how to unclog drain pipe

How To Unclog a Drain Pipe: A Detailed Step-by-step Guide

We’ve all experienced a clogged sink or bathtub. It’s incredibly frustrating to deal with a slow-draining sink or shower or something that is completely blocked. You may just put up with it for a while, however putting off trying to fix it can result in something like a burst pipe and hefty repair costs.

Often, people assume that unclogging a drain is an easy fix. Just add some liquid plumber, and it will be resolved, right? The truth is, harsh chemicals like that can, in reality, eat away at your metal pipes, creating a bigger problem than is solved.

The good news is, with expert advice from the plumbers at All Dry USA, and the right equipment, this can be avoided. Below is a comprehensive, step by step guide to ensure you can unclog your drain pipe quickly and effectively. Keep reading for more information.




What Not to Use to Unclog Drains

Despite all of the valuable advice available, there are a few misconceptions regarding what you should and shouldn’t use to unclog your drain. You could end up doing more harm than good, so knowing what products to avoid is equally as valuable as knowing which ones are effective.

Strong Chemical Products

Products like Liquid Plumbr or Drano are things that almost everyone has in their home. It seems like an easy solution – you have a clogged drain, so you go to the store and buy a product that says it will unclog your drain. Unfortunately, these decisions could end up hurting rather than helping.

Things such as Liquid Plumbr contain strong chemicals that are meant to eat away at what could be clogging your drain, including food residue and grease. These usually do end up clearing your drain, but potentially at a price.

These chemicals are so strong that while eating away at what’s clogging your drain, it also eats away at the pipes themselves. They might work in an emergency, but they are not designed for everyday use.

Even if you do plan on using a product like this just once, it’s still a risk that could result in an expensive repair job. You may only be using it once, but how about the family that lived in your home before you? It’s possible they used those harsh products frequently, and you’re now adding to the damage.

Homeowners in older homes also need to be extra cautious since those pipes are probably fragile and more likely to be damaged by these harsh chemicals.

Baking Soda and Vinegar

Using baking soda and vinegar is a widespread, eco-friendly solution for clearing drains that is recommended time and time again. Unfortunately, there isn’t much evidence that this works.

While there is a visible, sometimes powerful reaction when baking soda and vinegar are combined, it’s not necessarily conducive to unclogging a drain. Kitchen drains especially are full of grease, which isn’t affected by this chemical reaction.

Both baking soda and vinegar aren’t surfactants, meaning that they do not help carry away grease and oil like many might assume. Their chemical reaction produces water, which does little to solve the problem. Many people also mention the pressure that the chemical reaction creates, but this would only work in a sealed environment where the CO2 gas cannot escape. A drain is not a sealed environment, so this is ineffective.

The good news is, baking soda and vinegar won’t harm your sink or your pipes. Using it won’t cause any damage, but it won’t provide a solution for your clogged drain, either.

Correct Equipment Needed for Less Serious Clogs

Not all clogs are created equal. If you’re lucky, you can get away with an uncomplicated solution, and a few household tools can help you along the way.

Boiling Water and Dish Soap

Sometimes, the simplest solution is the best. It’s also essential that the water is boiling, not just very hot. The boiling water helps to dissolve any organic matter, as well as melts any build-up grease or congealed fats. The dish soap also helps to lift the grease out of the pipes. This is because grease-fighting elements are used in those products.

Pressure also helps when you’re using the boiling water and dish soap method. Increased pressure can help flush out the clog, so filling your sink with boiling water and dish soap and then letting it all drain at once will increase your chance of success.


A plunger is a great way to clear any clogged pipe from your kitchen sink to your bathtub. The rubber section of the plunger acts as a kind of suction cup, working to dislodge any blockages and force both air and water through the pipes.

Before using a plunger, make sure to fill your sink or tub with a few inches of water. This water will help the plunger force out the clog and carry away any extra debris once the main blockage is disturbed. You’ll also want to run the water for a minute or so after, for the same reasons.

