Clogged drains are an inconvenience at best and a financial burden at worst. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to unclog drainage pipes on your own without racking up expensive plumber bills. This guide will cover those methods plus suggestions for keeping your drains clear and preventing blockages in the first place.
Let's start by examining the most common causes of clogged drains. Then we can dive deeper into remedies.
Causes of Drain Clogs
More often than not, drain clogs build up over time, slowly narrowing the pipe's diameter until water is no longer able to pass through. But occasionally, an especially heavy burden will overwhelm the pipe and cause an instant blockage.
One issue that can affect any drain in your home is mineral buildup. All tap water contains minerals, and these minerals can deposit themselves along the sides of a drainpipe as time goes on, solidifying and building up until water can no longer pass through.
Naturally, drains located in different parts of the home are prone to specific types of blockages, depending on what they're most exposed to.
Clogged bathroom drains are not only annoying. They can also be unhygienic if they prevent dirty water from being washed away.
Water backing up into your bathroom drains is a sure sign of a clog, but more subtle signs like slow-draining water, gurgling noises, and low water pressure might also be warning you that a clog is on the way. Your bathroom sink, shower, or tub drain might seem to get clogged overnight, but clogs in bathroom drains usually form over time, so make sure to pay attention to warning signs like these so you can head off the problem at the start.
As you might imagine, the major culprits of clogged bathroom pipes are:
- Soap Scum
It's normal for small amounts of these substances to make their way down the drains of bathroom sinks, showers, and tubs. But it's common for small amounts to stick to the pipe walls a little at a time until enough matter builds up to form a clog.
Perhaps the most dreaded clog of all is the toilet clog. Like sink and shower clogs, toilet clogs are common. You can frequently blame them on the long-term buildup of items such as toilet paper.
Flushing excessive amounts of toilet paper can cause an immediate clog, as can flushing inappropriate items like:
- Hygiene items like tampons
As most parents know, unsupervised children are also prone to flushing items that don't belong in a toilet, such as toys.
The last thing anyone wants to deal with while cooking a delicious meal is a clogged kitchen sink. Kitchen sinks can get clogged with bits of food that accumulate in the pipes, but they're also susceptible to something called FOG.
FOG stands for:
These three are some of the worst substances that you can pour down a drain, but it's surprising how often people do just that. Fat, oil, and grease are thick and tend to stick to pipes, especially when they cool and solidify, making clog removal a nightmare.
Methods to Clear Clogs
Perhaps the only thing worse than discovering a clogged drain is dealing with the hassle of figuring out how to clear it. Sure, you can always call a plumber, but plumbers aren't exactly cheap, and trying to fit a plumber house call into a hectic schedule can be challenging.
Fortunately, it's possible to clear the clog on your own using any of the methods below. Some require special tools or drain-cleaning chemicals, but many methods use everyday kitchen items that you might have already.
Chemical Clog Removers
A chemical drain cleaner is many peoples' first choice when it comes to clearing a clogged drain. While they can clear clogs without a doubt, they can also cause problems far worse than a clogged drain.
For one thing, store-bought drain cleaners contain harsh chemicals that are harmful to humans, like:
- Sodium nitrate
These chemicals are bad for you or your children and pets to come in contact with, and they're also terrible for the environment.
But more than that, the chemical reactions that these cleaners cause can damage your pipes, especially PVC pipes. Replacing a cracked pipe caused by harsh chemicals is the last thing you want to do.
Natural DIY Clog Removers
Although the marketing for chemical clog removers gives the impression that they unclog a sink or shower better than natural solutions ever could, that's simply not true. Natural DIY clog removers are just as effective and have many additional benefits as well:
- They're inexpensive
- They use products you probably already own
- Natural products won't damage your pipes
- Natural ingredients don't pose a danger to humans or the environment
You can find an endless number of DIY clog removers out there, so we've decided to focus on the most effective ones. Whether you need to unclog a kitchen drain or bathtub, these DIY solutions will help.
Believe it or not, you can often use boiling water alone to clear a clogged drain. Simply pour boiling water down the drain to flush the clog away. If boiling water isn't enough to clear the clog, try using one of the following recipes.
Baking Soda and Vinegar
Baking soda and vinegar work wonders on clogged sink, shower, or tub drains.
Simply flush the drain with hot water, then pour a cup of baking soda down the drain. Follow this with one cup of vinegar diluted with one cup of hot water and cover the drain. The baking soda and vinegar will bubble up within the drain, breaking up and dislodging the clog.
Let the solution sit for 10 minutes, then flush the drain again with hot water.
This solution is especially good for the kitchen sink since it breaks up fat and grease. Flush the sink with hot water, then pour a mixture of half a cup of salt and half a cup of baking soda down. Let it sit for several hours, then pour hot water down the drain.
Baking soda and vinegar might be popular, but baking soda and lemon juice pair well, too.
For this method, first, flush the drain with hot water. Then pour half a cup of baking soda down the drain, followed by half a cup of lemon juice. Wait for half an hour, then flush with hot water.
This recipe is ideal for those who can't stand the smell of vinegar, although it's worth noting that vinegar is a much cheaper option.
Cream of Tartar
Many people have heard of using hot water or baking soda and vinegar to clear a slow-running drain. But not many people know of this effective cream of tartar recipe.
