How to Unclog Your Sink

these aren't just for toilets


For those of you who missed the fun on Twitter yesterday, my bathroom sink was majorly clogged. As in, I couldn’t even brush my teeth without it overflowing. And since we all know I’m not a fan of paying for services unless I have to, I decided to fix it myself.

Minor plumbing issues like clogs actually aren’t very difficult to deal with on your own, but for some reason, women in particular tend to freak out. It seems easier to just wait for a man to come along and fix it. And while that’s not a bad thing, some of us don’t have a man to come along and fix it. So unless you want to pay a plumber $200+ to pull a hairball from your drain, here are a few things you should know about clogs.

  • Products like Drano and Liquid Plumr aren’t always the best solution. Though they’re generally safe for kitchen and bathroom sinks, you could cause serious damage depending on what your sink, drain, and/or pipes are made from.
  • For a simple clog, sometimes pouring a pot of boiling water down the drain will get rid of it.
  • If you can see hair around the drain (this happens in my shower drain a lot), pull it out. Yes, it’s gross. No, it won’t kill you.
  • You can use a plunger on a clogged sink. Just make sure to hold a rag over the overflow holes - otherwise the water will squirt right back out.
  • Once you’ve gotten rid of a clog, give yourself a high five! Then run some hot water for a minute or two to push out any remaining sludge.

Unfortunately, there was no hair around my bathroom sink drain, and boiling water did nothing but fill up the sink even more. The water was draining, but really slowly, so I had to wait about an hour after that to try anything else.

Your Friend the P-Trap

When none of the above methods work on a clog, the culprit is usually the p-trap. If you look at the pipes under your sink, you’ll notice a U-shaped pipe that connects the pipe under the sink to the pipe inside the wall. It looks like this:

There are two rings around the p-trap that can usually be loosened by hand (unless the last person to touch them got carried away). Before you loosen those rings, get something to catch the water that’s about to spill out. And hold your breath because it is DISGUSTINGLY stinky in there.

When you loosen the rings enough to remove the p-trap, try not to tilt it because there is some nasty stuff in it. It stays full of water to keep sewer gas from coming up through your drains (which is even nastier). DO NOT dump the contents of the p-trap back into the sink, because it’s just going to come back out and splash grossness on you. (I speak from experience.) Dump it in the toilet or in a bucket instead.

Take the p-trap outside and spray out the inside with a hose. You don’t want to do this inside because the sludge will just settle into the p-trap of whatever sink you use to rinse it, causing another clog in the future.

Reattach the p-trap and let the water run for a minute. If your sink drains and continues draining, high five! You fixed it. If not, curse profusely because the clog is in the wall and you’re going to need a pipe snake.

Using a Pipe Snake

Yesterday I called my dad when I realized I needed a pipe snake. Because let’s face it, that isn’t something most women keep handy.

A pipe snake is just a long flexible rod that you can use to push out clogs you can’t see. No, a broom handle, curtain rod, or closet hanger will NOT achieve the same effect. Pipe snakes only cost a few dollars, so if you don’t know anyone who has one, pick one up at a hardware store.

Remove your p-trap again (be ready to catch the water) and slide the snake into the wall pipe under your sink. Wiggle it around to see if you can feel anything obstructing the pipe. You don’t have to jab or stab - this isn’t American Gladiators - just feel around and gently push against anything in the way.

You won’t always be able to feel a clog in the wall, so after a few minutes, remove the pipe snake, replace the p-trap, and run more water. If the sink still won’t drain, try the plunger again. Sometimes it can knock a clog loose after you’ve snaked the pipe.

At this point, if you stil can’t get your sink to drain, it might be time to call in reinforcements. You don’t want to poke a hole in the pipe (which could be old and rusty if your house is like mine), and anything else you do is likely to hurt more than help. Even if your efforts aren’t successful, you get to sound really knowledgeable when you call a plumber and say, “I removed and cleaned the p-trap, then snaked the wall pipe, and the clog still won’t budge.”

I Can Brush My Teeth Again!

Snaking the pipes and plunging the sink afterward finally got rid of whatever was clogging my bathroom sink. I can’t even tell you how excited I was to see the water drain out of it. As an added bonus, I got to clean the area under the bathroom sink, which was pretty gross and dusty. I also found some makeup that had fallen out of my makeup bag. Everyone wins!

While I’m no plumbing master, I enjoy being able to deal with minor catastrophes like this one on my own. Especially since the money I didn’t pay to a plumber can go into savings instead of into some guy’s pocket.

Do you DIY when it comes to things like clogged drains? Any other sink-declogging or other household tips you can share?

Every time you read one of these posts, a unicorn is born:

  1. Confession: I Hate Cleaning

18 Responses to “How to Unclog Your Sink”

  1. bobbi says:

    You rock!

