Updated On

April 11, 2024

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    A buildup of hair, food particles, and soap scum, along with foreign objects like toys or silverware, can quickly cause a blockage in your sink or bathtub drain. The buildup prevents water from draining properly, leading to standing water in your sink, shower, or bathtub.

    To address a slow or completely clogged drain, you have a few options. Store-bought chemical cleaners can be highly effective but hard on your plumbing. Conversely, natural remedies can be eco-friendly but are not always the best solution. This article outlines a simple four-step guide plus our best tips and tricks for clearing blocked drains, so continue reading to get your drain running smoothly again.

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    • Remove a pesky clog from your drain in one of seven ways by following a quick four-step guide.
    • Take preventative measures, like using a drain screen, to ensure your drain remains clog-free.
    • Some drain clogs are more challenging to contend with than others and will require professional assistance.

    How Do You Clear a Clogged Drain? (4-Step Guide)

    Clearing a clogged drain is usually a fairly straightforward task that takes less than an hour. Of course, some clogs are more challenging to deal with than others, so they might require a bit more elbow grease to eliminate them. Below we’ll outline the steps to unclogging your drains.

    1.    Gather Your Materials

    First things first, you’ll need to gather your materials. The materials you use will vary based on the unclogging method you choose, but since you might need to try multiple approaches, ensure you have the following tools and supplies ready:

    • Baking soda
    • Vinegar
    • Salt
    • Hot or boiling water
    • Plastic drain cleaning tool or zip ties
    • Drain snake
    • Wet/dry vacuum (optional)
    • Toilet plunger
    • Petroleum jelly
    • Drain cleaner

    Again, you might not need everything on the list, but it doesn’t hurt to have each item handy in case you need it.

    2.    Choose a Removal Method

    Once you gather your materials, it’s time to select a method to address the clog. Choose an option that best fits the problem. For example, if the clog is minor and consists of hair, soap scum, or grease, combining baking soda and vinegar can be a solid approach.

    Alternatively, if you’re dealing with a stubborn clog that consists of a matted clump of hair and soap scum, you might need to use a drain snake, plastic drain cleaning tool, or zip ties. Sometimes, the fix is as simple as using a plunger, though, so it doesn’t hurt to start there.

    3.    Complete the Correct Steps

    Once you select a method, follow the steps pertaining to that method. In the section below, we outline a few of the best tips and tricks for removing stubborn clogs, so select an option that best fits your situation and follow the steps.

    For example, if you’re working on a bathtub or shower drain and can see a clump of hair, use a drain snake, plastic drain cleaning tool, or notched zip ties. Simply remove the drain cover and feed the tool into the drain. Rotate the handle on the drain snake or wiggle the tool or zip tie to grasp the clump of hair.

    Pull the clump out of the drain and dispose of it. Repeat the process until the clog is gone.

    4.    Test For Proper Drainage

    Once you’re done, test your handiwork by checking for smooth drainage. If standing water was in the sink or tub, it should swirl down the drain rapidly, indicating the clog is no longer a problem.

    Or, if there isn’t any standing water in the sink or tub, run the water for a few minutes to ensure the drain works properly. If the sink or tub drains slowly, there’s still a clog in the drain or plumbing further down the line. You can repeat your earlier steps, but if you’ve tried several times, it might be time to call a plumber.

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    How To Clear a Clogged Drain: The Best Tips and Tricks

    When you’re working with a clogged drain, some techniques are more effective for your situation than others. Here are a few tips and tricks to ensure the best results:

    Tip 1: Baking Soda and Vinegar

    Pour one-half cup of baking soda into the drain, then immediately pour one-half cup of white vinegar after it. Let the mixture bubble and fizz for several minutes to an hour. After the reaction ceases, flush the drain with hot water (for plastic pipes) or boiling water (for metal pipes). This works best for kitchen sinks and garbage disposals, where clogs are typically from grease and food.

    Tip 2: Boiling Water and Salt

    A few tablespoons of salt and a splash of boiling water can help soften hair and food particles, helping them whoosh down the drain. However, this option isn’t suitable for folks with PVC (or any plastic) plumbing, as the hot water can damage the pipes and cause the joints to swell.

