How to Unclog a Sink Drain
Save yourself a costly plumber’s visit by trying these methods to clear out your sink drain.
When you’re faced with a clogged sink drain, your first instinct might be to reach for the phone to call a plumber. Resist that urge. You can tackle this problem on your own and save yourself hundreds using the tried-and-true methods below. By understanding how your sink drain operates and what’s likely causing the clog, you can learn how to unclog a sink drain in under an hour with just a few basic tools and supplies.
Working Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 30 to 45 minutes (depending on method)
Skill Level: Beginner
Estimated Cost: $0 to $50 (depending on method)
Before You Begin
Before taking on that clogged sink, it’s important to check a few boxes first. Have eye protection and gloves on hand if you plan on using boiling water or drain cleaner. You’ll also need to assess the type of pipes you have to make sure you’re choosing a method that’s safe for your plumbing. If you have PVC drain pipes, don’t use the boiling water method because intense heat could damage the pipes.
Below are all the supplies you’d need to complete all five drain-clearing methods we suggest below. The tools and materials you actually need will vary depending on the method you use to clear the clog. With that in mind, determine your plan of attack before heading to the store for supplies.
Unclog a Sink With a Plunger
Plunging the sink uses pressure to remove the clog and should be the first method you employ when unclogging a drain. Because plunging doesn’t involve dumping caustic chemicals or boiling water down the drain, it’s the safest option for both you and your home’s plumbing system. In addition to a plunger, if you’re unclogging a kitchen sink drain you may also need a conical rubber plug, which you can find in the plumbing section of your local home improvement store.
- Depending on the type of sink you’re attempting to unclog, you’ll need to seal all exits to the drain first. If it’s a kitchen sink, seal off the dishwasher drain to prevent pushing water into the dishwasher. To do this, unplug the garbage disposal, disconnect the dishwasher drain hose from the disposal, and then use the rubber plug to close up the drain hole.
- Remove the sink stopper and fill the sink with a few inches of water so you can create the suction the plunger needs to force the clog out.
- Place the plunger over the drain. To produce the amount of suction needed to move the clog, you need to create a tight seal around the drain with the plunger.
- Pump the plunger up and down several times. As you move the plunger, the suction it creates inside the drain should push the clog through the pipe, breaking it apart and clearing it away.
- Run the water for a minute or two after the drain clears. Remove the plunger and check to see if the water drains. If it doesn’t, return to the previous step and continue plunging until the drain clears.
RELATED: How to Use a Plunger the Right Way
Unclog a Sink With Boiling Water
If you don’t have a plunger or if your best plunging efforts have failed, then you can attempt to remove the clog by boiling it out, but do this only if you have metal pipes. If you have PVC pipes, skip this method. PVC can tolerate temperatures only up to 140 degrees Fahrenheit, well below the 212-degree temperature of boiling water. Attempting to use this method with PVC pipes could melt the pipes or weaken the glue that holds them together.
To use the boiling water method, follow these steps:
- Bring a half gallon of water to a rolling boil.
- The boiling water must make direct contact with the clog to work its magic, so you’ll need to take out the sink stopper and remove any standing water in the sink by bailing it out or using a wet/dry shop vac.
- Pour boiling water directly down the drain.
- If the sink doesn’t drain after you’ve poured down the boiling water, repeat the above steps.
Unclog a Drain With Baking Soda and Vinegar
Baking soda and vinegar is a viable solution for light to moderate clogs, and it’s easier on your plumbing system than harsh commercial drain cleaners. As anyone who has ever conducted the elementary school volcano science experiment knows, when you mix vinegar and baking soda together, it causes a vigorous bubbling reaction. When that reaction takes place inside a drain, it can help break apart clogs.
Here’s how to use baking soda and vinegar to clear a drain:
- Start by taking out the sink stopper and removing any standing water from the drain using a wet/dry vac. For this method to work, the baking soda must come into contact with the vinegar at the clog, so there should be no standing water in the sink.
- Pour 1 cup of baking soda down the drain.
- Pour 1 cup of white vinegar down the drain.
- Place a stopper over the drain opening. This step is critical, as the stopper will direct the reaction created by the vinegar and baking soda toward the clog.
- Let the mixture sit for 15 minutes.
- Remove the drain stopper and run hot water to clear the clog.
Unclog a Drain With an Auger
Sometimes the best way to eliminate a clog is by physically taking it out with a drain snake or auger. These devices run a metal cable through the drain to clear the clog. If you don’t own an auger, you’ll need to purchase one, which makes this method more expensive than the other DIY solutions. That said, it’s still much cheaper than calling in a plumber. If clogged drains are a fairly common occurrence in your home, a drain snake is probably a worthwhile investment.
- Remove any stoppers from the drain to clear the way for the auger.
- Feed the auger’s cable into the drain by hand.
- Turn the auger handle while applying pressure to feed the cable further into the drain. Once you encounter resistance, you’ve found the clog.
- Continue rotating the snake using the crank or your cordless drill until you feel the clog clear.
- Remove the auger from the drain.
- Run hot water to make sure the drain is cleared.
Unclog a Sink Drain With a Commercial Drain Cleaner
This method is last on our list for a reason. Commercial drain cleaners use chemicals that are highly toxic and bad for the environment. Using them too often can also corrode your pipes. While it’s certainly an easy solution, use drain cleaners only as a last resort. If you do opt to use a commercial drain cleaner, consider choosing one that meets the EPA Safer Choice standard.
Always follow the manufacturer’s directions when using a drain cleaner. In most cases, you’ll follow a procedure like this one:
- The drain cleaner will need to come into direct contact with the clog, so remove any standing water by bailing it out or using a wet/dry vac.
- Remove the sink stopper to make way for the drain cleaner.
- Pour in the drain cleaner according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
- Allow 15 to 20 minutes for the clog to dissolve.
- Run warm water through the drain to rinse out the cleaner.
How to Prevent Drain Clogs in the Sink
You can take steps to prevent sink clogs by being mindful about what you put down the drain and by performing routine monthly maintenance.
- Don’t pour grease or oil down the drain. Grease and oil harden and cling to the inside of pipes as they cool, creating clogs.
- Don’t let solids go down the drain. Use a sink strainer to catch food and objects before they wash down the kitchen sink drain. Bones, coffee grounds, and fibrous vegetables are a few foods you should never send down the drain.
- Keep hair out of the drain. Long hair that gets tangled inside the drain is a common cause of bathroom sink clogs. When hair falls into the sink, wipe it out with a tissue or piece of toilet paper instead of letting it wash down the drain.
- Use baking soda and vinegar regularly, ideally about once a month, to remove buildup inside the drain that could eventually lead to a clog.
While clogged sink drains are certainly an inconvenience, don’t add insult to injury by paying a plumber hundreds of dollars to take care of this problem for you. Unclogging the drain is a repair you can handle, even if you have little experience with plumbing. Unless the clog is severe, the methods above are likely to fix the issue.
When attempting to clear a clogged drain with boiling water, drain cleaner, or vinegar and baking soda, protect yourself by wearing proper safety gear, and make sure that the method you’re using is safe for the type of pipes you have.