Sealing or covering nearby drains will also help to build the pressure created by the plunger, which will maximize its effectiveness.

Plumber’s Snake

Also known as a drain snake, this is a good thing to use if your plunger doesn’t seem to be working. Essentially, a plumber’s snake is a long, flexible piece of steel attached to a handle. At the end of this is something called an auger, which is usually shaped like a spiral.

Auger end first, feed the snake down the drain. Twisting it around will help it make its way through the pipe. Once inserted, slowly pull it back out. You might have to repeat this several times, but by doing this, the debris causing the clog will be broken up.

If you’re in a pinch or want to save some money, you can also make your own plumber’s snake with a wire hanger. Simply unwind the wire, straighten it out, and create a hook at the end.

Use a Wet/Dry Vacuum

Of course, there’s always the option of sucking out the clog using a wet/dry vacuum. Simply turn the machine to the “wet” setting, hold it over the drain, and turn it on. If nothing seems to be happening, you can also insert the nozzle into the drain as far as you can.

Most importantly, don’t attempt this with a regular vacuum. You could seriously damage a machine that isn’t designed to suck up wet materials, leaving you with a clogged drain and a broken vacuum.

How to Clear a Seriously Clogged Drain

Sometimes, simple solutions don’t work, and you find yourself with a severely clogged drain pipe. However, with the proper equipment and the appropriate advice, there are several ways that you can fix serious clogs around the house.

Clearing a P-Trap

The p-trap is a curved pipe, mostly seen beneath the sink in your home. These create a seal, allowing water to settle while preventing sewer gas from moving through the pipes and into your house. These get clogged often but can be cleared quickly if you follow the appropriate steps.

Step 1 – Place a bucket directly under the P-trap to collect any debris or water that can come out.

Step 2 – Remove the nuts that attach the p-trap to the wall fitting and sink tailpiece using pliers. If these get stuck or come undone too quickly, you should replace the p-trap.

Step 3 – Use a nylon bottle brush or a straightened wire coat hanger to clean the interior. While doing this, also make sure no debris gets stuck between a drain washer and the drain pipe. This could cause a leak.

Step 4 – If the p-trap is clear, then that means the clog might be located inside the pipe directly in the wall. If this is the case, insert a small, retractable plumber’s snake into the pipe. Use the plumber’s snake how you usually would by rotating it while working it in and out.

Step 5 – Reassemble the p -trap and the coupling nuts, taking care not to tighten them too much. They should be hand-tight, nothing more.

Clearing an Under-Floor Drain System

For unclogging more extensive drain lines, the process is much more involved. Before you decide to do this project on your own, be aware that you’ll need to rent equipment, purchase plumbing parts, have the strength to move around machinery and do the work, and clean up at the end of it.

Step 1 – Determine the location of the clog. This might take some time, but what you want to do is figure out what fixtures are clogged. For example, if the kitchen sink and laundry are clogged, the clog is in a pipe used by both.

Step 2 – Clear a floor drain trap by removing the backflow preventer. Next, you’ll want to push a chisel against one of the notches that is in the retaining ring, while turning it clockwise in order to unscrew it.

Step 3 – Using a wet/dry vacuum, clean out the loose debris. For the solid stuff, use a coat hanger or a plumber’s snake to pull it out.

Step 4 – Next, unscrew the cleanout plug located in the side of the floor drain using a pipe wrench. You can also use slip-joint pliers if you need some extra help.

Step 5 – If the drain still isn’t completely cleared, you’ll need to focus your attention further down. This is where the equipment comes in – you’ll need to rent a drain-cleaning machine. This will enable you to puncture the clog, retrieve the obstruction, and cut through it.

Clearing a Toilet Clog

Most commonly, toilet clogs occur at the top of the p-trap. A plunger is widely used when this happens, but if that doesn’t work, you’ll need to use a plumber’s snake.

