Guide: How to Unclog a Drain

Each building is fixed with a system of pipes and drains that are connected to a sewer line underneath the building. There are various types of drains in different parts of the house including the kitchen sink, toilet, bathtub, and shower. Cleaning and maintaining these drains is important to avoid leakage and clogs which in turn ensures proper health of the plumbing. Several reasons cause the clogging of drains in houses, the most common of them being deposits of foreign materials in the drain pipes and wastes like soap scum and kitchen grease.

Some tell-tell signs indicate a problem with your drain pipes and if taken care of promptly, could prevent clogs. If your drain is pooling water or often takes time to clear water out, it means it’s about time you have your drains checked. Now, there are several natural methods and professional tools that can assist you in fixing a clogged drain. Sometimes, a clog may be more severe than it looks and you might need to seek help from plumbers who know how to take care of these things in a jiffy.

Clogged drains can be a nuisance, but they are often easy to fix with a few household items. This comprehensive guide will walk you through the steps of unclogging a drain, depending on the type of clog and its severity.

What is a Clog?

A clog is a partial or complete blockage of water flow in the pipes that carry wastewater away from your bathtub, toilet, or sink. Clogs may happen for various reasons, some of the most common being the deposit of debris and waste in the plumbing like hair, soap scum, or plastic.

Bathtub drains consist of several contraptions that ensure proper drainage when maintained well. If any of these components malfunction, you are left with a clogged bathtub, sink, or toilet. The wastewater from the bathroom goes down the pipe into a drain trap that has some water in it to prevent gases and odor from coming back into the bathtub from the pipes. This is connected to the drain pipe that leads to the main drain line. You must have also seen plumbing pipes extending out onto your roofs called vent pipes, which serve as an air input into your drainage which helps in maintaining air pressure in your drainage system. The main drain line eventually connects to the sewer system which carries wastewater away from the building.

What is a Drain and How Does It Differ from a Sewer?

Fix a Sink Drain

Drains are pipes fitted in buildings that serve as vessels to carry wastewater away from the kitchen sink, toilet, and bathrooms, to the sewer line under the buildings to a septic tank or municipal sewer system. A lot of people confuse drains with sewer lines. However, there is a huge difference between drains and sewers.

In our homes, drains are those holes in the sink, shower, or floor where water disappears after we’re done with it. Drain holes serve as entry points for wastewater, helping it leave our homes through connection with the sewer. On the other hand, a sewer is like a wastewater highway that collects all the water from various drain pipes and takes it away to be treated or disposed of. A sewer is a network of big pipes, tunnels, and sometimes tanks that collect all the wastewater from different drains and take it to a treatment plant.

Common Causes of Drain Clogging in Household

Every homeowner or renter has probably faced a clogged drain at some point. It’s a common household issue, but do you know what usually causes these clogs? Here’s a look at some of the usual suspects for drain clogs:

  1. Hair: Hair is a major culprit when it comes to clogging drains, especially in shower and bathroom sink drains. Over time, hair can accumulate and intertwine with other debris, creating a net that traps soap and particles, leading to a clog.
  2. Grease and Fats: In the kitchen, grease, fats, and oils can solidify and stick to the pipe walls, gradually narrowing the passageway and causing clogs. Over time, the buildup of grease and fat restricts water flow and causes blockages in the plumbing system.
  3. Soap Scum: Soap can cause drain clogs when it combines with minerals in water, forming soap scum, which can stick to pipe walls and trap hair and other debris. It’s a common cause of clogs in showers, bathtubs, and bathroom sinks.
  4. Food Particles: Even using a garbage disposal, certain food particles like coffee grounds, eggshells, and starchy foods can accumulate in kitchen sink drains, leading to clogs in the drain. Organic waste is one of the leading causes of clogs in kitchen sink drains.
  5. Foreign Objects: Accidental or not, foreign objects like toys, sanitary products, and wipes can easily cause toilet clogs. Plastic wrappers and sachets of personal care products can sometimes end up down the bathtub drains and toilets which are never a sign for your plumbing.
  6. Mineral Buildup: There are several minerals present in the water system that can corrode pipes and also lead to a clog. The public water system is untreated and can carry debris and dirt as well, which can all contribute to degrading the life of your plumbing or cause clogs in drains.

