How to Clear a Clogged Drain (Step by Step)

A clogged drain slows down household chores and makes you worry. If you’re having this problem, you might have abused your kitchen drain line by doing one or all of these:

  • Dumping coffee grounds or bacon grease into the drain (This is wrong because they will block the drain once they solidify.)

  • Not running a lot of cold water down the drain after every use

  • Overloading your disposer with foods that are high in starch (e.g. rice, potatoes, pasta), foods high in fiber (e.g. corn husks, celery), and meat

  • Not giving time to your disposer to catch up after each cup of food you put into it.

If you’ve done at least one of these mistakes, then you have no choice but to solve your problem of a clogged drain. Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered! Here are the steps you should follow:

  1. Use the right tools.

If you have the right tools, you can fix a clogged drain in an hour—even less! The key is to use a snake and a plunger. A snake or a hand auger is an inexpensive tool. For unclogging of stubborn drains, it’s best to use a 3/8in. model which is more or less 20 ft. long. A 1/4in. type would work but a longer one is better for all-around use. It’s easier to turn down into the drain as well. When it comes to plungers, buy one that has larger rubber bells. They deliver more thrust and work well for kitchen drains. Consider its handle as well; it should be stout. Both tools can be found at a local hardware store. Other than these two, you should also prepare rubber gloves, a flashlight, and a plastic bin or bucket that can fit under your drain.

Inspect your disposer.

Before you plunge, check your disposer first. As mentioned earlier, a clogged garbage disposer may cause the drain to clog. To know if it’s your disposer that’s causing the clogged drain, examine the side of the sink that has the disposer. If it doesn’t drain, then remove the clog by plunging it or you can force it down the drain. Next, turn on your garbage disposer. If you can hear a low buzzing sound, then it’s possibly stuck. What you should do now is turn it off and unplug it. Usually, you can just turn the blades by inserting an Allen wrench into the hole found at the bottom of the disposer. If you turn the disposer in and it doesn’t make a single sound, the internal motor might have tripped. If it is so, give it time to rest for a while. Afterwards, push the reset button and turn it on again.

If you’re using a dishwasher, first fasten a clamp over the drain’s flexible part before plunging the drain. Doing this will preclude dirty water from coursing back into your dishwasher cabinet.

  1. Clear the clog using a plunger.

If, after inspecting the disposer, you found out that there’s nothing wrong with it, plunge the drain. Remember, with a dishwasher, you have to clamp the drain hose first. Now, fill the sink with 3-4 inches of water to make sure the plunger seals around your drain. Tightly hold a wet rag over the other opening of the drain if you have a double sink or take a basket strainer to seal it. Now do some plunging action for about 20 seconds. When you plunge, roll the plunger’s head into the water in order to force the water, not the air, into the drain. Plunge vigorously. As you do your last upstroke, pop your plunger off the drain’s mouth for added pressure. Check if the water swirls down the drain. If it doesn’t, bad news, you’ll have to plunge again for a few more minutes. Depending on how you plunge and the amount of water collected in the sink because of the clog, this step can be slovenly. It’s best to keep towels near you in case the water decides to spill.

By the way, don’t snake or plunge a drain if you’ve already poured drain cleaners into your sink. You wouldn’t want to cause the chemicals to flow back to the sink—they can cause a serious burn on your skin! If your sink isn’t entirely clogged or it’s just slowly draining, then welcome drain cleaners into the sink.

  1. Clean the P-trap.

The P-trap and trap arm of the drain can be clogged if coffee grounds and grease were have stuck into them. Most of the time, a forceful plunging can do the trick. But if it doesn’t, you need to disassemble the P-trap and clean it.

Start by sponging the water from your sink. This will decrease the flow under it when you pull the trap off. Make sure you place a bucket under the drain to catch the dirty water that will flow out. Next, loosen the slip nut on the trap arm assembly and the continuous waste tee. Then wiggle the trap to set it free. Examine the waste tee. If it’s clogged, remove and clean it. Usually, metal slip nuts are harder to loosen than plastic ones. But whatever type you have, you’ll still be needing slip-joint pliers to free them. When you loosen them, do so gently to prevent the bending or cracking of the trap assembly.

Next, reinstall it and check the line using warm water. Don’t tighten the slip nuts too much. A hand tight combines with a quarter turn using pliers would suffice.

If the P-trap isn’t the problem, proceed to the removal and cleaning of the trap arm. Grab your screwdriver, run it around the insides of the pipe stub-out, and use it to remove any debris in the opening. If you’re still unfortunate in finding the clog, then it’s time for the next step.

  1. Use the snake.

If the previous steps didn’t work, you need to snake the line. Start by loosening the set screw at the tip of the snake and taking out 6 to 10 inches of cable. Next, tighten the set screw and twist the snake down the drain line. At first, you may feel that something’s blocking it, but it’s most likely just the tip of the snake reaching a corner. Now, loosen the set screw and pull out another 6 to 10 inches of cable.

Continue pulling out the snake into the drain line. Do this until you feel the tip bite through. You’ll know when to stop—when the tension in the cable decreases. When you’ve found the clog, turn the crank counterclockwise and pull the cable out. Clean it while you pull since it’ll likely be dirty. Do this until you can’t feel any more clog then reassemble the trap and allow plenty of warm water to run down the line.

Pour ½ cup of baking soda and ½ cup of white vinegar into the drain while it’s open. Baking soda + vinegar is a great combination for breaking down leftover fat deposits in the drain. They’ll also leave a fresh smell in your drain. After which, cover the openings and let it rest for a while. Run another gallon or more of warm water behind it to wash the mixture out.

There you go! One drain unclogged!