How to Clean Clogged Drains so Your Pipes Run Clear - Angieslist

Drain clogs often require the assistance of a professional to clear the blockage. But there are plenty of ways homeowners can work to remove a clog on their own – and prevent one from happening.

Angie’s List, the nation’s premier provider of consumer reviews went to its highly rated plumbers for advice on drain cleaning.


  • Use a plunger as your first line of defense with a clogged toilet. It can also fix clogs in bathtubs or shower, but be sure to fill the base with an inch of water to help the plunger seal before plunging. 
  • If a plunger doesn't work, a drain auger – commonly called a “snake” – is a flexible cable that can be pushed in the drain to break up the clog.  Augers will not harm your pipes, but they might scratch porcelain or ceramics, so use them carefully. 
  • Toilets often endure items being flushed that should instead by thrown away, like paper towels and baby wipes, and those can quickly back up; especially in homes where tree roots reach into the main sewer lines. A plumber or professional drain cleaning company can trim the roots from inside the pipe to prevent clogs.


  • Acid-based drain cleaners should only be used as a last defense, especially if you live in an older home that has cast iron or copper piping.
  • Kitchen drain clogs are often the result of food, grease or overstuffed garbage disposals. The key to proper disposal use is to always run plenty of cold water the entire time you’re using the disposal, and then run plenty of water after the disposal is used.
  • Bathroom sink and shower clogs are typically the result of hair buildup. Running hot water through your drains each week can help keep them clear. 

You don’t need a plumber to remove a clog. Many companies focus solely on drain cleaning and don’t require a licensed plumber to be on staff.  Still, check references and ask for proof of insurance before you hire.

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Use a plunger as your first line of defense with a clogged toilet. It can also fix clogs in the bathtub or shower, but be sure to fill the base with an inch of water to help the plunger seal before plunging. (Photo by Katie Jacewicz)
Use a plunger as your first line of defense with a clogged toilet. It can also fix clogs in the bathtub or shower, but be sure to fill the base with an inch of water to help the plunger seal before plunging. (Photo by Katie Jacewicz)

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We found that a stopped up roof vent (to vent sewer gas) was the culprit. If you can, make sure vent is clear by using a long pole. make sure top of pipe covered with mesh to prevent birds or leafs getting stuck inside. Clean it out with water pressure from a hose, or call a plumber to do this. You have to get on the roof so be careful. To clear toilets... Use dawn dish detergent and buckets of hot water alternately to clear organic (feces) clogs from toilet bowl. Let full strength dawn sit on clog for a bit in hot water. Try not to pour water so hard you make bubbles! Soon it will unclog!

I have long hair and frequently clog the shower and bathroom sink. Used the "turbo snake" which is a small flexible wire with a gripper end and it cleared a slow sink. Used it in the shower (the flat one) and it brought up an amazing amount of yuk, hair! $20 at Target. Saved on a plummer!

Several times a year - either at the office or at home, the toilet will clog due to "soft" movements or large ones and plunging may not do the trick. If it doesn't just take HOT buckets of water and, after the water has gone down some, pour it in the toilet FAST. Sometimes it may take 1 bucket - sometimes more. I think the record has been 7 - but it usually does the trick.

If your toilet clogs a lot for no apparent reason, it's very possible that the smooth glazing has worn off the snaking water passage within the toilet. I had this problem 10 years ago with a 20-year-old toilet. The toilet kept clogging up. Twice I removed the toilet and took it outside while clogged. There was nothing in it but solid waste. The glazing had lost its ultra-smooth finish. I installed a new toilet which solved the problem.

The plunger you show for unclogging a toilet is NOT the proper one to use; RARELY does this type work on a toilet. It is designed to be used on a flat-bottom drain, such as a sink. Instead, use the one that looks like a a round ball with accordian-type sides. Place it in the toilet with the water level at the normal height (or higher). Then push it down slowly to compress it, thereby squeezing out all its air. Then, WITHOUT LIFTING IT OUT OF THE WATER AND ALLOWING AIR TO ENTER THE BALL, raise it a little to allow the plunger to FILL WITH WATER. Then push down on the plunger. If necessary, add some water to the bowl and repeat. This has never failed for me.

We had bad drains for years. During a bathroom rehab the main line clogged for good. The 'rooter' man found a rock in the main line that had been there from day one. Probably from a disgruntled worker when the house was built.

Carol-Ann, We recently had a plumber out for a routine checkup (part of a maintenance package). He explained that slow drains were often caused by organic build-ups (read: natural skin/hair oils, hair itself, food rinsed from dishes, toilet waste, etc.). He suggested buying a microbial drain cleaner (like this: You can also get the stuff at Lowes or Home Depot, just don't bother with the cheap stuff and don't use Liquid Plumr or Draino, they corrode your pipes and kill these IMPORTANT microbes. He said follow direction on bottle monthly for each sink & toilet in the house. As the mocrobes and enzymes build up they eat the gunk out of the inside of the pipes. It may take weeks, but it will make your plumbing last a LOT longer and cut down on plumber calls. Good luck, Kevin

Our home is about 50 years old. Our bathroom drains clog up and drain slowly all the time. Now the kitchen sink is doing the same thing. We have tried Liquid Plumr, Drano, practically everything know to "man & beast". What do you recommend?? HELP, PLEASE!! We really try hard to be careful what we put down the drains. No oil baths, little or no hair, no makeup, no grease down the sink. What can we get to get a free-flowing drain field? We are on city water, not a well.

Not all plungers work equally well. You show the old, very basic plunger. Also, it is not just the items that should not be flushed down. We a have one of the top rated brands, about 10 years old now, but have had too many clogged events over the years. It is the bad design of the down flush area that creates the clogs.

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