How can I Clean a Drain?

Deana Clark

A clogged drain can get pretty annoying, not to mention messy. Keeping your drain clean, however, will help prevent clogs, keep your sink clean, and you sane. There are several preventative measures you can take to avoid messy situations, but if it's too late, you'll have a variety of options to choose from.

Bleach, an inexpensive drain cleaner, should never be mixed with ammonia.
Bleach, an inexpensive drain cleaner, should never be mixed with ammonia.

One preventative measure that is frequently suggested to prevent clogs is to run very hot tap water each time you use it. The hot water can help the clogs loosen up. This, however, can be be a waste of money and water. The most important preventative technique is the obvious — monitor what goes down your drain. Be sure to put larger objects in the trash. Using something, sometimes called a drain catcher or drain strainer, to catch large objects before they go down the drain is key.

A plumbing auger, often called a “snake,” helps remove objects that clog drain pipes.
A plumbing auger, often called a “snake,” helps remove objects that clog drain pipes.

If it's too late and your sink is draining slowly, you might find that pouring a variety of cleaning products, natural or otherwise will help with the problem. You can also pour a small handful of baking soda into your drain at least once a week and then follow that by a hot water flush. Lemon juice and bleach are other solutions that work. Pour some down the drain, let it sit for 15 to 30 minutes and then flush with hot tap water. If that doesn't work, a drain cleaner, available at most stores, might.

Chemical drain cleaners are intended to dissolve clogs.
Chemical drain cleaners are intended to dissolve clogs.

Cleaners don't always solve the problem. For more difficult clogs, they will just loosening it a bit. If cleaners don’t work well, you might want to try a plunger. Plungers aren't just for toilets. A good suction can shuffle the clog around, and a flush of hot water can get rid of the clog altogether.

Baking soda can be used with vinegar to clear a drain.
Baking soda can be used with vinegar to clear a drain.

The next step, if the previous methods fail, is to use a snake. Normally made from tempered spring steel, drain snakes (also called plumbing snakes or drain augers), are long, flexible cables that can navigate around corners and bends to unclog whatever is down there. Professionals will use snakes, but some homeowners own their own smaller sized snakes for smaller clogs.

Drain snakes can be used to unclog drains.
Drain snakes can be used to unclog drains.

If none of these do-it-yourself options work, you will likely have to call in the big guns. A professional plumber will be able to unclog most any drain. You can find one in the phone book or ask friends and family for recommendations.

Where the clog is located in the drain will determine which method is successful. The simpler solutions like a flush of hot water or the use of drain cleaner will work for light clogs that are located closer to the fixture. If you have a tough time with the easier solutions or plunging the clog, then it is likely located deep in the pipes and will require a snake to remove it.

A lye-based drain cleaner.
A lye-based drain cleaner.

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