How to clean a clogged drain

There are many different kinds of clogged drains. However, I am specifically going to be discussing the typical clogged tub, lavatory or kitchen drain.

Should you call in a professional or do it yourself?

It all depends. You can usually get the job done with an old-fashioned plunger if it is a soft stoppage in the “P” trap fixture. What I like to do is have the water

covering the top of the plunger to

make sure I don’t let any air get sucked into the drain. Instead of pushing down, what I like to do is be in the down position and then briskly pull up to get the maximum amount of suction.

When it comes to kitchen sinks, they are fairly straight forward. However, when it comes to bathtubs and lavatory sinks, you need to remember to use a sponge or cloth to cover up the overflow. Otherwise, the water will end up shooting back towards you once you start to plunge.

This method often works when it is a fairly soft clog that is located near or in the “P” trap fixture. Contrary to what you might have seen on television, I have only seen a handful of clogs in fixture traps in the over 35 years that I have been working in this business. For whatever reasons, they seem to always end up 10 feet or even further downstream of where the fixture. In those situations, a plunger won’t be helpful.

Drain Cleaners

The next idea might be to try to use a popular drain cleaning product that you see advertised on television.

That might sound like a great idea, but unless the clog is close to or in the fixture trap that you are attempting to clear, all you will be doing is throwing your hard-earned money down the drain.

I’m not an advocate of pouring harsh chemicals into a plumbing system. It is dangerous for your plumber as well as you. If a clog is located 10 feet down the line or further, the drain cleaner won’t ever reach the clog. Also, if you read the instructions on most of the drain cleaners, they frequently state to put one to two caps fully down the drain and run water afterward.

That will just further dilute the cleaner on top of the water that is in the pipe already. If soap scum or grease is causing the clog, I prefer to use a biological bacteria kind of cleaner that is activated after water has been mixed with it.


The bacteria eats all of the organic matter that is on the pipe walls, which leaves it completely clean. Those products work the best when the fixture isn’t completely clogged and water is still able to flow through. They work well on soap scum and grease kinds of stoppages.

If hair is causing the stoppage or maybe built up scale coming from the inner part of cast iron pipes, then you might need to try some mechanical method for clearing your clog, like using a snake.

Mechanical Methods Of Cleaning

Before I talk about snaking a clogged drain, I first want to say that there are tools that you can use where air pressure is utilized for clearing a clog that is located far down the line. However, those tools are expensive and best left for experienced tradesmen to use.

Usually, by the time a homeowner calls me to get a drain clear, they have worked on it themselves already and have given up.

The first thing that I ask the homeowner if they tried using any drain cleaner. They usually say “no.” However, it doesn’t take me very long to discover that in fact that they used a large quantity of drain cleaner. So you may be wondering how I can tell.

As I am working the snake in and out of a drain, it starts to become very shiny and clean, along with a burning and slimy feeling to it as I’m retrieving it back out of the drain. Make sure you are courteous if you are planning on using a chemical drain cleaner.

For your plumber’s safety and yours, tell your plumber that you have used a chemical drain cleaner before he tries clearing the clog. Whenever I use my snake what I like to do is introduce it

directly via the fixture drain through the trap and then down inside the drain line. That enables me to run the water after I have cleared the clog and therefore thoroughly flush out the line.

There are some plumbers who prefer dismantling the drain pipes underneath the sink and then snake the line. However, to me, that doesn’t make any sense because there isn’t any way to flush the line out or even be able to tell if the line is cleared. I think my method does require a bit more skill. However, I always get superior results.

Should You Call A Professional Or Snake It Yourself?

You can go buy yourself a hand or electric snake which you can easily find at a majority of big box stores.

These are not professional grade tools, but you might get lucky and be able to get the job done that way. Or you can invest as much as four hundred dollars to get a Roto-Rooter professional drain cleaning which will get you a much better chance to succeed.

If it is a soft stoppage near the fixture, then I think you should just get yourself a high-quality plunger and then go for it. However, if you have a tough scale or hair clog, it would be worth it call a professional in.

A professional is fully equipped to be able to handle all kinds of stoppages and are prepared in case there are any issues. Besides, do you want to have to spend your entire weekend trying to clean a clogged drain?

After I get finished snaking a drain line I recommend that you also introduce some type of bacterial drain maintenance to thoroughly clean the interior of the pipe. When a bacteria-based cleaner is used monthly, then it will minimize the need for using mechanical methods in the future.

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