Hot water poured down drain - how to unblock a drain

How To Unblock A Drain (4 Different Methods to Choose From!)

Excess water on your lawn, a gurgling sound coming from your drain, or a toilet backing up are all possible signs that you might need to unblock a drain.

While a blocked outside drain usually requires the help of a professional to give it a good clearing and cleaning, a minor indoor drain blockage can usually be taken care of all by yourself.

All it takes is a few supplies from your local hardware store and a willingness to get your hands dirty. Keep reading to learn how to unblock a drain.

How Does a Drain Get Clogged?

A drain gets clogged for usually one of four basic reasons:

  • The accumulation of debris (such as soap and hair) on the inside walls of the drain
  • Foreign objects that cause obstruction (such as toys, baby wipes, tampons, cat litter, or fibrous foods)
  • The use of too much toilet paper (some brands don’t disintegrate quickly or efficiently)
  • A break in a drain that allows tree roots or clay and mud to block the flow of water

Watching what you put down your sink, toilet, and shower drain is a key way to avoid a clogged drain disaster for indoor drains. For outdoor drains like a sewer line, tree roots are generally a big problem.

Sometimes, these things are unavoidable, but a conscious awareness of what goes into your plumbing system can stop a clogged drain in its tracks.

troubleshoot a garbage disposal - kitchen sink clogged
If you’ve ever placed too much fibrous (or sticky) food down the disposal, you have probably had to unblock a drain at some point.

Tools You’ll Need to Unblock a Drain

Unblocking a drain will be difficult without the right tools. Here are the two most common tools used by DIYers and professionals:

1. Plunger

A plunger is a homeowner’s best friend when it comes to minor blocked drains. This simple tool can easily clear clogs from most fixtures such as sinks, tubs, and toilets. Here’s how to use a plunger correctly (you’ll be surprised how often it’s done wrong).

Close-up Of A Female Plumber Wearing Pink Gloves Using Plunger In The Kitchen Sink
Make sure to use a flat-style (or cup) plunger when using it on any drain with a flat surface, like a kitchen or bathroom sink.

2. Drain Snake or Auger

For blocks and clogs farther down the pipe, a drain snake is ideal. It’s a long, thin cable designed for snaking out drains and fitting through tight curves. A hand crank allows you to manually unclog a drain up to 100 feet away.

Unblock a drain with a closet auger
Closet augets and drain snakes come in all sizes and shapes. But they all do the same thing: they send a coiled cable deep enough to unblock a drain.

How To Unblock a Drain

There are numerous methods — from natural to chemical to mechanical — for unblocking a drain. Here are 4 common methods that people use all the time. Read carefully, as one of these methods — while popular — is NOT recommended.

1. The Plunger Method

If you have a sink clog, place the plunger over the drain completely. Run the water for a second while placing the plunger on the drain to make sure you get a good seal. Begin plunging with a small but fast up-and-down motion. Do this for about 10 seconds or until you feel the sink unclog. You may have to repeat this cycle several times.

how to use a plunger - plunger toilet diagram
The plunger method is the one you should always try first. But there is a correct way to do it without making the problem worse. You can find out how in the Resources section below.

2. Wire Clothes Hanger

The most common cause of a blocked shower drain is the buildup of hair (I’m talking to you, long-haired ladies). A quick and easy solution can usually be found right in your own closet.

Straighten a wire hanger. Place the hooked end (the U-shaped part) into the drain and try to grab or fish out the clump of hair. Once you remove as much as you can, immediately run hot water down the drain to flush any other hair or debris that you might have loosened.

This method can also be used for stuck food in your sink.

Straighten a wire hanger and insert to unblock a drain
Just straighten the wire hanger and insert the curved end into the drain. You might be able to loosen or even pull out the blockage.

3. Chemical Drain Cleaners

A run to your local grocery store can also do the trick when it comes to a clogged drain. Just make sure to buy some protective eyewear and a long pair of rubber gloves.

When using chemical drain cleaners (such as lye- and sulfuric acid-based cleaners) follow the exact directions to remove the blockage. These chemicals can burn or blind. And splashing is a real issue.

But this is not only for safety reasons. Different types of blocked drains require different solutions to be effective. For example, a standing water blockage in a kitchen sink should be treated differently than a slow-draining bath clog.

Are chemical drain cleaners safe - drain cleaners on retail shelf
This isn’t the method we recommend, but a lot of you out there prefer chemical drain cleaners for their convenience. Unfortunately, they can do more harm than good. They are highly corrosive and often don’t work very well. So beware. Check out the link in our Resources section below for a full report (and video) on why we don’t recommend chemical cleaners.

4. Dish Soap and Hot Water

If you want to avoid harsh chemical cleaners that can sometimes harm your drain, try a simple solution of hot water and soap.

For sink drains that are clogged due to grease, bring water to a boil and mix in a few tablespoons of liquid dish soap. Use Dawn dishwashing soap (other brands won’t work as well to cut grease and loosen the debris). The hot water solution will heat solidified grease in your sink trap allowing the grease to be washed away.

Watch Kameron use hot water and dish soap to unblock a drain. This is a fantastic natural drain cleaning method that won’t harm metal drain pipes. Just be careful of using this with plastic pipes. Some have lower tolerances to high heat.


Call 1-Tom-Plumber

Don’t hesitate to contact us here or call us at 1-Tom-Plumber (1-866-758-6237) if you’d like us to unblock a drain. We will immediately handle any emergency plumbingdrain, and water damage problem, including excavation of underground water lines and sewer main lines.

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