  2. smallivy says:

    A word of caution. If you start to remove the trap and your pipes are chrome, it is fairly likely that you will break them. The rust and get really brittle after a while. They are fairly easy to replace, but it may be good to try one of the little fleximle plastic rods you can buy for disloging hair clogs by sticking them down from the sink before touching the trap. I always get ready for a few hours of work before I touch the pipes under the sink.

  3. Lance@MoneyLife&More says:

    Congrats on tackling it yourself and getting the job done! I liked your tweet yesterday about how it smelled. It will remind me if I ever have to do the same thing.

  4. World of Finance says:

    Great job Andrea! Glad to hear your sink is back to normal and thanks for the tips!

  5. Michelle says:

    We recently had to have a plumber come to fix our drain. Our pipes were clogged under our basement so we called just to make sure nothing would happen that would make it worse since our pipes are copper.

    Plumbing is so expensive! Good job on being able to do it yourself.

  6. Catseye says:

    Congrats on unclogging your drain! Also, thanks for the explaination on how to DIY.
    Here's a tip I read on a blog and used last year. I poured boiling water down the bathtub drain after squeezing some DAWN dishwashing liquid in it first. Then I ran some hot water and used the plunger. The clog gave way so easily, I couldn't believe it.
    Also, I got sick and tired of pulling hair out of the tub drain, so I bought a hair catcher at Wal-Mart. I'm sure you've seen them, wondering if they really work. They do!
    BTW, I love the new look of the website! Great colors.

  7. Kevin @ SpringCoin says:

    I found that pouring boiling hot water + dish washing detergent will do the trick!

  8. Donna Freedman says:

    I have my own snake as well as the plunger provided by the apartment building owners. I also bought a plastic thingy that I keep calling a zip strip even though that's not its name; it's slim and has jagged teeth on each side and a ring at the top. You put your finger through the ring and feed the strip down into the tub or sink drain, then yank it back out.
    What it brings out is unbelievably gross. But it sure works.
    I, too, put a hair catcher in the drain. It does work.
    I used to manage this building and did my share of toilet, sink and tub fixes. Eventually the owner realized that it was in the lease that tenants had to maintain their own plumbing, within reason (i.e., don't pour grease down the sink and expect us to fix it). Boy, was I glad when I no longer had to do that. I did, however, continue to advise people on how to get their garbage disposals started up again since I have my own disposal wrench. (Often it's as simple as pressing the "reset" button, though.)

  9. Charlotte @ GoBeRich says:

    Way to Go! I always try to fix stuff before I call someone in. I recently fixed a broken stopper in our bathroom sink. The little thing that makes the stopper go up and down had broken off. I had to crawl under the sink and replace it. Not hard, just awkward.

  10. afistfulodollars says:

    I love this post! I never knew what the P-trap was officially called, but now it's my BFF 4lyfe. My dad was a plumber and I didn't even know that!

    Another good thing to keep in mind is when you drop something down the sink, do NOT run the water. At all. Get into the P-trap and retrieve your lost item! I've gotten many an earring/necklace back thanks to that tip (and my dad).

  11. Julie @ Freedom 48 says:

    Hair clogs suck! Every couple of months I use a crochet hook to pull out my hair from the bathtub drain. It's gross - but it works like a charm!

  12. Brian says:

    Greay write up. We just had to pay a plumber to unclog our small bathroom. We tried all the tricks (including the pipe snake) and couldn't get it done. $600 later he got the clog out which apparently had been building up for a few years.

  13. Jordann says:

    That sounds disgusting. Unfortunately our bathroom tub won't drain so I fear I might have to employ some of this wisdom pretty soon. Yuck. That's awesome that you got it fixed though!

  14. DontDebt says:

    Awesome job! Isn't it a relief knowing that you can do those things yourself?

    Unfortunately, I used to be one who would go directly for the Drano or Liquid Plumber before trying anything else. I've since changed my ways… thanks for the reminder to try to do it myself first.

  15. Tanner says:

    Good going. Doing things yourself is a win win most times. Glad to see you got it all worked out.

  16. JenG says:

    Congrats on fixing the clogged drain yourself & saving some money while providing invaluable tips - especially about the P-trap! While I know drain hair isn't going to kill me (especially since it's all mine), it certainly gives my gag reflex a good workout.

  17. Debt and the Girl says:

    Wow. Good job. I just use Drain-O but you really used some elbow grease on this one. Plumbing is def. not my thing but I think its good when women do these types of things themselves.

  18. MastertheArtofSaving says:

    Good for you! My lovely hair clogs our drain a lot too.

    No DIY for me with plumbing or electrical stuff; I'm a really clumsy person—I can break the unbreakable. Thankfully my honey is great at that stuff and it makes him feel needed, so it's a win-win.


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