The Best Way to Clean a Clogged Drain

Expert step-by-step directions for unclogging a bathroom toilet or sink drain.

Clogs happen. Kids pour things down the drain they shouldn’t. Sludge builds up and slows the water. Your toothbrush slips down the drain.

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Hair, grease and random objects can turn your free-flowing drains into closed doors that don’t let anything through.

If it happens to you, knowing the right way to clean your blocked drain can save you a call to the plumber. Here’s how to clear any drain in the house in a few simple steps.

The Tools You Need

You don’t need to spend a fortune on tools to unclog your drains. They’ll cost less than $20 apiece at any household or hardware store.

Here’s the Official Drain-Cleaning Toolbox List:

  • A plunger, also known as the plumbers’ friend. It’s your first line of attack against nasty clogs.
  • A plumbers’ snake or cable auger is a flexible steel cable that you
    can use to dislodge clogs that are down lower in the drain.
  • For tougher clogs, or toilet clogs, a closet auger is the tool that
    you want. It’s specially designed to get around the bend in the bottom
    of your toilet bowl.
  • A drain cleaner for maintenance.
  • A bucket.

How to Use a Plunger

Okay. Most people have the wrong idea about what a plunger is supposed to do. It’s not meant to shove the clog further down the drain.

It’s meant to PULL it out, or at the very least dislodge it so that it can go down the drain the right way. Here’s the right way to use a plunger.

1. Stuff any holes. If it’s a toilet clog, you can skip this step. In a bathroom sink, cover the drainage holes in the bowl of the sink.

In a double kitchen sink, stuff a rag into the unclogged drain. If it’s a modern tub, the drainage holes may be along the bottom edge of the drain lever.

If you don’t block the holes, you won’t be able to get any suction going.

2. Place the cup of the plunger over the drain completely.

3. Here’s the part where most people get the wrong motion going. You’re not trying to shove something down the drain. What you want to do is create suction that will dislodge the clog. Push down firmly on the plunger until the cup is pressed against the drain.

Now, BOUNCE the plunger vigorously without pulling it off the drain. You’ll hear water sloshing as the suction tugs on it. Bounce for several seconds – you’ll feel the suction ‘grabbing’ at the plunger.

4. Now – yank the plunger straight up hard and fast. Nine times out of ten, you’ll hear the beautiful slosh and gurgle of water rushing down the drain.

5. If you don’t, start over with Step 1.

Two or three times should do it. If it doesn’t, proceed to…

Cleaning out the Drain

The idea behind using an auger is to ‘hook’ the clog and pull it out. To do that, follow these steps.

1. In a sink, you’ll need to get UNDER it. Place the bucket under the elbow pipe and use a wrench to unscrew it and pull it off. This will let the water in the trap drain out.

2. Feed cable from the auger into the pipe until you feel resistance.

3. Pull out about 18 inches of cable, and crank the handle while pushing forward to feed more into the drain.

4. If you hit resistance, turn the handle counter-clockwise to pull the clog back out of the drain.

5. Alternate feeding the cable in and out until the cable moves freely.

6. Pull the cable out, replace the trap and the pipe and run hot water through the drain.

7. You may need to plunge the drain once or twice to clear debris from the busted up clog.

Preventing Clogs from Happening

A little maintenance each week will save you all the hassle of having to unclog your drains. As you use your sink and tub and washer and toilet, debris and soap scum and other less savory things cling to the sides of the pipes and form a buildup.

The buildup narrows your drains, making them drain more slowly, and making it more likely that clogs will happen. To prevent clogs:

1. Use a screen or guard over your drains to prevent things from dropping into them. This inexpensive hair catcher is a drain guard made especially for your shower or bathtub.

2. Use a drain cleaner on a regular basis. The best drain cleaner to use is one that is kind to both the environment and your pipes.

Whether you buy a drain cleaning product or make your own drain cleaner recipe, you should use it at least once a month to keep the sludge from building up around the inside of your pipes and blocking the drains.

Those two steps will save you from nearly all clogs. And if they do happen – well, now you know what to do!

If the clog persists after several attempts, you may want to call a professional plumber.

Author Vincent Platania represents the Fuller Brush Company.

Fuller Brush has been in business since 1906, and offers safe, environmentally friendly products for keeping your home and your body clean. Visit

Follow my cleaning board on Pinterest.

Expert step-by-step directions for unclogging a bathroom toilet or sink drain.

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