It’s a fact, all plumbing systems get clogs eventually. Most of the time you can fix the problem yourself if you have the right tools, know the technique, and are willing to roll up your sleeves and do it! The best news is that the tools aren’t all that expensive, and sometimes can be rented. Remember that if after a few attempts you can’t get the clog loose, do turn the job over to a professional plumber. Exerting too much force on the plumbing can damage the system.
The Right Stuff
The first thing to reach for when the water stops draining is a plunger. This can work on sinks, tubs, and toilets. For clogs that are located deeper into the plumbing you can use a “snake”, a long flexible steel cable that is wound on a spool with a hand crank. You can get these in various lengths but a 25 foot model should do for most household tasks. There is also a “closet auger” which is like a snake but is built specialy for toilets. The closet auger has no spool but a rigid shaft bent at the correct angles to go through a toilet trap.
Help For a Backed Up Sink
Most sink clogs can be cleared with a plunger. Fill the sink with some water and go to work. If it is a double sink you need to keep the stopper in the opposite side so the pressure doesn’t just come out there, but gets directed to the clog. If it’s a bath sink, stuff a wet rag into the overflow hole for the same reason. If a plunger doesn’t work then it’s time to bring in the plumbers snake. Go under the sink and take the trap off with a pipe wrench. You will want to have a pail or bucket under the trap when you do this as water is going to come out. It won’t hurt to have a few old towels around either! Two large nuts should be holding a “U” shaped pipe at the bottom. If your pipes are plastic (really PVC) you may be able to take these nuts off by hand. Check the “U” shaped trap to make sure the clog isn’t right in there, it might be! If not, take the horizontal arm coming from the wall and remove it. You may have to loose another nut to do this. Now take your drain snake and push it into the opening until you feel resistance. Pull out another foot and a half of cable. Tighten the locking screw down and start to push it into the opening while tuning the crank handle to the right (clockwise). You may have to repeat this a foot and a half at a time until you feel your snake break through. When you do, put the trap back together and run hot water down the drain. If it backs up it means that parts of the original clog may have become lodged again further down the drain, but this can usually be pushed out with a plunger. Go back to running some water into the sink, plunging the overflow if needed, and plunging to clear the loose secondary clog.
The Unruly Bathtub
Bathtubs usually start running slower and slower before backing up. If yours has a screen over the drain remove the screw holding it on and take it off. Use a bent piece of coat hanger or other wire to fish out any hair and other debris that may be slowing or stopping the drain. If you have a pop up drain, move the lever to raise it and try pulling it right out. If that doesn’t help run a bit of water in the tub and start with the plunger. You need to stuff a wet cloth into the opening at the bottom of the overflow plate or the plunger’s force will just come out there. If the plunger didn’t work it’s time to try the snake, but this time we are going to feed it in through the overflow plate. Two screws usually hold this in place, and when you pull it out, the mechanism to open and close the drain will come out with it. Feed about 3 feet of cable down through the opening, turning the crank to the right as you go. This will feel tight because you are working the cable through the s shaped trap under the floor. Once you have worked through that, pull the cable back out, turning to the left if needed, and try running water down the drain. As with the sink, a broken clog’s pieces can loosley re-clog further down the drain, so you may need to plug the overflow and go back to the plunger to finish. Reassemble the overflow and drain screen and you are through.
Toilets usually clog in the fixtures built in trap, so a closet auger only has about 3 feet of cable. Sometimes a plunger will work, if not, place the auger in the toilet with the upturned tip going into the drain and push down as you crank to the right. After you feel the cable snake through the trap and you have pushed all the cable through, crank to the left and pull it back out. Try flushing the toilet. If it is still slow you may need to repeat. You can turn the tool to work the cable more to the right or more to the left to try to work out all of a big clog.