Signs of a Clogged Drain

Homeowners should pay regular attention to their drain pipes regularly. There are often signs that indicate problems with your drainage system which can minimize the effect if taken care of promptly. Here are some common signs that drains in your household might be clogged:

  1. Overflow of water: Overflow of water from drain holes is a clear indicator of a clogged drain. If your drain holes send back water that’s already gone down initially it means you need to fix it as soon as possible before further problems arise.
  2. Water pooling in sinks and tubs: If you see water not clearing immediately after you flush or finish cleaning that means there’s something that’s blocking the flow of the water in your pipes. Water pooling in sinks is a sign that your drain is partially clogged and it could be very soon that it stops functioning entirely if left untreated.
  3. Frequent need to plunge: If your drains and sinks do clog regularly and you need to plunge them to get things to work, that means you should investigate the underlying problem instead of plunging every time this happens. While plunging might work to let water flow for a while, frequent need to plunge is never a good sign for a drain’s health.
  4. Foul smell: If you notice a foul odor coming from your bathroom fittings, kitchen sink, or bathtub, it is a serious indicator of an underlying problem. Bad smell coming from the drain pipes back into the sink or bathtub means the wastewater is not properly flowing out and debris has accumulated in the upper portion of the drain.

Different Types of Drains

There are different types of drains installed in a household which all serve different purposes. Each type of drain plays a critical role in managing water and waste efficiently. Here, we’ll explore some of the different types of drains that you typically encounter in a home.

  1. Kitchen Sink Drains: Kitchen Sink Drains are designed to handle a heavy load of water and often food debris. Kitchen sink drains also come with a strainer to catch solids which prevents pieces of waste food from travelling down the drain.
  2. Bathroom Sink Drains: Bathroom Sink Drains deal with less organic matter but can encounter soap, toothpaste, and hair, often leading to clogs. Scum is very harmful for drains and pipes and enough buildup of these things can be severe for the bathroom drain.
  3. Shower and Bathtub Drains: Shower and bathtub drains are designed to handle corrosive substances like soap, shampoo, hair, and other personal care products. Shower drains often feature strainers to catch hair and prevent clogging but over time some hair does pass through and creates a net that can trap other materials. Due to the buildup of soap scum and other corrosive chemicals in personal care products, a clog could build up.
  4. Toilet Drains: Toilets have large, curved drains called traps that hold standing water to prevent sewer gases from entering the home. Toilet drains are robust and are designed to handle organic waste and toilet paper, but problems arise when inappropriate materials are flushed. Things like plastic, hair, wood, and metal could clog toilet drains.

Methods to Unclog a Drain

Unclogging a drain can be tricky. However, there are methods that you can carry out by yourself at home to fix your clogged drains. Some drain clogs are easy to deal with and dislodge with little effort. Heavily clogged drains require professional plumbing tools to get rid of. We will go through some DIY methods with chemical cleaners and kitchen products that can help you get rid of clogs in sink, toilet, and bathtub drains at your home.

Natural Methods to Unclog a Drain

Many home or natural solutions work effectively to unclog a drain that’s been causing problems. Using these household items could help you unclog the drain naturally without spending a fortune on plumber charges.

  1. Remove Visible Blockage: Taking a good look at the clog is not something we might want to do, but we should. Inspecting and removing visible and surface-level blockage with hands or a makeshift tool could sometimes be good enough to get rid of minor drain clogs.
  2. Baking Soda & Vinegar: A mixture of baking soda and vinegar can act as a safer, eco-friendly alternative to chemical drain cleaners. Pouring hot (but not boiling) water down the drain can also help dissolve minor clogs, especially those involving grease.
  3. Boiling Water & Salt: Boiling water is a very effective and easy-to-source item to dislodge drain clogs. Pouring some table salt on the clog before pouring hot water will initiate a chemical reaction that breaks down grease, scum, and other deposits, disintegrating the clog.

DIY Methods to Unclog a Drain

Several everyday items can be used to unclog drains. While some of these are items that help unclog a drain, some are more useful if used regularly to prevent drains from clogging in the first place.

  1. Wire Hanger: A simple wire coat hanger can be used as a tool to unclog drains and make way to allow wastewater to flow away from the source. By straightening the wire hanger and forming a hook at one end, you can form a simple tool to pull visible debris, hair, and other objects out of the drain hole.
  2. Strainer: Using a strainer is always advised with a kitchen sink. A lot of food debris, oil, and grease travels down the kitchen sink drain causing a clog. The use of a strainer minimizes the chance of your drain getting clogged because of food deposits. A strainer in a bathtub drain or bathroom drain can also help trap hair and other foreign objects which ensures your drains remain unclogged.
  3. Tongs / Tweezers: A pair of tongs or tweezers can be used to pull visible deposits away from the drain hole in case of a clog. This easy-to-try method helps in providing you with some time while you call plumbers to take care of the underlying problem.

Chemical Methods to Unclog a Drain

Chemical Drain Cleaners are more efficient in unclogging various drains compared to natural methods. These chemical drain cleaners are available in liquid, gel, or powder form and work by breaking down organic material within the clog. While effective, using chemical drain cleaners must be done with caution as they can be harmful to human health, drain pipes, and the environment.

