How to clear a clogged sink drain

A clogged sink drain is a common — and frustrating — household plumbing problem. Before dumping chemicals down the drain, there are a few things you can check.

Highly rated plumbers Steven Borges, owner of Borges Sewer & Drain Cleaning Co. in Medford, Mass., and Ross Whitesel, owner of Master Blaster Plumbing & Drain in Englewood, Colo., offer this expert advice to help you assess the situation.

  1. Remove any drain stoppers in the sink.
  2. Visual inspection. “Look in the drain from the top of it and see if you see any type of hair or debris inside the drain that you can pull out with a coat hanger,” says Borges.
  3. Try a plunger. If it is a double sink or it has an overflow opening, use a wet rag to block the opening. Another way to increase the suction is to put petroleum jelly on the rim of a plunger.
  4. Use a hand auger or plumbing snake. First, try putting the cable through the drain opening to break up the clog. When you hit the clog, screw the auger into it and pull back. Afterwards, run hot water and make sure it drains. Whitesel also suggests trying a tool called a “Zip-It” that you can find at your local hardware store.
  5. Remove the P-trap. “Try clearing out the drain without taking anything apart first, and if that fails, take the P-trap apart and see if there’s any blockage there,” says Whitesel. The P-trap is the horizontal bend in the plumbing tubes underneath your sink. Place a bucket underneath the area to catch water, and then unscrew this curved section to remove it and clean it out. 
  6. Look into the pipes beyond. If there isn’t anything in the P-trap, put the auger into the flat section of the pipe past the P-trap and repeat step 4.
  7. Try natural, non-acidic liquid products. You should try to avoid chemicals, but as a last resort you can try using green plumbing products to clear the drain. “If it’s anything containing acid I would avoid it. We don’t recommend them because of the damage they cause,” says Borges. Household solutions such as pouring a cup of baking soda followed by a cup of white vinegar and boiling water can also help remove hair blocking your pipes.
  8. If you still have a problem, call a licensed plumber. Experts say that the cost to clear a clogged drain ranges from around $100 to $300. If the clog is too far into the pipes or too large, bigger machinery, such as an electric auger, is probably necessary. However, Borges warns against using power tools such as these without experience. “If you don’t use it the proper way it can be dangerous. If you’re going to rent one I would take a lot of caution because you can get hurt or break a hand or finger.” When in doubt, call a professional plumber.


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