As usual, flush the drain with hot water before starting. Then mix a quarter cup each of table salt and baking soda with a tablespoon of cream of tartar. Pour the solution down the drain, followed by a cup of hot water.
Let it sit for an hour and follow with more hot water to flush the pipe clean.
If you live in an old building that's susceptible to clogged pipes, you might already have a plumbing tool or two lying around. If not, they're easy to find at any hardware store. Investing in a drain snake or plunger will keep you from having to call a plumber and spend money unnecessarily.
One of the best-known tools for clearing a clogged drain is a plunger. However, not many people realize that plungers aren't one-size-fits-all. They come in different styles depending on what you're looking to do:
- Unclog a sink: Cup plunger
- Unclog a toilet: Flange or beehive plunger
- Unclog a sink or toilet: Tiered plunger
Choose the appropriate plunger for the job, and your clogged drain will be clear in no time. When plunging a sink, you'll want to partially fill the sink with enough hot water to cover the bell of the plunger. Some people try using a half-cup of salt and boiling hot water first to dislodge or break up any gunk, while others swear by baking soda and vinegar. Be careful when plunging if you've used very hot water.
Plungers work by using pressure to dislodge a clog, so make sure to cover holes that might release the air pressure. In the tub, this might be the overflow hole. In a double kitchen sink, you may need to cover one drain while plunging the other.
Drain Snake or Auger
A drain snake, or auger, is a long, flexible cable that you feed through a drain if plunging doesn't work to dislodge a clog. The snake cable will either break up the blockage so it can be washed down or hook the clog so you can pull it back up.
You can get a manual, electric, or battery-powered drain snake; they all work essentially the same way:
- Feed the snake cable into the drain
- Crank the cable until you feel the clog
- Depending on the amount of resistance, you should be able to tell if the cable has broken up the clog. If it hasn't, pull the cable back out. The clog will often hook itself on it and come up with it.
An auger, especially an electric one, might seem like a large expense at first glance. But this cable tool is less expensive than calling a plumber out for a simple drain clog, so it may be worth the investment.
However, a more economical alternative is The Shroom Company's innovative DrainShroom 42-inch tub and sink snake auger clog remover. This is a cable tool that you can buy for only $14.99 and that you power with your electric drill. That's a fraction of the price of other drain snakes.
The ToiletShroom Plunger clears toilet drains in one easy step, and it's flexible enough to reach deep into the toilet to clear even deep clogs. As a bonus, it doubles as a toilet bowl cleaner, meaning the inside of your toilet will be cleaner than when you started.
Clogged Drain Prevention
Knowing how to unclog a drain is a valuable life skill, but knowing how to prevent clogged drains in the first place will save you a lot of hassle.
When it comes to blockages from mineral deposits, installing a water softener can do wonders for reducing the number of minerals in your water, slowing down or eliminating mineral blockages.
But you can do several things to prevent clogs, depending on where they're occurring.
Shower and Tub Drain
You can't do much to eliminate dirt, soap residue, and hair from washing off when showering or bathing, of course. But you can do a few things to minimize how much gunk ends up going down your drain. That way, you can keep bath time a time for relaxing instead of stressing about clogged pipes.
Remove Loose Hair
Brush long hair before showering or bathing to remove as many loose hairs as possible. Hair is the number one cause of shower and bath blockages, so the more you can minimize how much ends up going down the drain, the better.
Remove Excess Dirt
Brush off excess dirt before getting into the shower or bath. It might seem like the shower is the best place to do this, but removing extra dirt beforehand can help reduce the strain on your pipes and prevent dirt clods from clogging up your drain.
Use a Drain Cover
Cover the drain with a product like TubShroom or ShowerShroom to catch hair before it causes any problems. These products allow water to pass through while catching hair and other debris that might wind up down the drain.
Bathroom Sink Drain
The drain in your bathroom sink is prone to the same blockages as tubs and showers, so it's a good idea to minimize the amount of hair and debris that can gather inside. A solution like SinkShroom fits into the drain opening in place of a stopper, keeping sink clogs from forming.
Toilet blockages can be inconvenient, not to mention embarrassing. Keep yours clear by using minimal toilet paper and avoiding flushing inappropriate items that won't break up in the pipe. Remember that even if a product claims to be flushable, like flushable wipes, it can still get caught in a pipe and cause problems.
Regularly cleaning the inside of your toilet with a product like the ToiletShroom Plunger can help keep blockages from building up, although watching what you flush is your best bet.
Kitchen Sink Drain
Many people assume that as long as they have a garbage disposal, they don't have to worry about what ends up going down their kitchen sink. Unfortunately, this isn't the case, and even a powerful disposal will leave bits of food that can turn into a clog.
Running cold water while using your disposal - and also for a minute after - will help food particles move down the pipe without sticking and clogging your sink.
The easiest way to prevent a sink clog caused by food waste or FOG (fat, oil, and grease) is to minimize the amount of debris that makes it through your sink drain. Scraping plates and bowls into the trash before washing them can help with this, as can using a filtering stopper.
The Kitchen SinkShroom, for example, fits inside the drain hole to prevent problematic food particles from clogging up your drain while allowing water to flow freely.
Clogged drains are an unfortunate fact of life, but luckily, they're treatable and easy to prevent with the right tools, like those from the Shroom Company. Use the methods outlined in this guide to unclog problem drains, then prevent new ones from forming. With any luck, you'll never have to unclog a drain again.