I think it’s a good bet to say that every house has a clogged drain sooner or later. I remember a Thanksgiving dinner when I was a kid. Almost 20 lbs. of potato peelings were run through the garbage disposal until the drain fought back. My father had to take a section of the drainpipe apart to remove that clog. But seldom is the fix so dramatic. What you want to do for most clogs is begin with a simple and gentle fix before progressing to solutions that are more aggressive.
cleaning clogged pipes in the kitchen sink with a plunger
Everyone prefers green solutions today and unclogging drains is no different. These natural solutions should always be your first choice. Even more so if you’re connected to a septic tank instead of a municipal sewer.
Hot water and dish soap. This and other natural solutions are particularly effective if grease or other muck has built up in the drain over time. You’ll notice this if it takes longer and longer over time for a sink or bathtub to drain. All you do is heat about a gallon of water to a boil and add a quarter cup of dish soap. You don’t have to be exact with these measurements, just approximate will do. If there is standing cold water in the sink, bail out as much as you can. Then pour the boiling water mixture in. Let it sit for several minutes to dissolve the built up grease. If the sink (or tub) doesn’t begin draining before the water cools (15 minutes), you can repeat a couple of times before moving on to a more aggressive method. If it does start draining (even slowly), you can repeat the boiling water technique several times to open it completely. You may want to do this weekly or monthly to prevent the sink from completely clogging again. Even running hot tap water daily can prevent grease and muck buildup.
Baking soda and vinegar works a lot like the 7th grade volcano experiment. Ideally, the boiling water will have loosened up the clog. You can give the drain a thorough cleaning with baking soda and vinegar. When there is no standing water, pour about ½ a cup of baking soda into the drain. Quickly follow this with a mixture of one cup of hot water and one cup white vinegar. Let it stand in the drain for about an hour before pouring anything else in. Then run hot water to rinse all the gunk away and to be sure the drain is running clear. Other versions of soda and vinegar are a cola or other soda. Sodas are caustic but not nearly as bad for the environment as commercial drain cleaners. Again, let the soda sit in the drain for an hour before flushing with hot water.
The first couple of these still fall into the “go green” realm but are more aggressive mechanical solutions.
Plungers work well for stopped up toilets or sinks that have a clog that will break down in water. Plungers don’t work well on foreign objects that aren’t water-soluble – like plastic children’s toys. Plungers come in two basic designs. One is a smaller plunger that seals to the bottom of a sink/tub so that when you plunge it forces either air or water into the drain with force. The seal on the bottom of the sink is important so the forced air or water doesn’t escape around the edges of the plunger. Plunging water exerts more force than plunging air. For a toilet, you want to use a larger plunger that has a bulb above the neck that seals into the bottom of the toilet. Again, you can force either air or water with a toilet plunger, and again water exerts more force than air. For both sinks and toilets, hot water works better than cold water.
Wire coat hangers can work as a drain snake sometimes. A straightened wire coat hanger does more than unlock a car with the keys inside. Sometimes it will fish a plastic toy out of a drain but not often. More likely, it will break through a tough clog that is water-soluble. It may also break up a hairball in a bathtub. A good technique is trying to push the hanger through the clog and try to hook the debris when pulling the hanger back out. Something like a hairball will build up scum or grease around it. After fishing something out with a coat hanger, it’s a good practice to follow through with a natural drain cleaner like boiling water or the baking soda/vinegar mixture to dissolve the scum.
Take the “P” trap apart. This is also known as a “J” trap. You’ll find it underneath the sink or tub. This is part of the plumbing that holds standing water below the sink so that sewer fumes don’t seep into the house. It can also trap foreign objects like a plastic toy or a wedding ring. There is also a “P” trap in toilets but it’s built into the ceramic fixture and can’t be taken apart. Taking apart the trap requires some very basic plumbing skills but almost anyone can do this. Place a bucket under the sink to catch excess water and use a wrench or pliers to unscrew the u-shaped pipe under the sink. Remove any foreign object or gunk. As long as you have it apart, take to an outside hose or another sink to thoroughly rinse it clean before putting it back together.
Commercial drain cleaners should be a last DIY resort. Always follow the directions on the container. Also wear protective equipment. Especially goggles for eye protection and acid resistant gloves. Commercial drain cleaners contain powerful caustic chemicals. These really aren’t good for your drains or septic system and these certainly aren’t good on your skin or in your eyes.
If one of these DIY methods doesn’t do the trick, it’s time to call a professional plumber.
Please share your DIY drain cleaning methods with a comment. Also, our weekly Ask Brian column welcomes questions from readers of all experience levels with residential real estate. Please email your questions, inquiries, or article ideas to email@example.com.
Author bio: Brian Kline has been investing in real estate for more than 35 years and writing about real estate investing for 12 years. He also draws upon 30 plus years of business experience including 12 years as a manager at Boeing Aircraft Company. Brian currently lives at Lake Cushman, Washington. A vacation destination, near a national and the Pacific Ocean.