How to Unclog a Drain (Without Resorting to Chemicals)

Try this trick before you call a plumber.

How to Unclog a Drain: kitchen sink
Photo: adavino/Getty Images

Whether you're simply trying to choose more eco-friendly cleaning solutions or haven't restocked your bathroom supplies recently, here's how to unclog a pesky shower drain without using Drano.

Dealing with a sluggish drain is one of those gross tasks you'll have to deal with—it's up there with cleaning the drain trap when you're done with the dishes. Any apartment dweller or homeowner will tell you that a clogged drain is an inevitability.

Rather than reach for a bottle of drain clearing chemicals—which are not only terrible for the environment but can damage your pipes or cause a clog to move further down—try this method. Before you call the pros, here's how to unclog a drain using supplies you likely already have at home.

How to Unclog a Drain

What You'll Need:

  • Plunger or hand plunger (not flanged)
  • Baking soda
  • White vinegar
  • Hand-operated drain snake
  • Bucket
  • Adjustable wrench
  • Rag

Follow These Steps:

Here's how to work through a clogged drain, starting with the easiest method first.

1. Try plunging. Remove the strainer or stopper and then fill the basin halfway with water and start plunging, gradually increasing the pressure to hopefully remove the clog. If you have a double sink, you'll need to plug the other side in order to get enough pressure to clear the clogged drain.

2. If plunging made no difference, try pouring 1 cup of baking soda down the drain and then follow it up with 1 cup of white vinegar. Let that bubble and fizz away for at least 30 minutes, and then pour a kettle of boiling water directly down the drain.

3. If both of these easy techniques didn't work, try using a drain snake to remove the clog manually—it's a tough metal wire that goes down the drain and grabs or dislodges the obstruction, hopefully letting you pull it out. Be careful when using a drain snake, especially if you have older pipes.

4. If the snake doesn't remove the clog and you feel comfortable doing so, you can take apart the pipes under the sink and clean them. First, it's very important that you turn off the shutoff valves located under the sink before you start working. Look underneath the sink for the pipe that goes from the sink into the wall. Take a picture (so you won't forget where things go). Then place a bucket underneath the curved pipe (p-trap), unscrew the pipes using the adjustable wrench (turning counterclockwise) if needed. Clean the pipe out and then reinstall it. Turn the shutoff valves back on, run the water to make sure the pipes are tight and not leaking.

Note: If you're still having drainage issues, it's time to call in a professional.

Dos and Don’ts for a Clean Drain

  • Do use drain screens orstrainers to keep as much hair and debris out of the pipes as possible.
  • Don't treat your sink like a dumping ground for things that don't belong in it.Even if something seems to rinse down OK, it can still cause problems.
  • Do give your drain some love to help prevent clogs. Most times, running hot water for a while will help you clear and clean it. If you're dealing with odor, use the baking soda and vinegar step above for a little refresh.
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