Commercial Drain Cleaners: Commercial drain cleaners break down clogs in drains. The strong chemical reaction in these cleaners helps decompose organic material, plastic, and hair to disintegrate the clog. These cleaners can be categorized into different types based on their contents. There are Caustic drain cleaners, acid drain cleaners, and Oxidizing drain cleaners which are effective in fighting clogs.

Acidic Solutions: While commercial cleaners are safer to handle, acids can be corrosive to the human skin and other things around us so the use of acidic solutions in cleaning drains should be done with extra caution. However, acidic solutions are super strong and efficient in unclogging drains. Some of the acids used to clean toilet drains can melt plastic and other materials.

Using Chemical Drain Cleaners can be seen as an easy way to deal with the clog, however, a lot of factors need to be considered and for a house with a sewer connected to a septic tank, it is not recommended to use chemical drain cleaners.

Tools to Unclog a Drain

When it comes to unclogging a drain, several tools and methods are at your disposal, each suited to different blockages. Tools are efficient in unclogging drains as they come in direct contact with the clog and dislodge it or pull it out to restore the flow of water. Here’s an overview of some of the most common tools used to tackle different clogs.

Plunger: A plunger is a trusty tool for many households. Every household has a plunger as it’s a simple tool to have and use when your bathroom or toilet drains get clogged. The plunger uses air pressure to dislodge clogs in sinks, bathtubs, and toilets. To use a plunger effectively, form a tight seal around the drain, then give a few vigorous pumps to the plunger to clear the blockage.

Drain Snake: A plumber’s snake is a handy tool for unclogging drains. More efficient than plungers, Plumber’s Snake extends into the clog and pulls the deposit and debris right from the source. This flexible, metal tool can reach deep into drain pipes, breaking up or retrieving clogs. Motorized snakes are more powerful and suitable to clear tougher obstructions in unclogging the drain.

Auger: An Auger is one of the most effective tools when fighting clogs. Unlike Plumber’s Snake, Auger reaches down to the clog and disintegrates it so the small pieces of debris and blockage can be carried away by the water. Auger is available as a manually operated device or as a more industrial electric machine used by plumbers to clear severe clogs.

While using a plunger uses air pressure to dislodge the clog in the drain, using a Drain Snake/Auger comes in contact directly with the clog to pull out the clog.

How to Prevent Future Drain Clogs

The best way to deal with clogs is to prevent them from happening in the first place. Preventing clogs in drains can save you a lot of hassle, and money and protect your plumbing. Homeowners should be mindful of their kitchen waste, bathroom gunk, and other materials used around drains so they don’t accidentally wind up lodged on your drain pipes causing a clog. Here are some preventive measures to keep those drains running smoothly:

  1. Use Drain Strainers: Drain Strainers are useful little gadgets that are best at catching hair, soap scum, and food particles before they enter the drain hole, preventing them from causing blockages in the pipes. Always use a strainer with a kitchen sink since that’s where most food debris and foreign particles accumulate.
  2. Be Mindful of What Goes Down: You need to be mindful in taking care of your kitchen and bathroom drains. Not everything is flushable, as some items get lodged in drains and stay there until you manually remove them. Avoid pouring cooking oil, grease, coffee grounds, and bulky food items down the kitchen sink. In the bathroom, keep a watchful eye out for hair and soap scum to prevent clogs. The same applies to toilets, only tissue papers should be flushed along when you’re done.
  3. Run Hot Water After Use: Running hot water down the drain can help deposits clear up, preventing clogged drains. Make it a habit to pour some hot water down the kitchen sink periodically to help dissolve and flush away any potential build-up of scum, minerals, and other debris, keeping your pipes nice and clean for a long time.
  4. Regular Cleaning: Periodic cleaning of drain pipes is a good way to prevent clogged drains. Bathroom, toilet, and kitchen drains are all designed differently and need periodic inspections to make sure they’re functioning well. Using a mixture of baking soda and vinegar or enzyme-based drain cleaners every once in a while can prevent drain pipes from clogging.

When to Seek Professional Help

It’s time to seek professional help if the methods mentioned above are not efficiently working enough to unclog your drain. It’s best to call professional Roto-Rooter plumbers from your area to do the job for you and maybe also learn something about drains that can help you prevent clogs. If the water in your drain is pooling more than usual, or you can’t dislodge or pull the clog out even with multiple attempts, do not hesitate to call in a plumber to have a look.

At Roto-Rooter Plumbing & Water Cleanup, we are equipped with top-of-the-line equipment that takes care of even the most stubborn clogs. We provide plumbing services that fix things at the root of the problem in your drains. Roto-Rooter CA is one of the most affordable and trusted plumbing service providers in California. Call us if your drain has been giving you a headache lately and we will take care of it in no time.