How to Clear a Clogged Sink Drain

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With a few household items and these simple steps, you can learn how to unclog a sink and save yourself a call to the plumber.

You use your sink on a daily basis to rinse everything from your hands, body, and hair to dishes and veggies. So when water starts draining a little more slowly than usual and even the best drain cleaners aren’t working, it might signal a clogged sink. It happens to the best of us, which is why it pays to know how to unclog a sink.

“Sinks and drains get clogged when hair, grease, soap scum, food pieces, and other debris go down the drain,” says Alicia Sokolowski, a cleaning expert with more than 15 years of experience as the president and co-CEO of AspenClean. While your first instinct might be to call a plumber, learning how to unclog a sink yourself is much easier than you would imagine, and it can save you a lot of money.

First things first: Know what kind of clog you’re dealing with. A backed-up bathroom sink is far different from a clogged kitchen sink, which may include a garbage disposal. “When unclogging the kitchen sink, you should test the garbage disposal to see if it’s clogged,” says Sokolowski. If so, you may need to clean your garbage disposal first. From there, it’s a matter of clearing the blockage. With a few household items and simple step-by-step instructions, you’ll be a pro in no time. So pull out your cleaning schedule, squeeze unclogging your sink between cleaning your stainless steel appliances and sanitizing your phone, and say goodbye to clogs.

How To Unclog A Sink GraphicGrace Luxton/rd.com, Getty Images

Boiling water

water going down sink drainAndrewJShearer/Getty Images

Learning how to unclog a sink starts with understanding which methods work for the type of pipes you have. Take, for instance, boiling water. If you have metal pipes and you suspect hair, soap, grease, or other residue is getting stuck in your drain, boiling water might be the first (and easiest) solution, says Sokolowski. That said, it’s not for everyone. “Do not use this method on PVC pipes,” she cautions.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Boil two liters of water.

  2. Pour it into the drain opening.

  3. Turn on the faucet to see if the boiling water made a difference.

  4. Repeat, if necessary.

If the problem persists, it’s time to try another method for unclogging a drain.

Baking soda and vinegar

Baking soda being poured into sink drain to unclogThamKC/Getty Images

Maybe you’ve tried boiling water and you’re still dealing with an annoying clogged drain. Or maybe you have PVC pipes and were wise enough to skip that. Either way, you need a simple method for unclogging a sink. Sokolowski suggests baking soda and vinegar.

Yep, you probably already have those ingredients stashed in your pantry. Both baking soda and white vinegar have a bunch of household uses—they’ll clean your laundry, banish soap scum, and keep your refrigerator smelling fresh—and when combined, they make for a simple way to unclog a drain. It works like this:

  1. Start by pouring approximately one cup of baking soda into the drain.

  2. Follow with one cup of vinegar.

  3. Cover the sink with a sink stopper.

  4. Let the mixture sit and fizzle for 15 minutes.

  5. Remove the stopper and run hot water down the drain.

  6. If you notice an improvement, repeat the process until the drain is unclogged.

Plunger

sink plunger being used to unclog kitchen sink drainAndreyPopov/Getty Images

You’re used to grabbing the toilet plunger when it’s time to unclog the toilet bowl, but you can use a toilet plunger to unclog a sink as well. You can also buy a mini plunger specifically for clogged drains. Follow the steps below to plunge your way to a clear drain.

  1. Fill the sink halfway with hot water.

  2. Place the plunger over the drain and pump up and down a few times.

  3. Remove the plunger and observe whether the water drains.

  4. Repeat until the water drains.

If you have a double sink, you’ll need to cover one of the drains while you plunge the other, says Sokolowski. If the water in your sink swirls down with ease, your efforts have worked.

Snake the drain

plumber using a snake to unclog bathroom sink drainMoussa81/Getty Images

If none of the above tricks work, you can try to unclog a kitchen sink or bathroom sink by using the Zip-It drain-cleaning tool. But for pesky clogs, try snaking the drain, suggests Sokolowski. A plumber’s snake, or drain snake, is a flexible tool that snakes down the drain to dislodge stubborn clogs.

  1. Open the drain by removing the stopper.

  2. Feed the snake down the drain.
  3. Once the snake hits an obstruction, crank the handle to dislodge the debris. “Don’t push too hard, so that you don’t push the clog further down the pipe,” Sokolowski warns.

  4. Pull the snake (and the gunk clogging your sink) out of the drain.
  5. Repeat until the clog is gone. Run hot water to test.

Remove the sink trap

person removing sink trap under sink to unclog the drainWestend61/Getty Images

If you’ve tried all of the above methods but your sink is still clogged, it’s time to get down and dirty. And by “down,” we mean under the sink. That’s where a pipe called the sink trap is located, and as a final resort, Sokolowski suggests removing it. Here’s how to do that:

  1. To avoid a mess, place a newspaper and bucket under the sink trap.

  2. Unscrew the slip joints.

  3. Take the sink trap to a separate sink or a hose outside to clean all the dirt and grime that has built up in it.

  4. Reassemble the sink trap.

How to prevent your sink drains from clogging

Just as important as learning how to unclog a sink is preventing it from happening in the first place. Sokolowski suggests the following tips to prevent buildup in your drain.

  1. Use drain screens on all your drains.

  2. Clean drain stoppers on a regular basis.

  3. Don’t pour grease down the sink—plumbers never do.

  4. If you have metal pipes, pour a liter of hot water down the sink once a week to keep your pipes clean.

Now that you know how to unclog a sink, it’s time to tackle the rest of your cleaning list. Start by learning how to clean a dishwasher, or go big by cleaning your kitchen from top to bottom.

Source:

  • Alicia Sokolowski, president and co-CEO of AspenClean

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Leah Groth
A general lifestyle writer, Leah covers everything from cleaning hacks and consumer products to travel and pets for RD.com. When she isn't working you will find her chasing after her four children (two humans, a Vizsla and a German Shorthaired Pointer) or working on her 100-plus year-old-home outside of Philadelphia.