When the water in your kitchen
sink won’t drain or drains slowly,
don’t reach for the chemical drain
cleaner. Instead, try this three-step
method recommended by one of our
favorite plumbers. The first two steps
we’ll show you don’t even require you
to remove the trap or take anything
apart. If you’re lucky, all you’ll need is
a bent coat hanger. But if the clog is in
the trap or farther down the drain,
you’ll need a 1/4-in. drain snake. You
can buy an inexpensive snake that’s
simply a cable running through a bent
pipe that allows you to twist the cable,
but we recommend spending a little
more money for a cable that’s enclosed
in a drum. This type is
much easier to use.
Before you get started on any of our
solutions, suck all the water out of the
sink with a wet-dry shop vacuum or
sponge it into a bucket. You’ll be able
to see what you’re doing, and if you do
have to disassemble plumbing, it’ll be less messy.
The coat-hanger trick
If you have a two-bowl sink and only
one side is clogged, there’s a good
chance this fix will work. First look
under the sink to locate the waste tee.
If your drain setup looks something
like the one shown here and the
water is backing up on the side without
the waste tee, you may be able to
remove the clog with a bent coat hanger (opening photo). There’s a baffle
inside the waste tee that is meant to
direct water down the drain, but
since the baffled area is narrower
than the rest of the drain, food often
gets stuck there. Garbage disposers
are notorious for causing clogs, especially
at the baffle. The trick is to
bend a hook on the end of a coat
hanger wire and use it to dislodge the
clog. Use a pliers to bend a hook that
will fit through the slots in the basket strainer. Peek under the sink to get a
rough idea how far down the waste
tee is from the basket strainer. Push
the bent hanger down the drain. Then
twist and pull until you feel it hook
onto the baffle. Now wiggle it up and
down while twisting it to remove the
clog. Run water in the clogged sink to
tell if you’ve removed the obstruction.
If the sink still doesn’t drain,
there’s a clog farther down. Move on
to the next step.
Run a snake through the basket strainer
There are several advantages to this
approach. You don’t have to remove all
the stuff from under the sink, struggle
to take apart and reassemble drains, or
worry about spilling dirty drain water
when you remove the trap. Also, pushing
the cable down through the basket
strainer allows you to clean the slime-covered
cable as you withdraw it by
running clean water down the drain.
(Believe me, this is a nice bonus!) And
finally, since the drain is still fully
assembled, you’ll be able to tell, by
running water in the sink, whether
you’ve unclogged the drain.
You have to modify the end of the
cable on your drain snake to use this
method, however (photo below). Then
you snake out the drain by pushing the
cable down through one of the slots or
holes in the basket strainer.
Never Have Another Clog!
Garbage disposers and grease are the two
biggest contributors to clogged sink
drains. Here’s the first rule for avoiding
clogs: Don’t use your garbage disposer like
a trash can. If your family sends vast
amounts of food down the disposer, you’ll
have a clogged sink someday. Disposing
of turkey carcasses, gummy foods like
pasta and fibrous items like banana peels
in the sink is asking for trouble. The same
goes for heaping plates of leftovers.
Scrape the big stuff into the garbage can
and use the disposer for the small stuff.
The second rule: Never pour grease
down the drain. And running hot water
along with it won’t help. The grease will
just congeal farther down the drain pipe where it’ll be even harder to clear.
Back to Top
Take the trap apart
If you can’t unclog the drain using
one of the steps above, then it’s time
to take off the trap and waste arm and
feed the drain snake directly into the
drainpipe. Remember to remove as
much water from the sink as possible
before you remove the trap. Then
place a bucket under the trap to catch
any remaining water. Use large slip-joint
pliers to loosen the slip-joint
nuts on both ends of the trap.
Unscrew the nuts and remove the
trap. Do the same with the nut that
secures the waste arm to the drain
and remove the waste arm.
Before you reach for the drain
snake, look up into the baffle tee to
make sure the baffle area is clear.
Then look into the trap to make sure
there’s no clog in the bottom. If both
spots are clear, then the clog is farther
down in the drainpipe and
you’ll need a drain snake.
With this method, the only way
you’ll know if you’ve unclogged the
drain is to reassemble the trap and
run water down the drain. If you’ve
got a metal trap and drain arm, we
recommend replacing them and the
other metal drain parts with plastic.
Plastic parts are easy to cut and
assemble. They’re also easier to take
apart if you have a problem in the
future, and they don’t corrode.
The Art of Running a Snake
There’s an art to using a drain
snake, and the more experience
you have, the better you’ll be at it.
Here’s how you do it. Loosen the
setscrew or chuck to allow the
cable to come out of the drum
freely. Now feed the cable into
the drain until you can’t push it
any more. It may be stuck on the
clog or simply meeting resistance
where the drainpipe bends.
Position the end of the drum so
there’s about 8 in. of cable showing
between the drain and the
drum, and tighten the setscrew or
chuck onto the cable. Withdraw
the cable about an inch so that
it’s free of the obstruction, and
start turning the drum while you
push it toward the drain. Continue
until you’ve pushed the exposed
cable down the drain. Then
repeat the process by loosening
the setscrew and withdrawing
another 8 in. of cable. If the end
of the cable gets stuck and you
keep turning the drum, the cable
will start to spiral inside the drain.
You want to avoid this, so stop
turning the drum if you feel that
the cable isn’t turning freely anymore.
Withdraw the cable about
6 in. and try again.
Several things can happen at
this point. You might bore through
the clog, allowing water to run
through and dissolve the remaining
clog. You might push the clog
to a point where the diameter of
the pipes is larger and it can wash
down the drain. Or you might
hook the clog with the end of the
snake and pull it out. This is
where your intuition comes into
play. When you think you’ve
unclogged the drain, withdraw
the snake. If you’ve pushed the
cable down through the basket
strainer, you can rinse it off as you
retrieve it by running water.
Otherwise, put on some gloves
and wipe the cable off with a rag
as you push it back into the drum.
When you’re done cleaning the
drain, pull the cable out of the
drum, rinse it off, and wipe it
down with an oil-soaked rag to
keep it from rusting.