How to retreive an item lost in the bathroom sink

Retreiving small items dropped down the bathroom sink's drain can be easier than it looks. (Photo courtesy of Angie's List member Clifton P. of Albany, N.Y.)

Retreiving small items dropped down the bathroom sink's drain can be easier than it looks. (Photo courtesy of Angie's List member Clifton P. of Albany, N.Y.)

It happens to everyone; a ring slips off a finger, earring knocked off the counter or a toy dropped into the sink bowl. Before you can reach out and grab it — zip! — the little item is gone. But it may not be gone forever: Here is a step-by-step guide to retrieving items dropped down the bathroom sink drain.

Step 1: Turn off the water

This is always the first step, even if you can see the item at the bottom of the drain. You can either use the shut-off valve under the sink or turn off your main water supply. Either way, make sure that there's no chance of a flood while you're taking apart your sink drain. While it's tempting to ignore this step and get right to retrieval, you could end up with costly water damage and the need for a professional plumber if things go awry. Always turn off the water.

Step 2: Take off the drain plug

If you can see your item at the bottom of the drain, start by taking apart the drain plug. First, lift the plug and place something under it so it won't close. Next, get under the sink and find the horizontal pivot arm that's attached to the plug. It will usually have a nut you can loosen by hand and a clip that links it to the plunger arm. Make sure to look at how it all fits together before you take it apart. Once you have the drain plug and plunger separated from the arm, go back to the sink bowl and pull it out.

Step 3: Use tools

With the drain plug and plunger removed, use either a magnetic or grasping tool to retrieve your item. Both can be purchased at a hardware store for less than $20.

Magnetic tools are telescoping rods with a strong magnet at one end and are great for coins and certain other metals. Gold and silver jewelry, however, are not magnetic. In these cases, or for plastic toys, try a grasping tool. This tool has a flexible rod and spring-loaded prongs at one end you can use to grab items at the bottom of the drain. You can also try using a bent coat hanger to hook items out of the drain, but this is tricky. You may end up pushing the item farther down.

Step 4: Take apart the P-trap

Even if your item vanishes from sight, this doesn't mean it's gone forever. In most cases, small items end up in what's known as the "P-trap," a u-shaped pipe under your sink that helps prevent sewer gas from coming up through your sink drain. Start by going back under your sink and finding the P-trap. Most will have a drain plug; place a bucket underneath the plug and remove it. Even though you've turned off the water, there will still be some residual liquid in the trap, so make sure to have a bucket or pan on hand to catch the spill.

Hopefully, the item you're looking for will come out with the water. But most drain plug holes are very small, so you'll need to take apart the trap completely. To do this, find the two slip nuts on either side of the pipe's bend and loosen both, and the P-trap should come off. Dump out any remaining water, and your item should fall out as well. Finally, replace the P-trap, its drain plug and the plug assembly for your sink. Turn on the water and test for leaks.

If you find that your P-trap doesn't have slip nuts, it will need to be cut before it can be removed. In this case, make sure to hire a plumber instead of trying to do it yourself. The same applies if you discover leaks after you put your sink drain back together. Never risk trying to fix a problem you don't fully understand.

While it's not possible to retrieve every item dropped down the bathroom sink, most can be recovered following the simple steps above.

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Before calling a plumber, there are steps you can take to try to retrieve lost jewelry from a drain. (Photo by Eldon Lindsay)
Before calling a plumber, there are steps you can take to try to retrieve lost jewelry from a drain. (Photo by Eldon Lindsay)

Did you lose a ring, bracelet or earring down the drain? Find out how to retrieve lost jewelry from the kitchen sink, garbage disposal or shower drain.


My wife misplaced her wedding ring and thought perhaps it went down a drain. But which one? I did the above with the slip rings on one sink and thought of the hassle of doing half a dozen when I had the idea to use the shop vac to pull the contents of the p-trap out forcefully. To insure it would work I dropped an inexpensive split key ring down one and demonstrated that the shop vac would recover it. It worked! But be prepared to pull some six-legged surprises up with the contents as well. To minimize pulling sewer gasses into the house limit the time you apply the vac to the drain. Remember to run water to refill the p-trap when you get done. This might be the only method if the drain is in the shower and literally cast in concrete.

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