How to Unclog Household Drains

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How to unclog various household drains such as sinks, toilets, tubs, and main sewer laterals.

It is a fact that a drain in your home or apartment will become clogged at some point in time. The right tools and a little know-how will save you a costly visit from a plumber and possibly save your home from even more costly water damage.


Plunger - A plunger is the first tool to try and it cost around $8. Plungers can clear soft clogs from most fixtures, including sinks, tubs and toilets. Most homeowners have one, but you may want to have one for each floor of your house.

Snake - For clogs located farther down the drain line a cable auger or snake is used. A plumber’s snake is a long, flexible steel cable usually inside a metal or plastic container that has a hand crank on the end. Cable augers come in several lengths up to 100 ft. but a 25-ft. snake will work for most clogs. There are also snakes that can be attached to the end of electric drills.

Hand Snake

Drill Snake

Closet Auger – A closet auger (as in water closet) is designed for snaking out toilets. This tool has the cable inside a hollow shaft connected to a rod and hand crank. The end of the closet auger is curved to fit through the tight curves of a toilet trap.

Electric Power Auger - This tool is simply a large cable auger powered by an electric motor. This is what drain cleaning companies typically use when they come to your home to snake out your main sewer line. They come in a few sizes with different diameter cables depending on what size drain line you are unclogging. They are very effective at cutting through any clog including tree roots. You can rent them from home centers or rental centers for $20 to $50 a day, but make sure you are instructed by the salesperson in its proper use.

How to Unclog a Sink

Most minor sink clogs can be cleared with a plunger. Fill the sink with a few inches of water before you start plunging. With hard and fast strokes, work the plunger up and down several times before quickly pulling it off the drain opening. If you have a double-bowl kitchen sink or a master bathroom vanity with two sinks you need to block the other drain with a wet rag or sponge while you plunge the other one. Most bathroom sinks have an overflow hole so that would need to be blocked as best you can. If you have two plungers you can also have someone place it over the other drain and plunge at the same time.

If plunging doesn't work to clear the clog you will need to move up to the cable auger. Remove the sink trap with a pipe wrench. The large, threaded coupling on PVC plastic traps can often be unscrewed by hand. Empty the water from the trap into a bucket then make sure the trap isn't clogged. If it is a bathroom sink, you should remove the stopper and clear and sludge or hair that forms around the stopper.

Remove the horizontal trap arm that protrudes from the stub out in the wall. Feed the cable into the stub out until you feel resistance. Pull out 18 in. of cable and then tighten the lock screw. Crank the handle in a clockwise direction and push forward at the same time to drive the cable farther into the pipe.

Continue adding 18 inches of cable and turning the handle until you break through the blockage. If the cable becomes stuck or catches turn the crank counterclockwise and pull back on the auger. Continue forward once the resistance is gone.

Remove the cable and replace the trap arm and trap. Turn on the hot water to flush the drain. The sink may not drain as fast as normal until the debris from clog is cleared. You may have to plunge the sink to disperse the loose clog after snaking the drain. Continue flushing the drain with hot water.

How to Snake a Tub Drain

Tub drains usually slow over a period of several days or weeks instead of becoming blocked immediately.

To start with a plunger; unscrew the screen from the tub drain and use a bent wire to fish out any hair. If there's a pop-up drain on the tub, raise the lever to the open position, then grab the stopper and pull it from the drain hole. Clean it of all hair and soap. This will usually fix most slow drains.

If clearing out the hair near the tub stopper does not fix the drain, cover the holes on the underside of the overflow plate with a wet rag or sponge and start plunging. If that doesn't clear the clog, use the cable auger. Remove the overflow plate from the end of the tub; the stopper linkage will come out with it. Feed about 30 in. of cable down the overflow tube. Push forward while turning the hand crank. You'll feel resistance almost immediately, but keep cranking on the auger until the cable passes all the way through the trap under the tub. In some homes there may be a hair interceptor or drum trap which can take some time to get through with a cable due to its shape.

Drum Trap

Retrieve the cable and then run several gallons of hot water down the drain. Finally, replace the overflow plate and screen or pop-up drain.

How to Clear a Toilet Clog

Toilet clogs almost always occur at the top of the trap inside the toilet. Often a plunger can clear the clog away, but it is usually better to use a closet auger if you have one on hand.

Place the auger end into the bowl with its bent tip aiming up. Hold the tool shaft steady as you crank and push down on the handle. You'll feel the cable snake its way up and through the trap.

Continue cranking until the entire cable is inside the toilet trap. Retrieve the cable by simultaneously cranking and pulling up.

Flush the toilet to clear out the drainpipe. If it's still a little sluggish, run the auger through the trap a few more times while angling the tip to the left and right. Once the toilet is flushing fine, extend the auger cable into the bowl and flush again to rinse it off.

Clearing Residential Sewer Lateral

In some instances you may need to snake the main sewer lateral leading from your house to the sewer outside your home. To break through these tough blockages, you'll need an electric power auger.

Rent a power auger with at least 100 ft. of cable. Start by removing the cleanout plug in the main line. You may have a “Y” cleanout or a “U” house trap. If you have a U-trap, remove the plug that is closest to the outside wall of your home.

Caution: If you have sinks or toilets that are overflowed of stopped up you should not remove the cleanout plug. In doing so all of the water in the drains will flow out of cleanout once the plug is removed. If this is the case, you may need to remove a toilet and run the cable down the drain under it.

Plug in the power auger and position it near the drain. Most models are fitted with a foot-pedal switch, leaving both of your hands free to guide the cable. Feed several feet of cable down the drainpipe. Set the motor for clockwise rotation, then step on the switch to start the cable turning Push the cable into the pipe until you feel resistance or hear the motor start to bog down. Stop the motor, reverse the rotation and back out a few feet of cable. Switch back to clockwise rotation and feed the cable farther down the pipe. Repeat this back-and-forth procedure until the clog has been cleared away.

Sometimes the House Trap is located outside the home. There will be one or two 4 inch pipes sticking out of the ground. One is a vent with a mushroom cap on top and the other is the cleanout and will have a plug installed in the end. Sometimes the cleanout is lower and can be covered by landscaping or mulch.

Sewer Vent Mushroom Cap


House Trap

Retrieve the cable and flush out the drainpipe with a garden hose. Wrap some Teflon tape around the cleanout plug and replace it. Test the drain by flushing a toilet a few times.

Caution: Failure to replace the clean-out plug will allow dangerous sewer gases to seep into the house.


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