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How to de-clog a blocked plumbing drain - clogged drain troubleshooting & step by step methods to un-block a slow or clogged building drain: this article explains and illustrates in detail several simple methods used to un-block a clogged drain.
We explain how to remove and clean a plumbing fixture drain trap, how to use drain cleaner, how to use a toilet plunger, how to use a plumbing snake, and how to use a pneumatic drain cleaner such as the kinetic water ram to open blocked drains.
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A clogged plumbing fixture is common trouble - here we give some easy procedures to de-clog a sink, tub, shower, toilet, etc. When a building drain is clogged or slow, or when there is a septic system backup, it's important to determine where the problem lies, since the repair steps can be quite different and costs can vary widely.
Here we discuss traditional blocked or slow plumbing drain methods: taking apart the plumbing trap, using a drain cleaner chemical, using a toilet plunger (old faithful works pretty well), and using a plumbing snake (sometimes).
Separately at Kinetic Water Ram™ Opens Drains (link just above) we discuss our favorite drain de-clogging tool. Our photo (above) shows a toilet plunger that will work equally well clearing a sink or tub trap blockage. We like this particular model of toilet plunger because its shape pushes a larger volume of air and water per "plunge" than some simpler versions.
Watch out: if your building drains into a private septic system, clogged or slow drains can be a sign of septic system trouble. In that case, still the problem can be as simple as a clogged drain, or unfortunately it can be as costly as a failed septic leach field or soakaway bed. Here we include diagnostic steps to figure out what's wrong.
How to clear a blocked sink trap: before messing with snakes, wires, plungers, and plumbers, if the blockage is at a single sink or tub trap look into the trap with a flashlight.
If you see that the fixture drain is blocked by hair, use a wire with its end bent into a hook or even needle nosed pliers to see if you can carefully pull out and remove the clog of hair and crud yourself.
While you're there under the sink, if the fixture trap is corroded, leaky, or damaged, put a bucket under it to catch water, disassemble it, and take the parts to your local hardware store to simply buy a replacement.
Watch out: Be careful to avoid bending or damaging the sink tailpiece or the horizontal connecting pipe at the building wall or you'll end up having to replace those as well.
Should I use a drain cleaning chemical on my blocked or slow drain?
We have mixed advice. Sometimes drain cleaners work very well, and these chemicals have the "magic bullet" appeal: pour some goop into your slow or clogged sink or tub and wait (longer is better) for the goop to dissolve the blockage.
Often these products work, and they are especially suited for certain types of clogs such as hair or grease clogging a hard-to-get-at sink or tub trap.
Watch out: if you are going to end up having to use a toilet plunger or plumbing snake, or you're going to disassemble and remove the plumbing trap, and if you've already poured a drain cleaner into the fixture, you may have a difficult situation as many drain cleaning products are toxic or caustic and can cause burns or poisoning.
So you might want to try using a toilet plunger before using the drain cleaner. If the plunger works (instructions are just below) you've avoided having to pour chemicals into your drains, building, and maybe your septic system. The plumber, arriving at your building will not be happy to encounter nasty chemicals in the drain if s/he has to take it apart.
More about what can be safely flushed into building drains is at WHAT CAN GO INTO TOILETS & DRAINS?.
Drain cleaners are discussed in that article at CHEMICALS & CLEANERS into the SEPTIC TANK?.
How to use a toilet plunger to clear a simple blocked drain: be sure that the rubber cup of the plunger fully covers the sink, tub, or toilet drain.
Be sure that there is plenty of water in the sink, toilet, or tub around the plunger (run water into the fixture) and that the blocked drain is filled with water - if your drain is slow but not blocked, plunging to clear it is more difficult unless you can get a solid column of water to push on the blockage as you work the plunger at the fixture.
If your drain is slow but not totally blocked, you may be able to get enough water into the drain trap and pipe for the plunger to do its work if you put a volume of water in the sink or tub (or toilet), then let it out into the slow drain while you operate the plunger.
Our photo (left) shows that we also left the water running in this slow drain to make sure we had plenty of water in the drain pipe during the plunging operation.
Of course if your sink or tub or toilet is draining very slowly or is totally blocked you won't need to add water or run water during the drain clearing operation.
If the sink or tub has an overflow vent (most do) try holding a wet cloth over that opening to assure that the pressure your plunger applies to the column of water in the drainpipe pushes on the obstruction rather than just backing up through the vent as you operate the plunger.
Don't give up too soon. Often we've had to push the plunger up and down for several minutes to successfully dislodge a remote blockage in a drain pipe.
