How to Clean a Clogged Drain

Posted by
John Woodard on May 12, 2022

Whether it’s your kitchen sink or shower, a clogged drain can be a frustrating problem to deal with. The good news is that no matter what is clogging your drain, there are many methods to eliminate blockages and prevent substances from building up in your pipes. Below you can find information on what clogs different types of drains in your home, how to prevent clogs from forming, and how to unclog multiple drain types.

What causes clogged drains?

Clogged drains can result from a variety of objects, such as hair, oils, paper products, minerals, and soap scum. Where the drain is located will determine the type of blockage that clogs your drain.

  • Kitchen sinks are commonly clogged with food scraps and cooking oil.
  • Bathroom sink and shower drain clogs are most often the result of soap scum and hair building up inside pipes.
  • Toilet clogs are caused by an excessive amount of paper products, such as toilet paper, being disposed at once or unsuitable products being flushed down.
  • Washing machine drains can become clogged from soap residue, dryer lint, and oils being present on clothing prior to washing.
  • All of the above drains can be backed up by tree roots invading your home’s pipes. Tree root clogs take little time to effectively back up your drain.

How do I prevent clogged drains?

While clogged drains are common, these small measures can be taken to prevent clogs from building up over time:

  • Never discard cooking oil or grease down a drain. When poured down a drain, grease and oil cool down and solidify, causing nasty backup in a pipe. To safely discard of old oil, pour it into a disposable container, such as a coffee container, that will not leak. Once the oil is cool, you can dispose of it in the trash. Oil that remains on pans or pots can be removed by paper towels before the dishes are rinsed.
  • Do not allow large food scraps to enter your drain. Scraping food into the trash or using a garbage disposal before rinsing is effective at reducing clog risk in a kitchen sink. Ensure the drain plug is in place before rinsing to prevent remaining large food scraps from entering the pipes.
  • Prevent hair from getting into pipes. Brushing your hair before taking a shower is effective at reducing the number of strands that reach the drain. Ensure that you have an effective drain screen in place to block hair at the drain before it enters the pipes. Shaving regularly can prevent large hairs from clogging up pipes, but if you do not shave consistently, you will want to avoid allowing your hairs from entering a drain. If you shave above a sink, for example, place a towel or garbage bag above the sink to catch the hair before it reaches your plumbing.
  • Avoid flushing too many paper products down your toilet. Children are commonly the culprit of clogs caused by excessive toilet paper, so teaching them how much is too much can prevent future clogs. Ensuring paper products not designed for toilet use are disposed of in the trash can also prevent clogs.
  • Using a lint catcher on your washing machine drain can greatly reduce the chances of a clog forming.
  • Pre-treating greasy clothes can prevent slow buildup in washing machines pipes. Just like a kitchen sink, oils solidify in pipes and cause clogs over a long period of time.
  • Avoid installing new plumbing near trees if possible. If new pipes are being installed in your home, preventing the possibility of rogue tree roots from infiltrating pipes is ideal.

plunger next to drain

How to unclog a shower or bathroom sink drain

Before attempting to unclog your shower or bathroom sink drain, check for visible blockages. Unscrew the drain cap and inspect the pipes with a flashlight. If any visible blockages are present, remove them and test the flow of the pipe. If there are no visible clogs, try one or multiple of the following methods:

    1. Pour boiling water down the drain. This can dissolve soap scum that builds up on the outer edges of your pipes. Once you pour the water, allow the drain to sit for a few minutes and repeat the process two or three more times.
    2. Use a drain snake. Snakes are a common method of cleaning clogged drains as they are flexible and can unblock otherwise impossible-to-reach regions of a pipe. Ensure that you clean your drain snake after each use.
    3. Use a drain cleaner. When other methods do not successfully unclog your drain, a drain cleaner is your best bet at ridding your pipes of blockages. Chemical drain cleaners should not be used regularly, but using them sparsely is an effective method of removing buildup in your pipes that other methods cannot remove. Once the cleaner washes away the clog, run water down the pipe multiple times to wash away the excess chemicals. MegaMicrobes drain cleaners are 100% biodegradable and less harsh on plumbing, so they are safer to use than traditional chemical drain cleaners.
  1. Call a plumber. If the above methods fail to unclog your drain, you may have an issue that requires a professional.

Things to avoid while unclogging a shower drain

  • Do not use a coat hanger in place of a snake. This can cause damage to the pipes as hangers are more likely to scratch as they go down.
  • Avoid using oily products in the future. If you discover your clog was caused by solidified oils or a combination of hair and oils, you may want to switch to a different product.

How to unclog a kitchen sink

Kitchen sink clogs are caused by different objects than shower and toilet clogs, so some methods are slightly different. If your kitchen sink is backed up, try the following techniques:

1. Check the garbage disposal

Before attempting to unclog a sink, you want to ensure that the garbage disposal is not the culprit. Run the disposal while pouring hot water down it simultaneously. If your disposal is not running properly because of a clog, turn the power off and reach in with your hand to release the blockage. If you discover that there is no clog in the garbage disposal, try the following steps on your sink drain.

2. Use a plunger

Small blockages can be removed from a line with a sink plunger. Note that toilet plungers are larger than sink plungers, and you should not use too big of a plunger on your sink. Using excessive force or too large of a plunger can loosen the drain line connection to your sink and consequently cause leaks.

3. Use boiling water

Before performing this technique, remove all excess water from the sink. Bring a half-gallon of water to a rolling boil and immediately pour it down the drain in a steady stream. Allow the water to drain. If it fails to drain, allow it to cool, remove it, and perform this technique again.

