How to Un-Clog a Blocked Drain: Step by Step Guide for Homeowners
- BLOCKED DRAIN REPAIR METHODS - CONTENTS: Details of methods used to un-clog a blocked drain by yourself and when to call a plumber. How to Remove and Clean the Trap to Clear a Slow or Blocked Plumbing Drain. Using Drain Cleaner Chemicals to Clear Slow or Blocked Plumbing Drains. Blocked drain repair steps - how to use a toilet plunger. How to use a plumbing snake or a kinetic water ram to clear a blocked drain line
- POST a QUESTION or READ FAQs about how to un-clog or clear a blocked plumbing drain
How to de-clog a blocked plumbing drain - clogged drain troubleshooting & step by step methods to un-block a slow or clogged building drain: this article explains and illustrates in detail several simple methods used to un-block a clogged drain.
We explain how to remove and clean a plumbing fixture drain trap, how to use drain cleaner, how to use a toilet plunger, how to use a plumbing snake, and how to use a pneumatic drain cleaner such as the kinetic water ram to open blocked drains.
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Guide to Easy Step by Step Methods to Clear a Clogged Building Drain
A clogged plumbing fixture is common trouble - here we give some easy procedures to de-clog a sink, tub, shower, toilet, etc. When a building drain is clogged or slow, or when there is a septic system backup, it's important
to determine where the problem lies, since the repair steps can be quite different and costs can vary widely.
Here we discuss traditional blocked or slow plumbing drain methods: taking apart the plumbing trap, using a drain cleaner chemical, using a toilet plunger (old faithful works pretty well), and using a plumbing snake (sometimes).
Article Series Contents
Separately at Kinetic Water Ram™ Opens Drains (link just above) we discuss our favorite drain de-clogging tool. Our photo (above) shows a toilet plunger that will work equally well clearing a sink or tub trap blockage. We like this particular model of toilet plunger because its shape pushes a larger volume of air and water per "plunge" than some simpler versions.
Watch out: if your building drains into a private septic system, clogged or slow drains can be a sign of septic system trouble. In that case, still the problem can be as simple as a clogged drain, or unfortunately it can be as costly as a failed septic leach field or soakaway bed. Here we include diagnostic steps to figure out what's wrong.
Tips on How to Remove and Clean the Trap to Clear a Slow or Blocked Plumbing Drain
How to clear a blocked sink trap: before messing with snakes, wires, plungers, and plumbers, if the blockage is at a single sink or tub trap look into the trap with a flashlight.
If you see that the fixture drain is blocked by hair, use a wire with its end bent into a hook or even needle nosed pliers to see if you can carefully pull out and remove the clog of hair and crud yourself.
While you're there under the sink, if the fixture trap is corroded, leaky, or damaged, put a bucket under it to catch water, disassemble it, and take the parts to your local hardware store to simply buy a replacement.
Be careful to avoid bending or damaging the sink tailpiece or the horizontal connecting pipe at the building wall or you'll end up having to replace those as well.
Advice on Using Drain Cleaner Chemicals to Clear Slow or Blocked Plumbing Drains
Should I use a drain cleaning chemical on my blocked or slow drain?
We have mixed advice. Sometimes drain cleaners work very well, and these chemicals have the "magic bullet" appeal: pour some goop into your slow or clogged sink or tub and wait (longer is better) for the goop to dissolve the blockage.
Often these products work, and they are especially suited for certain types of clogs such as hair or grease clogging a hard-to-get-at sink or tub trap.
Watch out: if you are going to end up having to use a toilet plunger or plumbing snake, or you're going to disassemble and remove the plumbing trap, and if you've already poured a drain cleaner into the fixture, you may have a difficult situation as many drain cleaning products are toxic or caustic and can cause burns or poisoning.