The toilet plunger approach may not work if the blockage is only partial and you can't keep enough water in the drainpipe for the plunger's action to actually press on and dislodge the obstruction. It won't work at all if the cause of slow drain is an actual constriction on the drain line due to rust or mineral buildup or due to a broken or collapsed drain line.
How to use a plumbing snake to clear a blocked drain: a plumbing snake is a flexible wire or coiled wire that is gently forced down through a drain (and in some models rotated by hand or by a machine) to attempt to clear the drain.
Plumbing snakes and wires are available ranging from tiny models that can clear a sink or tub trap to large two-person machine-operated rotating power snakes used by professionals to clear sewer lines.
If you are tempted to try a rented power-snake be very careful as serious personal injury and also drain line damage can occur if you don't know how to feed and control the power snake as it moves into and out of the drain line. If you are uncertain leave this approach to a professional.
Watch out: we once paid Plass the Plumber who charged "by the foot" of wire to run a "wire" into a drain line supposedly to clear it.
The drain continued to be slow until we disassembled the building piping to see that the drain interior was nearly totally blocked by corrosion and mineral build-up in galvanized piping. Replacing the drain piping was required - a diagnosis missed by our first plumber and his wire.
Details of using a pneumatic or kinetic water ram tool to clear blocked drains - our preferred drain de clog method - are found at KINETIC WATER RAM™ Opens Drains. Excerpts are below.
How to use a kinetic water ram to clear a blocked drain: a kinetic water ram can be effective in clearing blocked drains and can be rented from your local "rent-all" store.
A "KINETIC WATER RAM (for sale)™" [link to buy at Amazon.com] pump uses compressed air to clear clogged building drains is also available. After renting a kinetic water ram drain cleaning tool to clear clogged drains several times we bought one and used it for many years. [You can buy a Kinetic Water Ram but you can also rent one at many tool rental centers.]
We were impressed with the quality and strength of our kinetic water ram drain cleaner. A simple mechanical pump compresses air in a cylinder. A rubber fitting is attached to an outlet end of the cylinder and held in place over a clogged drain. When the pump's trigger is pulled the ram releases its air in a bang that tries to blow loose obstructions in drain pipes.
The kinetic water ram drain clearing device can unblock some types of clogged drains even when the clog is distant provided you can assure that the drainpipe is full of water when the equipment is used.
We rented and eventually purchased this sine-qua-non of mechanical drain openers, the Kinetic Water Ram™ [available to buy on Amazon.com] - a pump device that will usually blow-out clogs, even remote clogs, in building drains. The Kinetic Water Ram includes a stainless steel air pump and rubber fittings that match the business end of the ram to a building sink, tub, toilet, or other drain.
Our kinetic water ram kit came in a steel orange box that included a collection of rubber fittings to let us use the tool with almost any drain opening size or shape. A few of these fittings are shown in our photos above. We have jammed our pony pump and washing machine hoses into this same carrier case but those have nothing to do with using a kinetic water ram to clear a drain. They just spend time together.
You can rent a Kinetic Water Ram at many consumer rental centers. To use the Kinetic Water Ram effectively you may need to Inspect to be sure that the plumbing trap for the fixture is secure and not corroded so you won't blow it off of the fixture.
Our successful bathroom sink drain de-clog photo (below) shows that the sink is running free.
One quick shot at about 20 psi was sufficient. You can see the 20 psi shown on the water ram's pressure gauge, above-right.
We let the water run for a good 10 minutes longer to be sure we have flushed the blown-drain blocking material out through the building drain and sewer piping.
When deciding how much air pressure to pump-to we recommend starting gently, and never use higher air pressure than is needed to clear the drain. Below you'll read why this we give this advice.
Watch out: be careful not to pump your kinetic water ram drain opener to a pressure higher than necessary. You can get quite a splash in the face when you fire off the ram if you're not careful.
Worse, in our dentist's office where a chronic clogged drain was later traced to mineral and rust-blocked galvanized drain piping, not only was the kinetic water ram drain clearer useless, in our enthusiasm we blew the trap right off of her bathroom sink. An elated moment of "we fixed the blockage" was followed by an "Oh S***" as the sink full of nasty water flowed out of the vanity base and across the floor of the dental office bathroom.
Keep in mind that the Kinetic Water Ram, nor any other product, plumbing snake, etc. is going to be effective if the cause of your slow or blocked drain is mineral or other hard build-up has lined the drain pipe interior.
This is a section of CLOGGED DRAIN DIAGNOSIS & REPAIR, our complete article that explains explains how to investigate slow or blocked drains and septic system backups to distinguish between a probable septic system failure versus a probable blocked building drain.
Continue reading at CLOGGED DRAIN vs SEPTIC PROBLEM or select a topic from closely-related articles below, or see our complete INDEX to RELATED ARTICLES below.
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