4. Snake the drain

Use either a crank snake or an electric snake to dislodge the blockage in the pipe. Once you hit the clog, crank the snake to dislodge the blockage and remove it from the pipe. When using a snake, slowly descend it into the pipe to prevent the clog from being pushed down further.

5. Inspect the trap

The trap is the curved portion of your sink’s drainage pipe. If you have a double sink and both are clogged, your blockage is most likely in the trap. To inspect the trap, place a bucket underneath to catch any backed-up water, remove the fasteners, and use an auger or snake to check for clogs. Once you have attempted this, reassemble the trap, and test the pipe’s flow. Ensure that there are no new leaks in the trap caused by reassembly.

kitchen sink trap

6. Call a plumber

If none of these steps successfully remove a clog from your kitchen sink, seek the help of a professional.

Things to avoid while unclogging a kitchen sink

  • Do not use a coat hanger in place of a snake. Hangers are pointy and much less flexible than snakes. Forcing a hanger down a pipe can cause damage to the pipe’s surface.
  • Chemical cleaners should not be used on kitchen sinks. The chemicals tend to linger behind, especially in the trap, and can wear down the pipes over time. A safer alternative to chemical drain cleaners is MegaMicrobes drain cleaners. These are completely biodegradable and are easier on pipes than traditional chemical cleaners.

How to unclog a toilet

Toilet clogs are likely the most unpleasant of all clogs, but they can be simple and easy to fix. Try the below methods to unclog your toilet:

  1. Use a plunger. By far the most common and one of the most effective means of unclogging a toilet, a plunger is excellent at eliminating smaller clogs from your pipes. When using a plunger, do not forcefully push on your first attempt. The bell of the plunger will be full of air, and pushing forcefully will cause the air to expel out the sides of the plunger and launch the toilet’s water into the air. Once the air is removed with the initial push, plunge methodically in and out. Ensure that there is enough water in the bowl to submerge the plunger head. If there is air in the head, the plunger will not generate as much pressure as it will fully submerged.
  2. Use a toilet snake. For blockages that a plunger cannot handle, a toilet snake is an effective option. Slowly descend the snake into the toilet and crank the handle once you find a clog. This should remove the blockage and allow your toilet to flush freely.
  3. Use bleach. Bleach is effective at breaking down solids in a toilet that other methods may fail to remove. Pour 2 to 3 cups of bleach into the toilet and allow it to sit for 10 minutes. Once the 10 minutes are up, flush the toilet to release the broken-down blockage.
  4. Call a plumber. If none of these methods work, this may be a sign of an issue further down your system that requires a professional.

Things to avoid while unclogging a toilet

  • Never use boiling water to unclog a toilet. If hot water sits in your pipes because of a clog, it can melt the pipe seals and cause significant damage to your plumbing system. Porcelain is also sensitive to drastic temperature changes, so pouring boiling water on it can cause damage to the toilet itself.
  • Do not use a coat hanger as a substitute for a snake. Hangers can damage the surface of the toilet and pipes as they are sharper and not as flexible as snakes.

clogged pipe

How to unclog a washing machine

Unclogging a washing machine possesses more risks than unclogging other types of drains. If you are not comfortable with unclogging a washing machine yourself, you should contact a professional. If you are confident in your ability to unclog your washing machine without causing harm, try the following steps:

1. Snake the drain line

Snaking a washing machine drain is more complicated than other drain types. Before performing this task, turn the power of the machine off and unplug it to avoid electrocution. Once the power is off, remove the drainpipe at the rear of the machine. Place a bucket under the pipe to prevent backed-up water from spilling. Next, disconnect the connection between the washing machine and the plumbing system. Finally, insert the snake into the hose. Push gently until you feel the clog. Once you detect the blockage, twist the snake to break up the clog.

2. Use boiling water and baking soda

Bring a half-gallon of water to a rolling boil, add baking soda, and slowly pour the water into the washing machine’s drain. Allow it to sit for a couple of minutes. Perform this process multiple times. If this does not dislodge the clog, move on to the next step.

3. Use a drain cleaner

Chemical drain cleaners can break down certain substances better than other methods, but they can be harmful to your plumbing if the wrong chemical is used. Ensure that you use a chemical cleaner that is compatible with the material of your drain and that you follow the instructions on the cleaner’s bottle.

4. Check the drain pump

The drain pump can become clogged and consequently fail to function properly. To perform this task, follow these steps:

  1. Turn off the washing machine and unplug it from the wall to avoid electrocution.
  2. Remove excess water from the drain hose. Disconnect the hose from the wall and place it into a bucket to remove the water. You may need to tilt the machine on its side to remove as much water as possible. If there are clothes in the washing machine, remove them and set them aside.
  3. Remove the panel on the back of your machine. In some models, this may be located on the front or bottom of the washer.
  4. Inspect the filter for buildup. The filter is concealed by a cap located directly next to the pump. Unscrew the cap and check for debris that may be clogging your washer. If there is debris, use a damp rag to remove it.
  5. Once the filter and cap are back in place, reassemble the hose and plug in and power on your machine. Test the machine with a small load to see if the clog is resolved.

5. Call a plumber

If none of these methods work or you are uncomfortable performing them, seek the help of a professional.

Things to avoid while unclogging a washing machine

  • Never perform washing machine maintenance with the power on or with the machine plugged in. If you are directly accessing the machine’s components and power is running in the machine, you are at risk of electrocution. This can cause great harm to both your body and the machine itself.
  • Just like any other drain type, avoid using a wire coat hanger in place of a snake, as it can damage your plumbing.
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