So you might want to try using a toilet plunger before using the drain cleaner. If the plunger works (instructions are just below) you've avoided having to pour chemicals into your drains, building, and maybe your septic system. The plumber, arriving at your building will not be happy to encounter nasty chemicals in the drain if s/he has to take it apart.
More about what can be safely flushed into building drains is at WHAT CAN GO INTO TOILETS & DRAINS?.
Drain cleaners are discussed in that article at CHEMICALS & CLEANERS into the SEPTIC TANK?.
How We Use a Toilet Plunger to Successfully Clear a Blocked or Slow Plumbing Drain
How to use a toilet plunger to clear a simple blocked drain: be sure that the rubber cup of the plunger fully covers the sink, tub, or toilet drain.
Be sure that there is plenty of water in the sink, toilet, or tub around the plunger (run water into the fixture) and that the blocked drain is filled with water - if your drain is slow but not blocked, plunging to clear it is more difficult unless you can get a solid column of water to push on the blockage as you work the plunger at the fixture.
If your drain is slow but not totally blocked, you may be able to get enough water into the drain trap and pipe for the plunger to do its work if you put a volume of water in the sink or tub (or toilet), then let it out into the slow drain while you operate the plunger.
Our photo (left) shows that we also left the water running in this slow drain to make sure we had plenty of water in the drain pipe during the plunging operation.
Of course if your sink or tub or toilet is draining very slowly or is totally blocked you won't need to add water or run water during the drain clearing operation.
If the sink or tub has an overflow vent (most do) try holding a wet cloth over that opening to assure that the pressure your plunger applies to the column of water in the drainpipe pushes on the obstruction rather than just backing up through the vent as you operate the plunger.
Don't give up too soon. Often we've had to push the plunger up and down for several minutes to successfully dislodge a remote blockage in a drain pipe.
The toilet plunger approach may not work if the blockage is only partial and you can't keep enough water in the drainpipe for the plunger's action to actually press on and dislodge the obstruction. It won't work at all if the cause of slow drain is an actual constriction on the drain line due to rust or mineral buildup or due to a broken or collapsed drain line.
Easy Guide to Using a Plumbing Snake to Clear a Blocked Drain
How to use a plumbing snake to clear a blocked drain: a plumbing snake is a flexible wire or coiled wire that is gently forced down through a drain (and in some models rotated by hand or by a machine) to attempt to clear the drain.
Plumbing snakes and wires are available ranging from tiny models that can clear a sink or tub trap to large two-person machine-operated rotating power snakes used by professionals to clear sewer lines.
If you are tempted to try a rented power-snake be very careful as serious personal injury and also drain line damage can occur if you don't know how to feed and control the power snake as it moves into and out of the drain line. If you are uncertain leave this approach to a professional.
Watch out: we once paid Plass the Plumber who charged "by the foot" of wire to run a "wire" into a drain line supposedly to clear it.
The drain continued to be slow until we disassembled the building piping to see that the drain interior was nearly totally blocked by corrosion and mineral build-up in galvanized piping. Replacing the drain piping was required - a diagnosis missed by our first plumber and his wire.
See USE a POWER SNAKE to CLEAR a BLOCKED DRAIN
Guide to Using a Kinetic Water Ram™ to Open Blocked Building Drains
Details of using a pneumatic or kinetic water ram tool to clear blocked drains - our preferred drain de clog method - are found at KINETIC WATER RAM™ Opens Drains. Excerpts are below.
How to use a kinetic water ram to clear a blocked drain: a kinetic water ram can be effective in clearing blocked drains and can be rented from your local "rent-all" store.
A "KINETIC WATER RAM (for sale)™" [link to buy at Amazon.com] pump uses compressed air to clear clogged building drains is also available. After renting a kinetic water ram drain cleaning tool to clear clogged drains several times we bought one and used it for many years. [You can buy a Kinetic Water Ram but you can also rent one at many tool rental centers.]
