How to Clean Drain Pipes - DIY Tips for Dealing with a Clogged Drain
How to Deal with a Clogged Drain
There are many approaches to dealing with a clogged toilet or drain, and the best option depends on the severity of the clog and the type fixture affected. In this article we'll go through each and provide instructions for how to use them.
Stay away from commercially available drain cleaners
Plumbers hate them because they often don’t work on tough clogs. Then you call the plumber, who gets splashed with the strong alkali in the chemical drain cleaner while they’re trying to clear the clog with a drain snake.
We never recommend pouring chemicals down your drains because the fumes can be dangerous, and there are safer and more efficient solutions.
If you've already been using chemical cleaners to try and fix the problem, we recommend calling a professional. This is because many of the following methods could expose you to the harmful chemicals that have been put down the drain.
Homemade drain cleaning remedies
You can create a safer liquid solution with a combination of white vinegar, baking soda, salt, borax and lemon juice.
For example, pour a cup of lemon juice and a cup of baking soda in the drain. Or, you can try a ½ cup of vinegar and ½ cup of baking soda.
Alternatively, pour in ¼ cup each of borax and salt, and a ½ cup of vinegar. Close the drain up and let the concoction foam up inside the drain. After about a half hour, pour a lot of hot (not boiling) water down the drain.
Biological agents (grease eating bacteria)
There are drain cleaners, often sold by plumbers for drain maintenance, that contain anaerobic bacteria that eat grease and oil.
You pour some down the kitchen sink and the little beasties start gobbling up the grease and oil in the drain.
The problem is that the next time you use hot water and dish soap in the sink, you’ve washed away the grease eaters and have to start over.
Tools include plungers, drain snakes, closet augers and air rams.
There are two types of plungers, the common pink cup plunger and the flange plunger.
The cup plunger is better suited for plunging sinks, but is also commonly used for toilets. The flange plunger has a soft foldout flap that fits into the trapway of the toilet for extra plunging power.
Don’t cross-contaminate by using a plunger that’s been in the toilet in your sink.
For either type of plunger, you’ll need water in the fixture to create a good seal between the plunger and the sink or tub.
If you’re plunging your bathtub, you don’t want to blow air out of the overflow drain. That dissipates all of the force of the plunger. Seal up the overflow drain with some masking or duct tape.
You can buy a small drain snake for around $25 or less at most hardware stores and home centers.
You deploy the drain snake below the sink.
Place some towels and a bucket under the sink and remove the trap.
Next, snake through the drain hole in the wall. For a bathtub, remove the cover from the overflow drain and snake through there.
A closet auger is an auger made specifically to clear toilets, and can be purchased at your local hardware store. They range anywhere from $20 - $70.
The auger has a drain snake inside a metal shaft with a crank handle. You simply push the snake into the toilet trap while cranking the handle.
You’ll probably need to do this two or more times. Use your best judgement.
After you're done, flush the toilet a couple times to make sure the drain is flowing freely. If the clog persists, you should consider calling a professional.
There are also large power augers that are used in more extreme cases, like if your sewer line out the street is clogged. They can be rented, but you may be getting in over your head trying to take something like that on by yourself. If you think your issue involves your sewer line, it's probably best to call in a pro.
Air Rams or Kinetic Water Rams
A kinetic water ram uses a blast of air and water to push the clog out of the pipe.
Essentially, a kinetic water ram quickly and cleanly clears clogged sinks, showers, toilets, and tubs.
They are especially effective at clearing slow draining tubs when the stoppage is on the far side of a drum trap.
An air ram will unclog some of the more serious blockages with ease, but they are also pretty expensive.
The devices are available at hardware stores and home centers, as well as online, for prices anywhere from about $200 to more than $400.
Our feeling is that the higher-end ones tend to work the best and most reliably. If you're a big DIYer and have experience with tools, an air ram might be something for you.
When should you call a Plumber?
If you've tried all of the above but are still having issues, it may be time to call a professional.
Often times the root of the cause may be more complex than it seems; especially for kitchen/bathroom sinks and bathtub drains. In these cases you'll want a professional plumber to diagnose the issue. If not fixed properly the first time, problems with your plumbing can get worse over time and lead to even greater issues.
Gem’s highly skilled, licensed plumbers are always here to help!