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Plumbing Basics: How to Unclog Any Drain in Your Home

By Edited Jun 27, 2015 1 0
Unclog Bathtub
Credit: Opensource

Slow draining water or clogged drains are normally the result of accumulated waste such as hair, soap residue, grease and other small objects. When attempting to unclog any plumbing system, the key is isolating the problem. If it is draining slowing in one of more areas of your home, the problem may be in one of the branch drain lines located in your crawl space or slab.

However, most clogs can be found in the general area of the drain or trap. When attempting to unclog a drain, be careful using any type of chemicals or the wrong types of augers because they can weaken drain pipes and erode the seals, especially in a toilet. Some manufacturers claim they are gentle on pipes and gasket seals, but be skeptical. The first choice for any home owner should be a basic plunger. If that does not do the trick, you try the augers and snake tools carefully.

Most home clogs can be freed by the average home owner using the following steps without have to call a plumber.

What You Should Not Use Harsh Chemical Cleaners

Never use a drain cleaner on a clogged drain or in a toilet because it will typically only make matters worse and could potentially be dangerous if you are working on the clog at the time.

Most people have turned to these cleaners as a fix, and they can be effective on some sluggish clogs, but the risk to the plumbing system and the hazardous fumes they contain should make them a last resort after trying one of the tools list below.

Basic Tools for Clog Removal

  • Plunger – the basic household plunger should be the first option because it is not intrusive and will not cause damage in the hands of a plumbing novice
  • Closet Auger – long coil with a crank to spin it on one end used specifically for toilets because it will not damage porcelain
  • Hand Snake  - a long rigid coil that you hand feed into the drain
  • Hand Spinning Auger - creates a corkscrew effect as you crank the rigid spring through the drain pipes
  • Auger Attachment for Power Drill –similar to a hand spinning auger, only able to be attached to a power drill and spun faster for serious clogs

Unclogging Sink Drains

When it comes to unclogging a sink, a plunger is the best option because it works external to the pipes so there is no potential for damage.

  1. For a double sink in the kitchen, fill both basins with at least 4 inches of water.
  2. Place a closed strainer in the drain on one side of the basin to maintain the suction action.
  3. Plunge the drain on the other side of the sink at least a dozen times. You want to get the suction going and it usually takes that many times to get that vacuum effect in the water.
  4. After that, the drain should be free. If not, switch sink basins and try the other sides with the plunger.
  5. If none of that works, as a last resort, use an auger.
  6. First remove the trap and elbow below the sink and insert the auger down the drainage line to reach the clog. Be careful with this action and do not poke vigorously.

Unclogging a Garbage Disposal

Garbage disposers grind food into a paste that can collect in the drain line over time. To avoid

Kitchen Sink Clogged
some of these issues, do not pour grease down the drain without a grease trap.
  1. Turn off the power to the garbage disposal and unplug it.
  2. Use a flashlight to look down the drain to look for the problem.
  3. Reach in and careful remove waste, then restore power and test it.

Normally that will remove most clogs, however, if it is still clogged, do the following:

  1. Turn off the power to the unit, then look on the bottom of the disposal unit for a reset button, typically red.
  2. Now restore the power and test it once again.
  3. If the disposer is still clogged, turn off the power again, then insert the handle of a broom or some other stick into the drain opening to try to free the metal impellers.
  4. Use an allen wrench in the hex socket on the bottom of the unit to turn the impellers above. You can twist the hex key to turn them in multiple directions to free the blades.

Unclog a Kitchen Sink

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Unclogging a Toilet

Plumbing Basics: How to Unclog Any Drain in Your Home
Most clogs in toilet drains occur in the built in traps within the toilet. Most can be freed by using a bathroom plunger.
  1. In order to make this plunging process go easier, make sure the bowl is filled with water to help seal the flange on the plunger.
  2. Add 3 tablespoons of dish washing soap to the toilet bowl and let it soak it. This will help to lubricate the sides of the drain so that when you plunge, the clog will release easier.
  3. Plunge aggressively at least a dozen times to get the suction action going.
  4. Remove the plunger and wait for the toilet bowl to drain naturally.

If it does not drain, repeat the plunging process.

In some circumstances it may be necessary to use an auger to remove stubborn clogs. Make sure you use the right one. Do not use a hand auger. A closet auger is specifically designed for porcelain toilet bowls. They have a built-in bend which is covered with plastic to prevent damage to the bowl. Turn the crank clockwise and push. Continue turning the crank until you clear the clog or pull it out with the auger.

Note: You should never use chemical drain cleaners in your toilet bowl whenever possible. The chemicals can ruin the seals within the drainage system.

Unclogging a Bathtub or Shower Drains

When encountering clogs in bathtub or shower drain, fill the basin with a couple of inches of water and try plunging the drain first. This may work and save you from having to remove plumbing fittings to use a hand auger.

If plunging alone does not work, try one of the long plastic drain tool sold at most home

Hand Auger
improvement stores. It has barbs and ridges on the sides that can grab any gunk or hair and pull it out.

However, because of the heavy use of these types of areas, often times removing clogs requires a hand auger which will require that you remove the drain assembly such as a pop-up drain.

  1. Remove the pop-up drain assembly by flipping the drain lever up and pulling out the drain plunger.
  2. Remove the drain overflow screws on the cover, then lift out the assembly.
  3. Insert the end of a hand auger down the overflow drain and turn it clockwise as you feed it down the drain.
  4. Eventually you will probably meet some resistance, then continue cranking as you pull the auger out.
  5. Repeat the process until the water in the tub drains.
  6. Reinstall the overflow valve assembly.

For separate showers, try plunging first in a depth of a couple of inches of water. If that does not work, remove the drain plate and insert the hand auger, feeding and hand cranking it until you hit the obstruction.

Final Thoughts

Unclog Any Drain
Credit: Opensource

If you try some basic plumbing techniques to unclog your drains, you can save time and money. Most drains can be cleared using a plunger, but you have to use it the right way.

Make sure there is enough water in the area to get a good seal on the flange edges of the plunger, then plunge vigorously until you notice the water draining.

This process should solve most home clogs, however, following the additional steps above should get you through any other drainage problems you may have.

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