How to Clear a Clogged Kitchen Sink Drain
Avoiding the cost of calling out a plumber is always preferable in my experience, even if that means fixing the problem yourself—unclogging a kitchen sink drain is often easier than some people think.
Most clogs can be resolved by employing some relatively simple and straightforward techniques and tools. Once you have unclogged the sink, it is then time to work on minimizing the chances of the problem reoccurring—note my recommendations at the bottom of the page.
Here are my 7 suggestions for how to clear a clogged sink drain.
7 Methods to Unclog a Sink Drain
- Check the garbage disposer (if you have one).
- Try using a plunger to dislodge the clog.
- Clean the P-trap.
- Use a plumbers’ snake (also sometimes called a "toilet jack" or an "electric eel").
- Use baking soda and vinegar (the natural alternative to chemicals)
- Use cleaning chemicals.
- Call a plumber.
Below, I go into more detail for each method, I want to make it clear that most of my suggestions, apart from calling a plumber, are relatively cheap or cost nothing.
Time wise, it could take you ten minutes or an hour to clear the clog, depending on the nature of the blockage. The job can be messy, however, and care must be used if chemicals are involved, as splashes can burn skin or worse.
In my experience, unclogging a kitchen sink drain can also demand using a combination of more than one of these methods.
1. Check The Garbage Disposer
If your sink drain uses a disposer then you will need to check it for clogs. They can easily get blocked up with bits of food. (If the problem turns out not to be the disposer, or you don't have one fitted, you will need to explore other methods).
To determine the source of the clog, first switch off the disposer. If you stick anything down the drain, then you will also want to switch off the power. You can use a flashlight to look down the drain and try to determine the nature of the blockage: basically, where it is and what is causing it. This will determine your tools and approach.
The likeliest cause of the clog is pieces of food (if it is something more substantial or valuable, such as jewelry, then you may wish to call a plumber). If it is food, try breaking up the debris by manually turning the disposer blades. The manual operator is normally at the bottom of the disposer and is operated with an allen key. Refer to disposer manual for full instructions.
Don't use chemical cleaners with a disposer as these can cause it damage.
It may be possible to remove the disposer entirely for inspection. Be sure to pinch any connections to dishwasher first, however.
Use pliers to remove any loose food debris. Never stick your hand inside the disposer as the blades are sharp. If the disposer is still clogged, then you will need to use a plunger.
2. Try Using a Plunger
There are two types of plunger. You are better off using the type without a bell end for this job. Run a few inches of water into the sink to aid suction and begin plunging.
After plunging, if you have a disposer, try running it again. Be careful not to overheat it, however, as that can damage it.
Run some water into the sink. If it drains okay, you are all set. If it doesn't run, then you will have to try some more plunging, or move onto another method.
3. Clean The P-trap
The P-trap is the elbow-shaped pipe under the sink. If this gets clogged up with food and/or grease, then you may want to take it apart and clean out the gunk that is causing the blockage.
Before you start, make sure that you have a bucket placed under the P-trap. Then you will need to unscrew the connections to the pipe and wall. Remove the P-trap and inspect it for debris.
If the blockage is not in the P-trap, then you will need to try unblocking the drain with a plumber's snake.
4. Use a Plumbers’ Snake
If you have tried plunging and cleaning the P-trap and neither of those things work, you may need to try using a plumber's snake.
This tool consists of a coiled spiral snake, typically around 1/4-inch thick with a handle at one end. The coil is used to reach down into the drain and then the handle is cranked, dislodging and pulling up the clog. Some snakes are manually cranked. Some are powered for extra strength.
5. Use Baking Soda and Vinegar
This method avoids the use of chemicals. It doesn't always work, but it is worth trying. All you need is one cup of baking soda and one cup of vinegar.
First, pour boiling water down the drain. Then push the baking soda down the sink drain, use a spatula if necessary.
Next pour the vinegar into the drain.
Now put the stopper into the sink, pushing the vinegar toward the clog and blocking off the action.
Finally, flush the drain with boiling water again.
6. Use Chemicals
Note: If your sink has a garbage disposer, I would seriously recommend that you do NOT use a chemical cleaner, as they react badly.
I would also recommend not using a liquid chemical cleaner if you have a complete block, rather than a slow draining clog. That's because there is a chance of the chemicals being backed up into the sink, along with stagnant water.
The type of cleaner you get is influenced by what you think is causing the clog. Generally speaking biological materials require a more acidic cleaner. Greasy clogs are better dealt with by using alkaline cleaners.
Always read the label carefully and use the cleaner exactly as instructed. Chemical cleaners can be harmful if misused.
7. Call a Plumber
Clearly the least affordable option and the last resort for those seeking to save on expense, calling out a professional plumber remains a possibility if nothing else works.
It can be less trouble for when nothing seems to work, or for those who really don't want to start messing around with the plumbing.
It may be the least troublesome in certain situations, however, just to get someone else in to fix the problem.
What Causes a Sink Drain to Become Clogged?
Although most food types are potentially capable of causing clogs, there are some types that are much worse offenders than others.
- Meat or grease (such as bacon fat) which can coagulate and then catch other foods.
- Coffee grounds, which can form into hard, compressed lumps if not properly drained
- Starchy foods, such as rice, potatoes, pasta.
- High fiber foods, such as certain greens, corn husks and celery.
Symptoms of a Clogged Sink Drain
The initial problem is usually slow drainage. If not resolved, the water will begin to back up and eventually drainage may stop altogether.
It's important to note that once drainage problems have begun, they will usually only get worse over time, unless action is taken. The sooner that you deal with the problem, the easier it can be to resolve.
How to Prevent Future Clogs
Prevention is almost always better than cure, of course, so don't abuse your drain with the worst food types (see causes list above).
You may also wish to invest in a good sink strainer to stop the sink drain getting clogged up with food pieces.
It's also sensible to have some essential tools on hand, such as:
- Pipe wrench
- Allen wrench
- Plunger (a flat cup without a bell generally works best for most kitchen drains.)
- White vinegar and baking soda
As mentioned above, a drain auger can be a very useful tool to have around too, not just for sinks, but unclogging shower drains too.
© 2017 Paul Goodman