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Unclog a Stopped Bath Drain

If the only thing going down a bathroom drain is your patience, choose from several clog-busting fixes.

Unclog a Stopped Bath Drain

Tools & Materials

Materials

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Know Before You Shop for Drain-Clearing Supplies

  • Unlike kitchen clogs formed by grease and food particles, bathroom drain clogs are usually caused by hair or foreign objects. Choose the right tool for the clog. A Zip-It may solve a hair clog, but pulling small toys from a drain may require removing the curved trap beneath a sink with a pipe wrench.
  • Sometimes a clog that just won’t budge using one method may disappear if you use a combination of techniques. Start simple, then work your way up to fixes that require specialty tools and time-consuming disassembly.
  • Some fixes can get messy, so have a bucket or tray and a sponge close at hand.

Bust up a Bathroom Clog

Bathroom sink clogs seldom happen overnight. They build slowly as hair and debris collect in the pipes so that water drains slower and slower until it stops completely. If you can, break up clogs before they reach this stage.

Step 1

Hair that collects around the sink stopper mechanism or in P- and S-traps — imagine these letters resting on their sides to visualize the trap shape — can slowly choke a bathroom sink drain. Begin by removing the drain stopper, which is usually held in place by a lever in the drainpipe beneath the sink. Free the long part of the lever from the rod or strap beneath the sink. Unscrew the lever seal from the sink drain pipe. Now you can lift the stopper free of the sink.

Step 2

Zip-It Drain Tool

If hair caught on the stopper caused your problem, you’ll know immediately when you pull it out. Remove any debris wrapped around the stopper and reattach it along with the stopper lever. If you don’t notice any debris immediately after removing the stopper, work a Zip-It drain tool down the drain and through the trap.

Good to Know

Drain tools and augers need to be flexible to follow the shape of the trap, but that won’t help if you insert the tool into the drain at the wrong angle. Rotate these tools to find the angle where they can snake through the trap with only moderate force.

Step 3

Remove and check the Zip-It regularly as you work to see whether its barbs snagged the clog. If the clog pulls free, reinstall the drain stopper. Run hot water through the drain to wash out debris the drain tool couldn’t snag.

Step 4

Check the P- or S-trap for a clog.

Still clogged? The clog may have traveled beyond the 18-in. reach of the Zip-It, or a solid object made its way down the drain. You may need a longer tool to clear it, but try this first: Plug the tub or sink overflow opening with a damp rag. Then cover the drain with the end of a plunger and press gently to force air out of the plunger. (A little standing water helps form a seal.) Press down on the handle quickly four or five times and lift the plunger off the drain to check the flow of water. Repeat as needed about a half-dozen times. You may be moving the plug only a short distance each time but at least it’s moving.

Step 5

If that doesn’t work, then grab a pipe wrench and go to work on the P- or S-trap beneath the sink. Place a tray or bucket beneath the trap and gently loosen the two nuts attaching it to the sink drainpipe and the waste line.

Caution

Don’t leave an open drain pipe if you need to take a break after removing the trap. Plug the pipe leading to the wall or floor with a damp rag to prevent sewer gas from backing up into your bathroom. Then replace the trap and run water through it as soon as possible.

Step 6

Empty Into Bucket

Remove the trap and empty it into the bucket. Then check the trap for clogs and clean or replace it.

Step 7

If the trap isn’t hiding the clog, it’s between the drain pipe leading away from the trap and the main waste pipe hidden behind the wall or floor. Insert a drain auger into the pipe leading to the hidden waste pipe and continue feeding wire until the tip bumps into the clog. Using the auger handle, rotate the wire until the auger tip digs into the clog. Then retract the wire and check for debris. Repeat the process until the line feels clear. Reattach the trap and run hot water through the line to wash out the remaining clog.

Caution

So you’ve checked the trap and the line to the waste pipe seems clear, but water still backs up into the sink. Now’s the time to call a professional plumber. You may have a clogged main waste pipe — the large pipe buried in the walls. Pros have specialty tools such as motorized augers and the experience to use them in this part of your home’s plumbing system.