Clearing Common Sink Clogs
If you live in a home long enough, sooner or later you’ll have to deal with a clogged sink. There’s simply no way to avoid it. Most clogs build up slowly over time, while others occur suddenly when a small toy or other foreign object falls down the sink drain. Regardless of the reason, most common clogs can be cleared in a matter of minutes—without calling a plumber—by using the following three-prong approach:
1 Start with a Plunger
There may be no simpler tool than a plunger, but when used properly, it’s amazingly effective at dislodging clogs. However, to ensure that all the plunge’s power is delivered directly at the clog, it’s important to cover any exposed air holes in the sink.
For example, when plunging a bathroom sink, use your thumb to cover the overflow hole on the side of the sink. And when plunging a two-basin kitchen sink, cover one of the sink drains with a damp cloth as you plunge the other drain hole. Failing to cover these holes greatly diminishes the clog-busting air pressure of the plunger. And before plunging, fill the drainpipe with water and put on eye goggles.
Caution: Never plunge a sink in which you’ve poured chemical cleaner down the drain. The chemicals could splash out and burn your skin.
Next, press the rubber cup of the plunger down tightly over the drain hole. Then, pump the handle up and down a few times, but don’t break the seal with the drain. After three or four pressure pumps, quickly yank the plunger free of the sink drain. Add more water to the drainpipe and repeat. It may take a few tries, but the clog will usually break up and flow down the drain.
2 Remove the Trap
If plunging doesn’t dislodge the clog, then you’ll have to remove the trap from beneath the sink. The trap is a U- or P-shaped pipe that’s located directly beneath the sink’s vertical drainpipe, called the tailpiece. Traps serve a very important purpose and are code-required on all sinks: They hold, or “trap” a small amount of water that blocks noxious sewer gasses from entering the house.
Before removing the trap, place a small bucket underneath to catch any water. Next, loosen the two compression fittings that hold the trap to the drainpipe. If the trap is made of plastic, you can often twist off the fittings by hand. If that’s not possible, or if it’s a metal trap, loosen the compression fittings with pliers or a pipe wrench. Be careful not to crush the fittings or deform the trap or pipe.
Lower the trap and pour any remaining water into the bucket. Now push a thick rag through the trap to wipe out any sludge or debris. Be sure the trap is completely clean before replacing it.
If you discover that the trap was not clogged, then don’t replace it and move on to the next step.
3 Snake Out the Drainpipe
If the clog remains after plunging and cleaning the trap, then you’ll have to buy or rent a drain-cleaning tool called a drum auger (a.k.a.: plumber’s snake). It’s the perfect tool to clear stubborn obstructions located deep inside the drainpipe.
The auger, shown at right, consists of a 25- to 50-ft.-long flexible steel cable that’s wound up inside a metal drum. On the back of the drum is a crank handle. To use the auger, pull out a couple of feet of cable and feed it into the drainpipe inside the wall. Lock the cable in place by tightening the retaining screw.
Slowly begin turning the hand crank as you push the cable down the drainpipe. Stop, pull out more cable from the drum, and repeat. Continue until you feel resistance inside the pipe. Turn the crank and work the cable back and forth until it breaks through the clog. Then, reassemble the trap and drainpipe.
Once the clog has been cleared, there’s one more step: Sprinkle a good amount of baking soda down the sink drain, then pour in a full kettle of boiling water. The baking soda will begin to fizz, which helps the boiling water cut through any remaining soap or grease deposits. Wait about 10 minutes, then run the hot water to flush the drainpipe clean.
And if you repeat the baking soda treatment once a month, you’ll greatly reduce the chance of another sink clog.