    Tip 3: Wet/dry Vacuum

    If you have a wet/dry vacuum, use it to help remove the clog. Fit the vacuum over the drain hole (wrap a wet towel around the hose to get good suction) and turn it on, allowing it to create suction inside the pipe. While this won’t work for all clogs, it can be a helpful way to remove clogs that are just out of reach.

    Tip 4: Coat Hanger or Wires

    If you can see the blockage in the drain, untwist a metal coat hanger or use a piece of wire to form a hook. Insert the hook into the drain and wiggle it around to ensure it grasps the clog. Gently pull the wire back out, remove the gunk, and repeat the process until the clog is completely removed.

    Tip 5: Zip ties and drain snakes

    If you have a drain snake, feed it down the drain to catch any hair or gunk and break up the clog. Alternatively, take a zip tie, cut small notches in each side to create “teeth,” and use it for shallow clogs you can see. This DIY method works well for removing clogs from shower drains and bathroom sinks, which are prone to hair clogs. You can find drain snakes at all hardware stores. 

    Tip 6: Plunger with petroleum jelly

    While a plunger is effective on its own, there might be some cases where it’s tricky to form a tight seal around the drain opening for proper suction. Apply a layer of petroleum jelly to the plunger’s rim, fit it over the sink drain, and plunge it several times vigorously. This should quickly unclog the sink drain.

    Tip 7: Remove the P-trap

    Under all of your drains are P-traps. P-traps trap water in the bend to prevent gasses from escaping. They also tend to clog with things like food, hair, and minerals. If you have a bath, shower, or sink clog, get under your drain with a plumber’s wrench and remove the P-trap. Then clear it out by hand and replace the P-trap (run water to ensure there are no leaks).

    Tip 9: Drain cleaner

    If all else fails, you can use a chemical drain cleaner to tackle the clog by following the instructions on the label. It’s important to note that these cleaners can be hard on your drain pipe, so you should use them as a last resort. If you have a septic system, don’t use a drain cleaner at all

    How To Prevent Blocked and Clogged Drains in the Future

    Once you clear the drain and everything is operating smoothly once again, it’s essential to employ a few preventative measures. Otherwise, the problem will likely reappear within a few days or weeks, returning you to square one.

    Prevention doesn’t need to be overly complicated. You can keep your drains clear and unobstructed by employing a few simple habits and practices. Here are a few tips to prevent blockages in the future:

    • Drain screens and strainers: Use a drain screen or strainer fitted to the drain you’re working with to catch debris and hair as they make their way to the drain. Empty it as it fills up to ensure the hair or debris caught in the trap doesn’t prevent proper drainage.
    • Be mindful of what goes down the drain: Avoid pouring things like grease, oil, and fat down the drain, as they can harden as they cool. They can build up over time, catching other small particles that come down the drain until it’s completely blocked.
    • Run hot water after each use: A quick rinse of hot water can wash away small particles or soap scum that might be hanging out in the drain plumbing, so run hot water after you use the sink or shower.
    • Clean regularly: Don’t forget to clean your drains regularly to ensure they remain blockage-free. A quick clean with natural cleaners or enzymes will ensure the plumbing remains clear without harming it.
    • Schedule professional services: While routine cleaning is essential to keeping drains clog-free, having a professional refresh the system and flush out any potential clogs yearly doesn’t hurt.

    What Are the Drawbacks and Dangers of Chemicals for Drain Clogs?

    Although chemical drain cleaners are highly effective, they’re not always the best choice. Using them occasionally shouldn’t cause significant damage, but using them to tackle blockages every time they occur can lead to issues with the plumbing like corrosion and pinhole leaks.

    Most of the liquid drain cleaners you’ll find on your supermarket shelves are filled with chemicals that can harm your drains, plumbing, and septic system. On top of that, they’re not usually eco-friendly (unless they’re labeled as a natural or eco-friendly option).

    Plus, while they can be helpful and highly effective in certain situations, they can’t handle all types of clogs. They’re designed to handle organic debris like food scraps and hair so if your child throws a toy down the drain, no amount of drain cleaner will fix it.