We were impressed with the quality and strength of our kinetic water ram drain cleaner. A simple mechanical pump compresses air in a cylinder. A rubber fitting is attached to an outlet end of the cylinder and held in place over a clogged drain. When the pump's trigger is pulled the ram releases its air in a bang that tries to blow loose obstructions in drain pipes.
The kinetic water ram drain clearing device can unblock some types of clogged drains even when the clog is distant provided you can assure that the drainpipe is full of water when the equipment is used.
We rented and eventually purchased this sine-qua-non of mechanical drain openers, the Kinetic Water Ram™ [available to buy on Amazon.com] - a pump device that will usually blow-out clogs, even remote clogs, in building drains. The Kinetic Water Ram includes a stainless steel air pump and rubber fittings that match the business end of the ram to a building sink, tub, toilet, or other drain.
Our kinetic water ram kit came in a steel orange box that included a collection of rubber fittings to let us use the tool with almost any drain opening size or shape. A few of these fittings are shown in our photos above. We have jammed our pony pump and washing machine hoses into this same carrier case but those have nothing to do with using a kinetic water ram to clear a drain. They just spend time together.
Steps in Using the Kinetic Water Ram to Clear a Blocked Drain
You can rent a Kinetic Water Ram at many consumer rental centers. To use the Kinetic Water Ram effectively you may need to Inspect to be sure that the plumbing trap for the fixture is secure and not corroded so you won't blow it off of the fixture.
- Put a plastic bucket or trash can under the trap just in case. (Photo below left)
- Run water in the fixture with the slow or blocked drain to fill up the drain pipe. If the drain is slow but not fully blocked we keep water running. The water ram is less effective or not effective at all if there is too much air in the drain pipe, as it is relying on pushing a column of water against the drain obstruction.
- Wet a rag to hold over the fixture vent if there is a vent. On bath tubs some plumbers remove the tub overflow cover and manually stuff a rag into the vent opening. Closing off the fixture vent helps deliver the maximum impact to the
- Pump up the water ram (start under 20 psi) and hold it over the drain opening; press the rubber fitting on the end of the water ram into the drain opening. (Photo below left).
- Pull the trigger. Wham! a blast of air impacts the column of water in the slow or clogged drain, pushing free an obstruction in as few as one shot. Recently when we called our plumber to un-clog a building drain he arrived with just this same tool in hand. For building drains he no longer uses a wire or plumbing snake.
- Our last drain de-clog photo (below) shows that the sink is running free. We let the water run for a good 10 minutes longer to be sure we have flushed the blown-drain blocking material out through the building drain and sewer piping.
Our successful bathroom sink drain de-clog photo (below) shows that the sink is running free.
One quick shot at about 20 psi was sufficient. You can see the 20 psi shown on the water ram's pressure gauge, above-right.
We let the water run for a good 10 minutes longer to be sure we have flushed the blown-drain blocking material out through the building drain and sewer piping.
When deciding how much air pressure to pump-to we recommend starting gently, and never use higher air pressure than is needed to clear the drain. Below you'll read why this we give this advice.
Watch out: be careful not to pump your kinetic water ram drain opener to a pressure higher than necessary. You can get quite a splash in the face when you fire off the ram if you're not careful.
Worse, in our dentist's office where a chronic clogged drain was later traced to mineral and rust-blocked galvanized drain piping, not only was the kinetic water ram drain clearer useless, in our enthusiasm we blew the trap right off of her bathroom sink. An elated moment of "we fixed the blockage" was followed by an "Oh S***" as the sink full of nasty water flowed out of the vanity base and across the floor of the dental office bathroom.
Keep in mind that the Kinetic Water Ram, nor any other product, plumbing snake, etc. is going to be effective if the cause of your slow or blocked drain is mineral or other hard build-up has lined the drain pipe interior.
