Dan has been in the HVAC industry for 23 years with experience ranging from installation and service to sales and distribution.
What to Do When the Sink is Backed Up
It's never good to see standing water in your sink and, of course, this means you have a clogged drain. So, now what? How do you unclog a sink drain?
People will often first try some form of liquid drain cleaner and plunging. Though liquid drain cleaners are nice because they're simple to use and don't make a mess, they don't always work against tough clogs. Plunging, too, is a rather simple method of getting your sink to drain, but may not be the answer when working on stubborn clogs that are further down the line.
If simple fixes like drain cleaner and plunging aren't working, snaking the drain may be the only thing that's going to get the job done. Snaking a drain with a hand snake is not difficult to do but can be a bit messier than our first 2 options. If you've not snaked out a drain before, the following text will help you with a couple of tips on how to go about doing so.
Snaking a Clogged Sink Drain Step-By-Step
Tools You'll Need
There are a few things that you'll need to make sure you have on hand to complete this successfully.
- Plumber's Snake - This is also called an auger. It's a tool with a long cable and a cork-screw-like device on the end. I really like this General Pipe brand Spin Thru Drain Auger. It has 25 feet of cable to get clogs that are very far down your drain, and it has a foregrip which makes spinning the auger much easier!
- Wrench - A pipe wrench is great but if you don't have one, a few basic Channellock type wrenches work just as well.
- Bucket - This will be used to catch the water from your clogged sink when we remove the pee trap underneath it (more on that in a minute).
- Rags or Towels - This is to keep the mess to a minimum and wipe up any water.
- Gloves and Eye Protection - Things can get messy, gross, and sometimes even splatter. So having some gloves and eye protection on hand is not a bad idea, especially if there may still be some liquid drain cleaner in the pipes.
Step 1: Empty the Clogged Sink of Standing Water
First things first, let's get the sink emptied out so that you can keep the mess to a minimum. This is very simple to do and only requires something to catch the water like a bucket or large bowl and perhaps a wrench to loosen the nuts that are holding the trap together.
The trap, or "P-trap" as it's often called, is the curved piece of drain that is located just below the sink. The trap is held together with 2 nuts, one that is on the "drop" coming from the sink and one that is located on the U-shaped part of the trap. The latter is the one you want to loosen to drain off the sink.
Simply loosen, DO NOT REMOVE, this nut with your bucket placed underneath the trap, and slowly let the water drain out of the sink. If it doesn't look like your bucket will hold all the water, just tighten the trap nut back up (this is why we don't remove it yet) so that the water stops draining, and you can empty your bucket and begin to finish draining the sink.
Now that the sink is done draining, take this part of the trap out and inspect it. This may be where your clog was and if so, you can clean it out, put it back together and go on about your day. If not, it's time to start snaking the drain.
Step 2: Access the Clean Out
When a drain is clogged bad enough to stop drainage, it's usually blocked in a horizontal run section of the drain. This means that if the clog wasn't in your trap, it is likely down the line further and in an area that you cannot reach or see. If you are on a first or second floor, you may have to snake the drain from where you've just removed the trap however in this case, we will be looking at a clog under the basement floor.
As you can see in the picture, just before a plumbing drain enters the concrete, there is what's called a clean out. This is simply an access to do just what we're doing, snake the drain. You just remove the plug and begin to insert the snake.
Step 3: Feed and Adjust the Snake
NOTE: You may want to get out your towels and gloves for this part. It can get messy.
Loosen the locking nut on the snake so that you can feed it out of the housing. Then begin to feed the snake into the drain until you feel resistance and can't hand feed it anymore. Then tighten down the locking nut.
Step 4: Drill Through the Blockage
Now that the snake is locked at the correct position in the handle, begin to twist the snake by holding the handle and turning the crank until you feel it begin to drill through the blockage.
You may see the snake being fed into the drain as you go and will have to loosen the lock nut again, pull out more snake, tighten the nut and begin to turn the snake again. Repeat until you can begin to hand feed the snake again or until you've inserted all of your drain snake.
Step 5: Recover the Snake and Reassemble Plumbing
Once you've broken through the clog or ran out of snake line, begin to recoil the snake into the housing. Be sure your trap is reassembled, your plug is back in place on your clean out and begin to run hot water slowly down the drain.
If your sink is emptying out as the water runs, you're back in business. Be sure to give it a couple of minutes though to be sure that you've solved your problem. If not, repeat these steps until the sink drains properly.
Tips for Snaking a Clogged Drain
There are a few things you may want to be aware of when snaking a drain. As I've mentioned, wearing gloves can keep your hands from getting some pretty nasty stuff on them. Also, have a bucket or 2 nearby. Lastly, you can never have enough old towels handy for unexpected messes. Pick a couple that you wouldn't mind throwing away when you're done here as well because again, you may very well find that the water you'll be dealing with is pretty nasty.
When you snake a drain, sometimes back pressure can "burp" back at you. You will be snaking away when all of a sudden, a nice flow of water will head your way and unfortunately, right out of the cleanout. You'll want to be prepared for this in case it happens.
Professional Drain Snaking is Expensive
I'm not gonna lie to you and say that snaking a drain is any fun. It can be messy, dirty and yes, smelly as all get out but there is a bright side.
Having a professional plumber come out to snake your drain will not only leave you waiting quite some time for him to show up but will also set you back a few hundred dollars in many cases. Tackling this simple project yourself can literally save you hundreds even if you have to buy a drain snake.
I hope this hub has offered you some tips that will be handy to you when needed and as always...happy home owning.
Fighting the Tough Clogs
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Questions & Answers
Question: If snaking did not work, could hydro jetting unclog the bathroom sink drain?
Answer: Perhaps yes, however, that can depend on where the blockage is and if other drains are affected too. I myself ran into a similar issue and called in a professional drain service. It was the main drain near the street that was the issue, and I would've never been able to clear it without the type of machine they have. Also, I would never want to invest in one for myself.
© 2012 Dan Reed
Marlene Bertrand from USA on November 09, 2013:
I have super thick hair. My husband had to clean the drain one time and I heard a lot of unsavory words at the time. Now, I go to great lengths trying to keep the drain unclogged. But, after reading your hub I see what all the hoopla was about.
Lena Welch from USA on August 26, 2012:
Well written, easy to understand, pictures are helpful. Well done!
Lightshare on August 16, 2012:
Thanx cre8tor for a useful hub.
David from Idaho on August 14, 2012:
With two females in our house hair does become a problem after a while. I have snaked lines before and it is a mess but it is nice to put everything back together and watch the water go back down the drain again.
Voted up and useful.
Dan Reed (author) on August 13, 2012:
My wife is the same. Hair is a major culprit for drain clogs.
Mmargie1966 from Gainesville, GA on August 12, 2012:
I can certainly use this hub! I have really thick, long hair, and I shed like a dog. My hair clogs up everything! Even my vacuum cleaner on occasion. I'm going to show this to my husband! Thanks for sharing.
I voted up and useful!