“Honey, the sink’s clogged- call a plumber.” Quite a few commercials started out this way over the years. People were convinced that only a professional could save their precious plumbing, rescue a ring or stop a toilet from fighting back.
Renters, unable to raise the “Super” or landlord on the phone, resorted to hiring a plumber rather than trying to do something themselves. Not out of the ordinary- they didn’t want to make a mistake and get sued for it.
A few homeowners with all the un-handiness of Fred Flinstone, Tim Taylor, or Al Bundy should indeed call a professional. The rest of us can indeed handle it.
There are three main types of drains in the typical house: sinks, toilets, and bathtubs. Most homes built past the 1960’s also include drains for a washing machine. All of these drain into a main house drain, which can, depending on what has been sent into it, can clog up.
Here are the most common ways the DIY’er can unclog a drain.
1. Liquids and crystals
Dozens of products claim that if you just pour “this” into a drain, the clog will be dissolved and your drain will be clear. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t. I have never seen it work on anything in my kitchen.
If years of grease, coffee grounds, food bits, etc. have been sent down the drain not everything is going to be affected by a commercial product.
Using lye acid or muriatic acid are two other substances people have used, and as a result, been sent to the hospital. They are acids, and they are dangerous to use.
2. Manual- “snake”
Ah, the uncompromising, long-lasting friend, the plumber’s snake. It may or may not be easy to thread this long piece of coiled metal through your pipes. Generally it isn’t.
The end of the snake, sometimes outfitted with a scoop-looking end, smashes into the clog, and by rotating the handle, the user breaks through the clog. This will not clear the entire clog, but it will open it so it will work. Main drains are where this works best.
Mini-snakes are made for bathroom drains to remove hair clogs or built up “gunk.” They really do work- I get mine from the dollar store.
3. Disassemble the pipes
This works if nothing else will and the clog is in the drain trap itself. This is the u-curved pipe under the sink. If a ring or other precious item has fallen in, do not turn on the water.
Open the cabinet, get a wrench (let everyone know loudly that the sink is NOT to be used), and unscrew the pipe. Get your object out. Rinse the trap pipe over the toilet or outside while you’re at it and avoid a future clog. Replace the pipe and re-tighten.
4. Clog buster – my personal favorite
I love this item for unclogging my houses main drain. It has never failed, and it cost me under $10 nearly 15 years ago. It still works.
It looks like a water weenie that is attached to the end of a garden hose. There is a slit type opening in the end. Essentially, that’s exactly what it is.
Attach the end to the garden hose. Shove it down the drain and slowly turn the garden faucet on, and the rubber end will fill with water and expand. It will form a seal against the pipe, and water will begin to pour out of the slit end. The water will not be able to move back up the pipe, because it’s blocked by the rubber. Water pressure builds against the clog, and eventually, (within 3-4 minutes or sooner), it blows the clog down the drain. When you can hear the water running in the drain, the clog is gone.
Just to clear the pipe better, turn the garden hose on full for a minute, then shut off. Let the clog buster drain for a few minutes, then remove. All clear.
The clog buster comes in two basic sizes- small for sink and washing machine drains, and large for toilet drains. They are available at most DIY stores and online.
5. Ye Olde Plunger
This old standby has seldom failed in it’s history. Just insert into the rising toilet water, cover the drain and push up and down furiously. Most of the time, the clog is simple and the drain clears.
If this fails, something else is wrong. You might resort to one of the other options. Removing the toilet is a last resort, but if a toy, for example, has been flushed, this may be the only way. When I first bought my house, the hallway toilet would work fine for one flush then overflow. I finally got tired of it. Plunging, snaking, and using the clog buster availed nothing. I bought a new wax ring and closet bolts (essential for putting the toilet back), turned the water off, disconnected the tubes, and took the toilet outside. I crammed the garden hose in one end first, then the other with the water on full blast. I got an old toothbrush and two toy race cars from renters who left over three years earlier. It works fine now. Go figure.
Whatever method you choose to use, your clogs don’t stand a chance. Of course, if all else fails, you can still call a pro.
Source: The author of this article has over 40 years of experience in diverse forms of DIY, home improvement and repair, crafting, designing, and building furniture, outdoor projects and more.