There are so many methods to unclog a drain, but it’s not always clear which method is appropriate for your home’s plumbing. As a rule of thumb, it’s always best to start out with the most gentle solutions to avoid damaging your pipes before moving on to more aggressive measures.
Here are 10 easy DIY methods to unclog a drain in your home.
1. To Unclog a Sink – Use a Bent Wire Hanger
Hair, skin, dirt, and food particles can easily clog your drains as they bind to the soap scum that accumulates on your drain pipe walls. Over time, this can slow down water flow.
A simple hanger can effectively unclog a blocked sink. Take a regular coat hanger, straighten it out, and create a small hook shape at one end of the wire. Push this end slowly down the plughole and begin to “fish.” Avoid pushing the hanger downwards, as this can move the blockage further down the drain. Instead, use gentle “prodding” and “hooking” motions to help dislodge and remove the gunk that’s clogging your drain.
2. For Shower and Toilet Drains – Dish Detergent
Shower drains easily clog with hair. With toilets, it’s usually poop, excess toilet paper, wipes, female sanitary products or cotton wool balls (always toss anything that’s not toilet paper in the trash!).
Dish detergent makes a great solution for these locations because it breaks up residue and lubricates your drain. Pour in a cup of dish detergent, followed by boiling water. Then use a plunger to aid the removal of the blockage. You can also put on rubber gloves and use your hands to alleviate the clog yourself.
3. Baking Soda and Vinegar
It’s not just for your 7th grade volcano! This mixture’s fizzing power can also help clear away mild clogs, such as in your bathroom sink.
First, pour boiling water down the drain and wait until the water clears. Next, pour about half a cup of baking soda down the drain. Follow that with a mix of one cup of hot water and one cup of white vinegar. Let this mixture work its magic for at least one hour, although it’s best to let it sit for as long as possible for maximum effect.
Afterward, use the hot tap to drain it away and observe if the water is draining properly.
4. Baking Soda Doesn’t Work? Try Washing Soda
If baking soda failed you and you’re looking for a stronger homemade alternative, washing soda is your next best bet.
Washing soda, also known as sodium carbonate, is commonly used in cleaning products and it makes a great DIY aid for unclogging drains. It’s more alkaline than baking soda and makes for a stronger drain cleaner.
Pour some boiling water down your sink, followed by a mug of washing soda. Then, pour in a mug of boiling water and leave for 5 minutes. This should help to remove any blockage. If your sink is still draining slowly, repeat the process again.
Don’t have washing soda? Pour a ½ inch of baking soda into a baking dish, and bake it in the oven for an hour at 400° F. This will make it release excess carbon dioxide, and turn it into washing soda.
5. Use a Wet/Dry Vacuum
A wet/dry vacuum does exactly what the name says – it cleans both liquids as well as dry dust and dirt. These guys are often used to suck waste from blocked drains, especially if the blockage is high up.
Before you begin, create a seal over the plughole to prevent creating a mess – an old plunger head placed over the hole works well. Then turn the vacuum to the liquid setting with the most powerful suction, and place over the top of the plughole. Turn the vacuum on and leave for 1-2 minutes. Then turn off and run the water gently to see if the sink has unblocked.
Coke is a lesser-known fix you can find in your refrigerator. Pour a 2-liter bottle of cola — Pepsi, Coke, or generic brand substitutes — down the clogged drain.
Coke is actually quite caustic and effective at clearing away buildup in your drains, but it’s far milder than commercial drain cleaners. Let it sit and wait at least one hour before turning on the hot water to drain it all away.
When not to use soda or cola
It’s best to use cola for stubborn blockages. Due to their acidity, soda beverages can easily clean grime from pipes. However, they can also leave a sticky film because of sugar syrup. If you’re only dealing with a small sink blockage, use an alternative method like baking soda or washing soda instead.
7. Clean the P-Trap
If the vinegar or soda method aren’t effective in unclogging your drain, you may have to physically remove the source of the clog. Luckily, you don’t need to call a plumber to clean the p-trap — you can do it yourself!
The p-trap is the curved pipe under your sink designed to catch debris, so it doesn’t enter the rest of your home plumbing system. Place a bucket under your sink to catch excess water, and use a wrench or pliers to unscrew the u-shaped pipe (the p-trap) under your sink. Empty its contents and take the p-trap to another sink to rinse and clear any debris. Then replace to see if your clog has been resolved.
If none of the mixtures are doing the trick, try to manually unclog your drain with a plunger. It’s important to use the right plunger — a simple toilet plunger won’t do if you’re working with a smaller drain, such as in your sink or shower. You’ll need a cup plunger designed for smaller drains.
Unscrew the grate or stopper and apply the cup plunger to the drain, and try to create as tight a seal as possible (applying petroleum jelly to the rim of the plunger can help with this). Then plunge vigorously, run water to see if the clog has cleared, and repeat as necessary.
9. Snakes, Augers and Millipedes
Although snakes and millipedes are sold in every hardware store, it’s possible to damage or possibly puncture your pipes if done incorrectly. If you’re a plumbing novice, it’s recommended to get a professional plumber to snake more serious clogs that couldn’t be repaired with the methods previously mentioned.
10. Caustic soda
Caustic soda is harsher than natural alternatives as it can cause chemical burns. Known as sodium hydroxide, using caustic soda requires you to wear eye goggles (or alternative eye protection) and rubber gloves. Make sure you’re extra careful when handling this chemical, and ensure the area is well ventilated.
In a bucket, add three quarters of a gallon of cold water, followed by three cups of caustic soda. Stir thoroughly with a wooden spoon. The mixture should start to fizz. Pour the mixture down your blocked drain and leave it to work its magic for between 20 to 30 minutes. Pour boiling water down the drain to flush away the mixture. If you have a severely clogged drain, you may need to repeat this process.
Why your drains keep clogging
You might be someone whose clogs keep coming back no matter what you do. Here are the most common reasons.
Your house is old
Older houses contain older pipes, which are more prone to clogs and leaks. Their brittle interior walls welcome gunk that likes to cling to the surface.
If this is the case for you, try to identify the locations in your pipes that experience the most frequent blockages. Then, instead of replumbing your entire home, you only have to change the piping in those specific locations. Finally, install a leak detection systemto monitor water flow and prevent leaks.
Your vents are plugged
Chronic clogs occur if your drain plumbing isn’t properly vented. If you have a recurring slow drain when you wash your hands or brush your teeth, or if water keeps coming back up through the plughole shortly after you’ve cleared your clogs, check to see if your plumbing vents are blocked.
Clogged drains are a nuisance, especially if they’re something you have to deal with on a regular basis. Always try to remove any physical blockages before resorting to harsh chemicals. But if you do end up pouring something down your drain, opt for a more gentle solutions before pulling out the big Drano guns.