Step 1 – Place the plumber’s snake with the auger at the end into the toilet bowl, with the bent tip aiming up.

Step 2 – Crank the handle until the entire cable is dispensed, then retrieve it by cranking and pulling it up at the same time. Repeat two more times to make sure that it’s cleared out.

Step 3 – Next, clear out the drainpipe by flushing the toilet.

Clearing a Bathtub Clog

Clearing a clog out of the bathtub drain is very similar to clearing out a clog from a sink. They both also tend to build up over time, draining water slower and slower, until they eventually stop draining altogether. If you see this happening, it’s essential to clear out the clog before it prevents draining entirely.

Step 1 – As you would with a sink clog, try to use a plunger first. If this doesn’t work, move on to trying a plumber’s snake.

Step 2 – If that doesn’t work, the clog might be further down. From the end of the tub, remove the overflow plate.

Step 3 – Feed the cable of the plumber’s snake down the pipe. You might feel some resistance, but keep cranking the auger until the cable makes it through the p-trap.

Step 4 – Slowly pull the cable back out. This should clear the clog.

Step 5 – Finish by replacing the overflow plate and running several gallons of hot water down the drain to clear out any remaining debris.

When to Call a Professional

Some people are willing to take on plumbing projects themselves, but there are specific jobs that should only be done by a professional. Choosing to operate a drain-cleaning machine isn’t for everyone, but a capable homeowner can do it. When more serious repairs are needed, you could end up doing more harm than good if you try to remedy the situation yourself.

If your main sewer is clogged and you’ve tried everything outlined above, it’s time to call a professional plumber. They will be able to utilize more heavy-duty equipment, like an industrial auger or a high-pressure hose. And, of course, if the damage is done, they can also replace sections of the pipe.

How to Prevent Clogs from Happening in the Future

You can, of course, take steps toward preventing a clogged drain. These options are easy to do and are very affordable, if not completely free.

Mind What You Put in Your Sink

Most kitchen sinks already have some type of drain cover, but usually, they are designed to catch larger food debris. Avoiding placing certain things in your sink, like food grease or coffee grounds, can help drastically.

Grease especially is harmful to your sink – if you’re using it for cooking, simply drain the fat into a cardboard container or a bowl. Once it solidifies, empty it into your kitchen trash.

The same goes for the bathtub drain. Using something like a coffee scrub might seem harmless, but those small coffee grounds are often too small to be caught by a drain screen and cling to the soap scum building up in your pipes.

Purchase a Screen or Grate

You can purchase a drain-grate or screen at almost any store. They’re relatively cheap and last forever, so you don’t need to worry about replacing them. Most are even washable, so if they become too dirty, you can give it a proper washing.

These are especially useful in the bathtub, picking up hair and soap scum. Just remember to empty it every once in awhile, and you’ll keep a tonne of debris out of your pipes.

They are also easy to install – just purchase the right size for your particular fixture and lay it in place.

Clean Your Drain Periodically

Cleaning your drain before it gets the chance to become clogged is also essential. Periodically running hot water with a bit of dish soap will do wonders to keep your drain clear.

Doing this directly after you know oils or debris from food have gotten into your drain is essential too, so these substances don’t have time to stick. Doing this after cooking or washing dishes is an excellent way to stay on top of it.


Whatever problem you find yourself having with your drain, there are plenty of solutions to be had. It’s essential to do the proper research beforehand, so you don’t end up exacerbating the issue. Knowledge is power. After all, and knowing how to both prevent and treat plumbing issues is crucial to being a homeowner.

Don’t be afraid to call a professional if it’s a small clog, either. Utilizing something like a plumber’s snake might be easy for some, but there’s no shame in calling in a professional to make sure it’s done right.

To learn more about unclogging drain pipes in a helpful, efficient way, call repair & restoration pros at All Dry USA today.



Ben Suiskind
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