Interior Plumbing

The Complete Illustrated Guide to Unclogging a Drain

Stop—don't panic! You, too, can unclog that drain with these easy steps for banishing the backed-up sink and toilet.
Donna Boyle Schwartz Avatar

We may earn revenue from the products available on this page and participate in affiliate programs. Learn More ›

All Clogged Up


If you’re like most people, you don’t give much thought to the drains in your bathroom and kitchen fixtures—that is, until something goes wrong, and you’re confronted with a sink full of grimy water, or worse, an overflowing toilet.

Related:  Quick Tip—Fixing a Clogged Drain

Make It Hot


Plain hot water is perhaps the unsung hero of clog busting. Typical sink and tub clogs consist of grease, hair, and food residue. Running a couple of quarts of boiling water down the drain will often dissolve much of the sticky “gunk” that is causing the clog. One-half cup of baking soda followed by a full cup of vinegar is also an effective remedy that you can use on a regular basis.

Related:  10 Handy Household Uses for Vinegar

Clear the Hair

The first step in clearing any sink clog is to remove the strainer, reach in with your fingers, and pull out any solids that you can. For bathroom sinks, a simple tool called a Zip-It can remove an amazing amount of hair. Zip-It is a long, slender piece of plastic with small barbs on the sides; you stick it down the drain as far as it will go and pull gently to remove the clogs.

Plunge It


For tougher jobs, you may need a sink plunger, which is a plunger with a smooth bottom surface. Put two to three inches of water in the sink and gently pump the plunger up and down to clear the blockage.

Check the Trap


If the drain is still clogged, you may have a blockage in the trap, which is the curved section of pipe underneath the sink. Place a bucket under the trap and then unscrew it using pliers or a pipe wrench. Typically, just unscrewing the trap will dislodge any clog; you can also poke a flexible piece of plastic tubing into the pipe to loosen any material clinging to the sides.

Meet Your Auger!

Finally, for really tough jobs, you can purchase a drain snake, also known as a drain auger. A drain snake is a long, flexible metal device that bends around the corners of your pipes. You push the snake gently but firmly into the pipe until you reach the clog, then you turn the crank handle to break through the clog. Remove the snake periodically to clear any debris that gets wrapped around the head. 

Tackle Toilet Troubles


For clearing toilet drains, the best tool to start with is a toilet plunger, which has a flexible lip around the rim. Fill the toilet bowl with enough water to form a seal around the lip of the plunger when it’s placed over the drain hole. Pump the plunger gently up and down until the clog clears. You should not have to use a lot of pressure. If the first attempt does not succeed, try pouring hot water into the toilet bowl and letting it sit for a few hours, then try the plunger again.

Snake It Out

For tougher toilet clogs, you may need a toilet snake, which is similar to a drain snake but covered in a protective rubber sleeve to avoid scratching the toilet’s porcelain finish. A toilet snake works in the same fashion as a regular drain snake: Insert the snake gently but firmly into the toilet pipe until you come to the clog, then turn the crank handle to remove the clog.