It is one of the most common occurrences we find in our homes, and one of the most annoying! Drains can get blocked for many reasons, whether it’s an excessive amount of hair, too many sanitary items being flushed down the toilet, or just the very simple fact that there are issues with the plumbing. But this is why learning how to unblock a drain is one of the most important skills you can ever learn. Whether it is a bathroom sink, the toilet, or you are trying to figure out your way around a U-bend, let’s give you some DIY tools so you know how to unblock a drain.
Use a Plunger
A very important tool and should always have pride of place under your kitchen sink, a plunger is one of the best ways to navigate most plumbing problems.
The process of unblocking a drain involves compression and suction. Whenever the plunger is pulled up, this works to pull the water in the drain upwards, which helps to loosen anything that is blocking the drains. But if you push the plunger down, it forces the water downwards, pushing the blockage in the other direction.
There are two different types of plungers. A cup plunger has a flat rubber suction cup on the base and is designed for the vast majority of drainage issues in the home. It has a broad enough surface that guarantees a smooth fit over the drain hole. When you use a cup plunger, you need to position the plunger directly over the drains so it covers the opening completely. This will keep the seal between the surface of the sink and the rubber plunger cup in place. By applying the push-pull effect, it’s going to break up the blockages, and you should see the results almost instantly.
Once you have used the plunger 5 or 6 times, be sure to check if the water is draining away. If it doesn’t and there is still a sign of a blockage, you need to repeat the process with the plunger. After you clear any blockage, be sure to flush the drain with any boiling water as this will flush away any debris left behind, and will help to prevent any new clog from forming.
The other type of plunger is a toilet plunger. And a toilet plunger comes in two different types, the ball plunger and the bellow plunger. Each plunger has a rubber base and a longer handle to fit the size of the shape of the track opening with the toilet bowl, and the same applies if you want to clear away any blockage. Apply some up and down strokes, and then flush the toilet.
Use Boiling Water
Boiling water is one of the simplest ways to unblock a drain. While there is no guarantee that you will be able to clear every blockage with this one method, using boiling water will remove any small blockages if you begin to notice your drain is operating very slowly.
It is important to proceed with caution when you are flushing a drain with boiling water and this is down to the piping. If your home has a number of PVC pipes, continually flushing boiling water could melt or soften the joints in PVC pipes. But if you have metal pipes, flushing blockages with boiling water should not cause a problem.
If you ever have any doubt about unblocking your drains, make sure you use warm or slightly hot water, or make sure the water is the same temperature as your hot water tap, so you know that the pipes are built to deal with the temperature.
Clear a Blocked Drain With Drain Cleaner
If you have been experiencing persistent problems with your drains, drain cleaners are one of those things that can get to work pretty quickly. There are a very wide variety of commercial drain cleaners on the market, but it’s important to note that many cleaners are strictly designed for certain types of blockages. So make sure you find one that is specifically for sinks, toilets, or whatever you need.
When you are looking to purchase a commercial drain cleaner for a blocked drain, it should be a last-ditch attempt after every DIY method. Drain cleaner can be very effective, but there are going to be a number of chemicals involved in the mixture, in which case if you have any small children around, it is important to keep them out of reach and protect your hands with rubber gloves.
Use Caustic Soda
You can purchase caustic soda drain cleaners, which can dissolve common blockages. Caustic soda, also known as sodium hydroxide, is available from your local hardware store but always be careful when you are handling it. It’s important to remember that caustic soda may not work on solid masses, such as tree roots or other household items, so be careful when using it for large blockages.
To get the most out of it, put three-quarters of a gallon of cold water in a bucket, add 3 cups of caustic soda, and you will find it starts to fizz and heat up. You then pour it into the clogged drain and leave it for between 20 to 30 minutes, and then flush the drain with hot water. Make sure that you protect your hands and face when you are working with chemical cleaners and always use rubber gloves.
Check the P-Trap
If you’re trying to unblock a sink drain, the blockage might not be directly in the sink or the U-bend but could be in the pipes underneath. But this is something that we can also fix.
A P-trap is the drain pipe underneath the sink which creates an airlock and prevents any drain smells from coming up the pipes. The P-trap can often catch debris and build up a blockage. All you need to do is unscrew the P-trap pipe, clean it out, and replace it, making sure that you place a bucket underneath to catch any drainage.
