out
downspouts or gutters. Run water from a garden hose into all vents, giving them a minute or two of