    Ultimately, while chemical drain cleaners can be effective, they’re usually best as a last resort instead of a first pick.

    Benefits and Limitations of Natural Remedies for Clogged Drain Issues

    Natural drain cleaners, like a combination of baking soda and vinegar, can be an excellent alternative to caustic chemical-packed store-bought cleaners. They’re a more eco-friendly choice and are unlikely to damage your drain and plumbing. Plus, they’re household items, so many folks keep them on hand.

    However, while natural remedies can effectively eliminate some blockages, they have limitations. The combination of baking soda and vinegar results in a reaction that fizzes and bubbles, which can help dislodge clogs like grease and soap scum. Unfortunately, they’re not usually effective on tough clogs or foreign object blockages.

    When To Call a Plumber To Unclog Drains

    Sometimes, clogged drains are more challenging to deal with than you initially guessed, and despite your best efforts, the clog remains firmly lodged in the plumbing. The problem might improve slightly in some cases, with some water seeping down the drain, but most of the blockage remains.

    So, if your drain is still clogged after attempting the methods we’ve discussed above, it’s probably time to call a plumber. They have the tools and knowledge necessary to tackle tougher clogs, so this is likely your best option if the problem persists.

    Additionally, we recommend calling a plumber when there’s a foreign object in the drain. For example, maybe your child flushed a toy, or a piece of silverware got lodged further down the drain. While you might be able to resolve some of these issues on your own, blockages lodged further down in the plumbing are often tricky to deal with.

    Wrap-Up: How To Unclog Drains (The Right Way)

    A clogged drain is a nuisance, but it doesn’t always need to become a fiasco involving a professional plumber. Some clogs are easy to remove with some elbow grease and a couple of tools and supplies. Whether you choose to use baking soda and vinegar or a drain snake, clearing your drain is rewarding and restores your shower or sink back to working condition.

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    FAQs About Clearing Drain Clogs

    What are the dangers of using chemicals for clogged drains?

    Unfortunately, while chemical drain cleaners are highly effective, they’re also hard on your drains. They can lead to many plumbing problems, including corrosion and pinhole leaks, so they’re usually not the best solution to clogs.

    What is the cheapest way to unclog a drain?

    The cheapest way to unclog a drain is by using a plunger (if you have one) or a natural drain cleaner. Plungers are effective and relatively inexpensive, so if you have one on hand, try using it to tackle the drainage problem. Alternatively, baking soda and vinegar are alternative options, as they’re common household ingredients, so you might already have them on hand.

    Do you need a plumber to unclog a drain?

    Before you call a plumber to assess your clogged drain, you can try to address the issue yourself. In some cases, it might be as simple as using a splash of vinegar and a sprinkle of baking soda.

    However, some clogs are more stubborn than others, and these scenarios usually require the assistance of a plumber. Of course, you can always call a plumber for help with the drain if you’re unsure how to address the problem or cannot remedy the clog.

    Editorial Contributors
    avatar for Jonathon Jachura

    Jonathon Jachura


    Jonathon Jachura is a two-time homeowner with hands-on experience with HVAC, gutters, plumbing, lawn care, pest control, and other aspects of owning a home. He is passionate about home maintenance and finding the best services. His main goal is to educate others with crisp, concise descriptions that any homeowner can use. Jon uses his strong technical background to create engaging, easy-to-read, and informative guides. He does most of his home and lawn projects himself but hires professional companies for the “big things.” He knows what goes into finding the best service providers and contractors. Jon studied mechanical engineering at Purdue University in Indiana and worked in the HVAC industry for 12 years. Between his various home improvement projects, he enjoys the outdoors, a good cup of coffee, and spending time with his family.

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    Roxanne Downer


    Roxanne Downer is a commerce editor at Today’s Homeowner, where she tackles everything from foundation repair to solar panel installation. She brings more than 15 years of writing and editing experience to bear in her meticulous approach to ensuring accurate, up-to-date, and engaging content. She’s previously edited for outlets including MSN, Architectural Digest, and Better Homes & Gardens. An alumna of the University of Pennsylvania, Roxanne is now an Oklahoma homeowner, DIY enthusiast, and the proud parent of a playful pug.

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