Maybe it’s just my house, but it seems I always need to remember how to unclog drains around 3 AM…on a weekend. At that point, even if my plumber was a night owl, his weekend rates would leave me sleepless for days!
Fortunately, there are several steps homeowners can take to unclog drains without needing special equipment. If your home’s drains are prone to clogging, I strongly recommend giving this list a good read-through so you’ll remember how to handle those 3 am clogged drains yourself.
Why do drains clog?
Most drain clogs are caused by an unfortunate combination of grease, hair, and other debris that builds up over time. “Wet wipes” in particular are often the culprit, including those wipes which claim to be flushable: they’re not, and there’s a potential class action lawsuit over that fact.
The grease involved isn’t limited to food grease, either, though pouring things like bacon grease down the drain can lead to “fatburgs” that cause thousands of dollars in damage. Soap (including castile soap), body washes, and even body oils washed off during showers are all greasy, too. Combine those with hair and food particles and you’ve got the recipe for a clogged drain.
How To Unclog Drains
Typically, these things build up over a period of time so there’s no reason to wait until your drain is fully clogged to use any of the methods below. Tackling the problem when water first begins draining slowly from your sink or tub may keep the clog from ever fully forming. Most people find that a combination of methods works best, so start with the one that’s most convenient for you then work your way through other methods as needed.
Boiling water and dish soap: The same properties that help liquid dish soaps cut through grease on your dishes can also cut through grease built up in your drain. To try this method, insert the dish soap bottle’s spout as far down the drain as you can get it and give it a good squirt. Then pour a few cups of boiling water directly down the drain and wait 10 minutes. If the drain empties, you’re done — though it’s still a good idea to use the next method to clean out any remaining greasy residue.
Baking soda and vinegar: Put a funnel down the drain and pour 1/2 cup of baking soda in it. Shake the funnel a few times to get the baking soda out of it and down your drain. Meanwhile, heat 2 cups of white vinegar until it’s almost boiling. Since this is going to fizz you need to be careful as you pour the vinegar into the funnel where it will combine with the baking soda in your drain to scour away greasy buildup. Let this sit for an hour or so then pour hot water down the drain to flush away any remaining debris.
Wire hanger: Although a plumber’s snake is needed to attack clogs deep in pipes, those which are closer to the surface can often be reached with a wire hanger. To use this method, unbend the hanger until it’s one long, straight piece of wire then form a small, J-shaped hook on one end. Insert this hook in the drain until you meet resistance, twist the hanger a bit, and pull debris out. As you’re working, focus on pulling gunk out, not pushing it in. Repeat until you don’t pull up any more gunk, then follow with the baking soda method to get rid of any buildup.
Wet-dry vac: A wet/dry shop vacuum can make short work of unclogging a drain. Switch the machine to the “wet” setting and insert the nozzle down the drain as far as possible. Switch the machine on and let it suction out whatever is clogging your drain. (Please do NOT try this with a vacuum not specifically designed to handle both wet and dry work!)
Toilet plunger: In an ideal world you’d have separate plungers for toilets and sinks. In reality, most of us just have one. Once you’re past the ick factor all you need to do is place the plunger directly over the drain then gently press down the first time to remove air and get a good seal. If you’re working on a double-sided sink, block the other drain to keep water from coming up that drain. Now, vigorously plunge using an up-and-down motion; it’s important that you don’t angle the plunger or you’ll break the seal. You’ll hear the clog break free or see water rush down the drain to let you know when to stop. NEVER use a plunger if you’ve used a commercial, chemical solvent (like Draino) or you may incur serious injuries.
Empty the pipe: As a method of last resort, removing the U-shaped portion of the pipe under the sink allows you to clean the trap within that joint, which is where most clogs occur. Empty then line the cupboard beneath the sink with towels, and place a bucket directly beneath the pipe since water will come rushing through once you’ve removed the U-joint. Clean the trap with an old toothbrush and run water through it before returning it to place.
As with many things that go wrong in a home, prevention is the best approach. Keep your drains running freely by cleaning them regularly, and follow these tips to keep your garbage disposal in peak shape, too.