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How to Unclog a Sink

Does your sink smell or drain slowly? Learn how to unclog a sink to prevent future pipe damage and avoid expensive plumbing repairs.
Person with plunger having issues with a clogged sink

Getting Started

Every so often, your kitchen sink might drain slower than usual or give off an unpleasant odor. Even worse, the sink may stop working completely thanks to clogged pipes. When it comes to kitchen sinks, you need to take care of a clog quickly. Otherwise, it can lead to stubborn build-ups and burst pipes—problems you'll need to pay a professional plumber to fix.
As a homeowner, it's essential to know how to unclog a sink. The skill you can save money and keep you from needing to call a plumber. Here are some step-by-step instructions.
Person Using a Plunger to Unclog a Sink Drain

Plunge the Sink Drain to Remove Debris

When it comes to unclogging sinks, the first step to try is to plunge the drain to see if any immediate debris comes up.
  • With a cup or basin, remove most of the standing water, leaving a small bit to submerge the plunger head.
  • Use a cup plunger (with a flat rim) and create a tight seal over the drain, applying pressure.
  • Keep a tight seal and quickly plunge up and down, keeping the plunger's head underwater.
  • If you have a dishwasher nearby, clamp the flexible hose line (with vice grips) to keep it closed, preventing backflow.

Pour Boiling Water to Dislodge Debris

If a plunger doesn't work, you can try using boiling water but this method only works if you have metal pipes. So if you have PVC pipes, move onto the next step, as boiling water can cause damage and soften the pipes.
  • Boil a half-gallon of water
  • After removing any remaining standing water, pour the boiling water steadily and directly down the drain.
  • If water still doesn't drain, allow the water to cool and repeat.

Inspect the Garbage Disposal

Always check the garbage disposal, as this appliance takes on lots of items that can clog it easily.
  • Turn on the garbage disposal to break up anything that may be clogging it.
  • If the disposal is inoperative, ensure it's not overheated and activate the reset switch (located on the side or bottom of the unit.)
  • Attempt to turn it on once more to clear the clog.

Dissolve Clogs with a Natural Drain Cleaner

If a stuck food item isn't the cause of your clogged sink, it means there's something gunkier that needs dissolving. Try using gentle household cleaners or a natural baking soda mixture to avoid pipe damage.
  • Pour one cup of baking soda down the drain.
  • Immediately afterward, pour one cup of vinegar and cover the drain tightly with a stopper.
  • Set a timer for 15 minutes, allowing the mixture to work on the clog.
  • Remove the drain stopper and run hot water down the drain to rinse out any loose clog debris.

Clear the Sink with a Wet-Dry Vacuum

If a drain cleaner doesn't do the trick, it's time to employ the use of a wet-dry vac. Abt offers a variety of wet-dry vacuums if you're looking to purchase one.
  • Set your wet-dry vacuum to wet use and tightly secure the hose end at the drain.
  • If your sink has two drains, seal the other side with a stopper to create suction strength.
  • Turn on the vacuum to its highest setting, allowing the pressure to dislodge the clog.
Plumber Using an Auger to Unclog a Sink Drain

Use an Auger on the Upper Part of the Pipe

Another tool many professionals use to unclog a sink is an auger. Although you can purchase a sink auger and use on your own, if you ever feel uncomfortable using these tools, we recommend seeking out professional help.
  • Feed the auger's cable (or plumbing snake) into the drain, stopping when you meet resistance.
  • With the end of the cable against the clogged area, pull out an extra foot of cable from the machine and hold it as extra slack.
  • Lock the length of the cable and turn the crank. This action should push through the suspected clog. Gather more slack if necessary, and don't stop until you feel the clog give way or a change in resistance. Note: If you don't feel any resistance, the clog is further inside your pipes.
  • Remove the auger and flush the pipe with hot water from the sink faucet.

Use an Auger on the P-Trap and Wall Pipe

As mentioned, you may not feel the resistance of a clog straight down the drain, which indicates it's further along. Here's how to fix this particular issue:
  • Place a bucket beneath the pipes under the sink to catch any excess water.
  • Unscrew the PVC pipe connectors that hold the curved P-trap pipe piece to the vertical and horizontal drain pipes.
  • Check the drain trap and remove any debris. Then, reconnect the drain trap.
  • Run water into the sink. If the drain is still slow, this means the clog is much further along in your pipes.
  • The next step is to remove the horizontal pipe that connects to the kitchen wall and feed the auger through, as described earlier.
  • Remove any debris and reassemble the pipe and trap, hand-tightening any connectors. Tip: Avoid over-tightening plastic connectors as they could crack.
  • Lastly, flush the sink with hot water. Now, it should drain smoothly and quickly.
After this last method, make sure you tighten the connectors well enough to check beneath the sink for leaks. Also, be sure to clean and dry the cabinet areas beneath the sink once your unclogging mission is complete.

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