A Quick Summary of Better Ways to Unclog Slow or Clogged Building or Fixture Drains
- Strainers & Stoppers: Try removing the sink strainer and stopper to see if you can pull out clogs of hair or debris from above
- Traps: If the sink or tub trap is accessible and in good condition you may be able to disassemble it over a bucket (to catch water and debris) and clean and reinstall the trap. If the trap is corroded or flimsy you may want to leave this task to a professional plumber.
See Plumbing Trap Clog Repair.
- Toilet Plungers: Try a toilet plunger, and don't be afraid to use it repeatedly for five or ten minutes. We've had great success with this simple tool.
See Toilet Plunger Method.
- Slow flushing toilets that are not totally blocked may be due to
- improper original toilet installation of drain/waste/vent piping, such as locating the toilet too far from the plumbing vent stack or failure to provide a plumbing vent at all
- a clogged or partly clogged building drain
- a clogged or partly clogged plumbing vent
- inadequate water quantity in the toilet tank or a problem with the toilet flapper valve or fill valve, giving too small a water charge to adequately flush the toilet.
- See TOILET REPAIR GUIDE for how to diagnose and repair toilet flush, fill, noise, drain, odor, sound, running problems of all kinds. And at Toilet Drain Clogged we describe using a toilet plunger to clear a blocked toilet drain.
- Try a KINETIC WATER RAM (photo and discussion of the Kinetic Water Ram is just above)
- Drain de-clog chemicals: can work, but some drain cleaners use caustic chemicals risk contaminating the environment, your drainfield, well, especially if used to excess or frequently. Worse, if your drain is fully blocked the plumber won't be happy facing the dangerous task of taking apart a drain loaded with a caustic chemical. See Drain Cleaner Chemicals.
- Drain Snakes: We have given up on using little do-it-yourself wires and snakes and augers in drains, but sometimes these work just fine, and of course the purchase price of a little drain snake is less than the Kinetic Water Ram.
See Plumbing Snake Drain De-Clog for the basics
See USE a POWER SNAKE to CLEAR a BLOCKED DRAIN
- Hire a Plumber: If there is a clog in a main building drain between a building and sewer or septic system, it may be necessary to rent or have your plumber use a power snake - a rotary auger that can dig out roots and other clogs. But beware: if roots are clogging your drain pipe this is only a temporary fix as they will reappear in months to a year.
This is a section of CLOGGED DRAIN DIAGNOSIS & REPAIR, our complete article that explains explains how to investigate slow or blocked drains and septic system backups to distinguish between a probable septic system failure versus a probable blocked building drain.
Also see SEWER GAS ODORS and Sewer Line Replacement diagnosing a clogged drain leads to drain line replacement - step by step photo-illustrated guide to drain replacement,
Continue reading at CLOGGED DRAIN vs SEPTIC PROBLEM or select a topic from the More Reading links or topic ARTICLE INDEX shown below.
Or see CLOGGED DRAIN DIAGNOSIS & REPAIR
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BLOCKED DRAIN REPAIR METHODS at InspectApedia.com - online encyclopedia of building & environmental inspection, testing, diagnosis, repair, & problem prevention advice.
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Technical Reviewers & References
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- Kinetic Water Ram™ [buy at Amazon.com] is made in the U.S. by General Pipe Cleaners, division of General Wire Spring Company,McKees Rocks, PA. See http://www.waterram.com/ for purchase information, how-to videos on using the Kinetic Water Ram to un-block drains, and other consumer help. The Kinetic Water Ram device retails for about $250. You can contact the company directly at 800-245-6200 or 412-771-6300. In Canada, call toll-free 877-273-7246
- Kinetic water rams are also described and demonstrated at waterram.com/faq.php
- Septic Tank/Soil-Absorption Systems: How to Operate & Maintain [ copy on file as /septic/Septic_Operation_USDA.pdf ] - , Equipment Tips, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), 8271 1302, 7100 Engineering, 2300 Recreation, September 1982, web search 08/28/2010, original source: http://www.fs.fed.us/t-d/pubs/pdfimage/82711302.pdf.
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