Unclogging The Clogs

Stopped or slow-moving drains are seldom the result of collapsed or defective pipes. Blockage in the lines caused by the accumulation of solid waste such as small objects, hair, or clumps of soap and grease is usually the culprit.

ISOLATING THE PROBLEM. If one fixture seems to drain slowly or not at all, first check to see if other fixtures have the same problem. If only one fixture is affected, fill the sink with water. If the water drains for two seconds or less before clogging, the problem is in the trap. If two or more fixtures are clogged, the clog may be in the branch line, the main line, or the vent stack. If more than one fixture is affected and all are on the second level of the house, the blockage may be high in the main line or in a vent stack. Isolating the affected area will help you decide how to clean out the line—and whether you need to hire a professional.

DRAIN LINES ARE FRAGILE —more fragile than you might expect, especially because of all the fixtures attached to them. Be careful when using chemicals and augering—some chemicals can weaken the walls of the drain lines, and augers can shatter porcelain fixtures. Try using a plunger first. If that doesn’t solve the problem, move on to snakes and augers, but work carefully and slowly.

THE RISKS OF USING CHEMICAL CLEANERS. In general, it’s best to avoid using chemical cleaners, but if you do, follow the directions carefully and always let other people (like plumbers) know if you’ve put chemicals in a drain they may be working on. Never use a drain cleaner on a clogged drain or in a toilet, and never pour acid in standing water. It will probably make matters worse. Use cleaners only on sluggish drains, and be skeptical of cleaners that claim to be safe on pipes and gaskets.

WHO’S THERE? If your pipes are exposed, as in a basement or crawlspace, here's a tip to speed up the search. From the clog to the drain, the pipe will be full of water. From the clog to the street, the pipe will be empty. Tap along the pipe from the side nearest the street, using a broomstick or a piece of scrap lumber. (Don't use a hammer or piece of metal.) A ringing or hollow sound means a clear pipe. When you hear a thud, you've found the clog. Open up the nearest clean-out and put the auger to work!

CLOG REMOVERS - For almost every clogged drain you'll encounter, a tool solution exists, including: Common household plunger, Closet auger for toilets (won't damage porcelain), Hand snake, Power drill auger attachment, and Hand spinner. Use the right auger for the right job. It's easy to damage pipes or scratch fixtures.

MAYBE IT’S TIME FOR A HEAVY-DUTY SOLUTION. Sometimes it's easier to get to a blockage in the main line through the vent system. If that's the case, you'll need to rent a commercial auger to remove the blockage. This might be the time to bring in a pro; but if you want to do it yourself, get some lessons from a rental center, take every precaution, and work carefully while on the roof.

Unclogging Drains And Waste Lines

Most clogs that result from buildups of grease or hair can be removed by opening the drain line and using an auger to clear the blockage. Small objects, such as toys or toothbrushes, can be difficult to snag and remove. Sometimes the best solution is to remove the drain trap and push the blockage further down the drain line system to a clean-out, or to flush the line with water once the blockage has been jarred loose. Pushing an object farther down the system can cause a clog that’s difficult to auger. You might have to call in a plumber or a drain service. If you don’t have accessible clean-outs in your home and can get the blockage into the main drain line, it can sometimes be removed through the roof stack vent.

PLUMBERS HAVE SPECIALTIES TOO - Don't be surprised if your plumber isn't interested in going after a tough clog. He may suggest a drain cleaning service to handle the job instead.

Using a hand auger

Remove the drain elbow so you have a straight shot into the drain when angering.

1 Disconnect the drain trap. Place a bucket under the drain trap to catch wastewater. Loosen and slide back the slip-nut couplings with water-pump pliers. Remove the trap and clean out any debris stuck in it. Look for cracks in the pipe or sediment buildup in the trap; in either case it means you'll have to replace the trap.

2 Loosen the auger setscrew and pull out about a foot of cable. Push the cable through until it meets resistance which is probably a bend in the pipe. It's often difficult to tell the difference between a bend and the clog. Be patient. The auger will either push the blockage out of the pipe or snag it so you can pull it out.

3 Tighten the setscrew and turn the handle clockwise until the cable moves forward again. Loosen the set screw and feed cable until you meet resistance again. Repeat this process until you feel the obstruction is removed or that you've snagged the blockage. Remove the cable and clean the tip.

4 Test by running water through the drain and waste line. If the line is still blocked, the clog may be in the main drain. If that's the case call in a professional.

Unclogging Sink Drains

TOOLS: Flange plunger, bucket, water-pump pliers, sink auger, rags

Plunging is the best option for | removing a clog because it’s the easiest and least likely to damage pipes. Fill both basins with 4 inches of water. Have a helper hold a rag or a closed strainer over the opening of the disposer drain. Use a plunger to vigorously plunge the drain in the other sink. A dozen times should be enough for most clogs. If the drain is still clogged, switch positions with your helper and plunge the drain in the other basin. While plunging is the best option, you may have to use a sink auger for stubborn clogs. To use the auger, remove the trap and elbow below the sink and send the auger down the line to locate and remove the clog.


1 Disposers grind food into a paste that can collect in the drain line and eventually form a clog. Avoid oily or dense matter and flush the lines thoroughly with cold water after each use.

2 Hair and food clogs can be difficult to clear. Clean tubs and sinks regularly.

3 Don’t pour grease down the drain unless you have a grease trap.

4 Also, don't put dental floss, sanitary napkins, or paper towels down the toilet.

Unclogging Jammed Disposers

TOOLS: Flashlight, 1/4-inch alien wrench, a disposer wrench or adjustable wrench, broom handle

Disposers without hex sockets have a special wrench that comes with the disposer. Keep it in a location you’ll remember If it’s already lost or isn’t working, buy a replacement in the plumbing department of your home center.

Turn off the power to the jammed disposer and unplug it. Look inside the opening with a flashlight to see what is jamming it. Remove the waste and restore power. If it’s still jammed, try the following:

• Check the bottom of the unit; press the reset button. Turn on the power. The disposer should run freely. If it’s still stuck, turn the power off.

• Insert a broom handle into the drain opening and try to free the impellers.

• Next, insert a 1/4-inch alien wrench into the hex socket on the bottom. The socket is connected to the impellers that crunch up the waste. Using the hex key turns the impellers in both directions to free them.

WORK SAFELY! Before reaching into a disposer, disconnect the power. Unplug the unit from the outlet. If there is no outlet, turn off the circuit breaker. Never stick your hand into a connected disposer.

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