Make Your Own Unblocker With Baking Soda
Making your own DIY drain unblocker is not just a great way to avoid using chemicals, but your own version of drain unblocker can be a far cheaper alternative! You would need some baking soda, vinegar, and some hot or boiling water.
To dissolve any blockage, get a cup of baking soda, and pour it down the blocked drain. You then pour 2 cups of hot or boiling water down the drain and leave it for a few minutes. Then pour in a cup of baking soda before adding a cup of white vinegar and plugging the drain. You should start to hear a fizz sound from the drain before some bubbles get formed. Once the bubbles go back, pour 2 cups of hot or boiling water and repeat the process if necessary. The drain might fizz pretty high up, but this means that it is getting to work!
Use a Coat Hanger
It is a very simple method, but surprisingly effective. All you need is a regular coat hanger or wire hanger, and straighten it out as best as you can. You then bend one end of the coat hanger to create a small hook, and as long as you can get this past the drain cover you can start fishing away at whatever is blocking the drain.
You might find that there is a lot of extra gunk down there than you realise. But remember that you need to be fishing the gunk out, not pushing it in further. When you have got out as much as possible, run the hot water tap or pour some boiling water, and it should clear the drain blockage.
Clean the Pipe
This is a very simple and easy job that can make a massive difference. All you need to do is put an empty bucket underneath the U-shaped pipe beneath the sink, so it will collect any water spillage, and you can loosen the nuts at both ends of the pipe, and empty any of the blockage into a bucket, and fish around inside for any debris.
One of the best things you can do to remove any gunk or debris is to use an old toothbrush. Rinse the trap with water, and put it all back together. Usually, this will do the trick.
Invest in a Drain Snake
Also known as a plumber’s snake, it is a fantastic tool for many severe blockages. Commonly used by professional plumbers, the drain snake works by a rotating coil at the end of the cable which, when put into a blockage, starts to spin rapidly, which chips away at the blockage until it is cleared.
Drain snakes are available in a number of different types, and some even have CCTV capabilities, but it’s important to remember that there is a possibility of a drain snake damaging your pipes. If you are looking for DIY methods, it is important to exhaust every other option first. You can either purchase a drain snake at a hardware store, or you can have a professional plumber do it for you.
Purchase a Wet and Dry Vacuum
If you have a wet and dry vacuum, this is a great way to unclog any blockage. You need to set the vacuum to liquid, cover up the vent to prevent any mess, and once you create a tight seal over the drain, you can get to work.
Switch the vacuum onto its highest setting, and this should be enough to bring the clog up the pipe and into the vacuum bag. It’s important to note that this doesn’t always work, but if it’s a very light blockage, such as thin hair, this could do the trick.
Used Dish Detergent
This works wonders if you have a blocked toilet. Pour one-quarter of a cup of dish detergent into the toilet bowl, and add some boiling water. The water gets to work with the dish soap acting as a lubricant which will break down any grease. You can then use a plunger and don a pair of rubber gloves to dig away at the last pieces of the grease.
Contact a Plumber
When in doubt, it is important to get in contact with a plumber. There are so many different methods to get rid of a blocked drain by yourself, but the important thing to remember is that only when you have exhausted all of your possibilities, you may have to call in a professional.
Of course, when there are planning issues, a professional plumber can provide more insight. Plumbers will always use specialist tools such as an auger or a drain snake, but they will also be able to get to the root of the problem.
Sometimes, there can be issues with our hot water system, or the problem can be to do with something beyond a mere blockage. In which case, it is always a good idea to consult a professional if you are completely out of ideas.
Learning how to unblock a drain is always a good skill to have because we all can find ourselves and the victim of a blockage that occurs at the worst possible moment. So having a number of tools to unblock it can make life a lot easier.
Plumbing is one of the most common causes of frustration in the modern world, and many people find living in newer built homes can mean there are a number of issues that arise a few years down the line. Plumbing problems are not fun, and any form of blockage can ruin our day. Having a number of skills under your belt, whether it’s baking soda, tools, or knowing how to get to the root of the problem will not just help you at that moment, but it gives you the confidence to deal with any problems that come up in the future. Having a little bit of plumbing knowledge will go a long way!