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How to Clear Clogged Sink Drains

Clogged sink drain? With a few inexpensive tools and a little practice you can clear up all but the most stubborn drain clogs in less than an hour. Save yourself the plumbing service call and unclog your drain yourself by following our step-by-step instructions.

By the DIY experts of The Family Handyman Magazine

Step 1: Get the right tools to start

A clogged kitchen sink can wreck a perfectly good evening in front of the tube. Instead of settling in to watch the Series, you'll find yourself staring at a sink full of dirty, backed-up water and wondering whether to call in a plumber ($$$$$). However, with two inexpensive tools and a little practice, you can fix this mess in less than an hour.

In this article, we'll show you how to use a plunger and snake to clear up all but the most stubborn drain clogs. Plungers are sold at any hardware store or home center (lead photo). Those with larger rubber bells deliver more thrust, but most will work for kitchen drains. Be sure it has a stout handle so you can apply plenty of force.

A snake (sometimes called a hand auger) ranges from cheap to inexpensive, depending on the size, length and turning mechanism. For all-around use, we recommend a 3/8-in.model that's about 20 ft. long, like the one in Photo 6 (sold at hardware stores and home centers). It's easy to turn down into the drain. But shorter, 1/4-in. types will work for most clogs too. In addition, keep several other items handy—a bucket or a plastic bin that fits under your drain, rubber gloves and a good flashlight.

You can avoid most clogs by not abusing your kitchen drain line. Don't overload your disposer with meat; foods high in starch, like pasta, potatoes and rice; or foods high in fiber, like celery and corn husks. Also, run plenty of cold water down the drain and let the disposer catch up after every cup of food you push into it. Never dump bacon grease or coffee grounds into the drain. If allowed to settle and cool, they solidify in the drain.

If you follow the steps of this article and still can't clear the blockage, don't hesitate to call in a plumber. You may have a clog far down the drain line beyond your reach, or stuck objects in the pipes.

If the disposer hums but doesn't spin, try rotating the
disposer blades manually.

If you have a dishwasher, tighten a clamp over the
flexible part of the drain line before plunging.

Check the Disposer Before you Plunge

One of the most common causes of a clogged drain is a clogged garbage disposer. If the side of the sink that has the disposer doesn't drain, plunge it first to remove the clog or force it down the drain.

And if you flip the switch to turn on your garbage disposer and all you hear is a low humming sound, your disposer is probably jammed. Switch it off and unplug the unit. You can usually free it by turning the blades manually by inserting an Allen wrench into the hole on the bottom of the disposer. If the disposer doesn't make any sound when you turn it on, an internal breaker on the motor probably has tripped. Give the disposer a minute to cool off. Then press the reset button located on the bottom of the unit, and turn it on again.

If you have a dishwasher, tighten a clamp over the flexible part of the drain line before plunging the drain. This prevents dirty water from flowing back into the dishwasher cabinet.

Step 2: Clear the blockage with a plunger

If the problem isn't in the disposer, plunge the drain. If you have a dishwasher, remember to first clamp the drain hose. Then fill the sink with 3 to 4 in. of water to ensure that the plunger seals around the drain. Hold a wet rag tightly over the other drain opening in double sinks or use the basket strainer to seal it (Photo 1).

Then plunge away. Roll the head of the plunger into the water so you force water, not air, into the drain. Pump vigorously. On your last upstroke, pop the plunger off the mouth of the drain for extra pressure (Photo 2). If the water doesn't swirl straight down the drain, continue plunging for several minutes. Plunging can be quick and easy or it could be a wet mess. Keep towels handy to soak up spills.

Caution!

Don't plunge or snake a drain if you've poured drain cleaners into the sink. The chemicals can cause serious burns if they splash on your skin. Use drain cleaners only if the sink is draining slowly and not completely clogged.

Step 3: Clean the P-trap

Clogs that occur in the P-trap and trap arm of the drain (Photo 3) most often occur when grease or coffee grounds stick. If intensive plunging doesn't remove it, disassemble and clean out the P-trap (10 to 15 minutes; Photos 3 – 5).

Begin by sponging the water from the sink to reduce the flow under the sink when you pull off the trap (Photo 3). Keep your pan or bucket underneath; dirty water will flow out. We show plastic drain lines, but many older kitchen sinks have metal traps and pipes. Metal slip nuts are usually more difficult to loosen than plastic, but either will probably require the use of slip-joint pliers to break them free. Loosen them gently to avoid cracking or bending the trap assembly.

Unscrew the slip nut between the P-trap and the trap arm first, then the nut at the bottom of the waste tee. If the trap is clogged, clean it (Photo 4), reinstall it and test the line with warm water. Don't over-tighten the slip nuts. Hand tight plus a quarter turn with pliers should be enough.

If the P-trap isn't clogged, move on and remove the trap arm and clean it (Photo 5). Run a screwdriver around the inside of the pipe stub-out and pull out any debris that may have collected in the opening. If you still haven't found the clog, reach for the snake!

Step 4: Snake the line

Begin by loosening the setscrew at the tip of the snake and pulling out 6 to 10 in. of cable. Then tighten the setscrew and spin the snake down into the drain line (Photos 6 and 7). Initially you may feel an obstruction, but it's likely that the tip of the snake is just turning a corner. Loosen the setscrew, pull out another 6 to 10 in. of cable and continue to feed the snake into the line.

If you feel the cable hit an obstruction, continue cranking and pushing the cable through the clog until you feel the tip bite through. This should be obvious because the tension in the cable will drop. When you are through the clog, turn the crank counterclockwise and pull out the cable. Clean the cable as you pull; it'll probably be covered with incredibly dirty gunk (Photo 8). You may get a large plug of material at the end of the snake, so keep that bucket handy. Repeat the process until you no longer feel blockage, then reassemble the trap and run plenty of warm water to flush the line.

After the drain is open, pour 1/2 cup of baking soda and 1/2 cup of white vinegar into the drain. Cover both openings and let it sit for a few minutes. Then run another gallon or so of warm water behind it to flush out the mixture. The combination of baking soda and vinegar can break down any leftover fat deposits and will leave your drain smelling fresh.

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Required Tools for this Project

Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.

    • Clamps
    • Allen wrench
    • Pipe wrench
    • Pliers
    • Plunger

You'll also need to buy or rent a snake

Required Materials for this Project

Avoid last-minute shopping trips by having all your materials ready ahead of time. Here's a list.

    • Baking soda
    • White vinegar

Comments from DIY Community Members

Share what's on your mind and see what other DIYers are thinking about.

1 - 9 of 9 comments
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June 28, 6:54 AM [GMT -5]

We follow the step and still could not clear the clogged. The only thing that we have not done is clear the vent from the roof. It is not easy for us to go up there and run the sneak from there.

April 27, 12:44 AM [GMT -5]

My sink is clogged I ran snake thru is sounds like 3 trap doors 2 was hard to get to open they are under the floor to my double wide what can fix it to make easier for it to open

April 18, 2:18 PM [GMT -5]

I was about to throw in the towel and call a plumber just before I found your site. You just saved me at least $100+! Thanks!

November 20, 7:11 PM [GMT -5]

Hot dog, it worked!!

Many thanks for your help.

Have a great Thanksgiving!

November 05, 5:54 PM [GMT -5]

OK I need some help. My 14 yr old poured uncooked rice down the drain and we found out the next day afterwards. I have plunged, took the drain apart and hubby has snaked it and even did the rubber attachment to the water hose to try and blast the clog free and those attempts failed. Last night I used liquid lightening since it is supposed to dissolve anything organic. The drain is running very slow right now. it is a double sink and the right side has a garbage disposal which I plugged up while plunging and even took the pipe going to the disposal and plugged that up to where only the clogged drain side was being plunged. Thought of pouring a whole box of baking soda and a gallon of vinegar. Any help would be appreciated.

May 11, 11:25 PM [GMT -5]

Totally agree about the baking soda and vinegar works like magic. I recently had a bad clog in my bathroom sink and saw this method on http://www.howtounclogasinkhq.com/ i followed it up with boiling water and it cleared it right up, works like a charm.

May 07, 1:01 PM [GMT -5]

Over and over again I used this method - very messy and time consuming. I've used chemicals to no avail. Plumbers would get the job done but very expensive. Then I discovered baking soda and vinegar. To use this method you need to have the water below or almost below the disposer. This can usually be done with a plunger. Add a cup of baking soda and partially cover the drain with a rag. Then pour in a cup or two of vinegar while running the disposer. The explosion caused by the mix will clear the drain ASAP. Works every time.

September 01, 3:30 AM [GMT -5]

Great explanation, tips and best of all, the photos were very helpful. Unclogged my drain in no time. Thank you.

December 21, 4:24 PM [GMT -5]

I've found a slow drain that has nothing to do with a clogged drain line. The drain was driving me crazy - until I became aware of the function of vents in the plumbing system. If you pull a straw out of a glass of water, the water drains out of the straw quickly - the straw is empty as soon as the bottom of the straw clears the surface of the water. The straw drains slowly if you pull it out of the water while you keep a finger over the top of the straw though.
Your plumbing vents go through your roof, and can be clogged by birds nesting or leaves falling in the autumn (just to name a couple of causes). It doesn't happen often, but occasionally you may have to clean your vents to get your drains to work properly.

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