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Unclog a Sink, Tub or Shower

Keep your kitchen and bathroom drains running smoothly. Learn simple steps you can take to unclog a stopped sink, tub or shower drain.

Unclog a Sink, Tub or Shower Drain.

Tools & Materials

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Tips for Opening a Clogged Drain

  • Sometimes a clog you can't clear with one method may open if you use a combination of techniques.
  • Start simple, then work your way up to fixes that require specialty tools and time-consuming disassembly.
  • Fixes can get messy — have a bucket, cloths and a sponge close at hand.
  • To learn about different types of drain chemicals and tools, read Lowe's Drain Cleaner and Drain Opener Buying Guide.

Wear the appropriate safety gear and follow the manufacturer's instructions for use and safety when using any chemical drain cleaner or drain-opening tool. Use caution when clearing clogs in older pipes. Some chemicals and tools may not be suitable. If you have older or corroded pipes, you're concerned about damage, or you can't clear a clog, contact a professional plumber.

Methods for Clearing a Clog

  • Removing hair collected around a pop-up stopper or strainer clears one common clog in the bathroom.
  • A drain stick is effective at clearing clogs in a P-trap or S-trap caused by hair.
  • A plunger can clear a clog if the blockage isn't too far into the pipes.
  • Cleaning out a sink trap removes clogs caused by buildup — such as soap or grease — or a foreign object — such as a toy.
  • An auger — also known as a plumbing snake — or flat sewer rod can clear blockages deep in drain lines.
  • Chemical drain cleaners contain a high concentration of lye, bleach or sulfuric acid to soften and break up clogs.

See below for instructions and tips on using each of these solutions.

Cleaning Strainers and Stoppers

Step 1

Sink Pop-Up Stopper Assembly.

Remove the strainer or sink pop-up stopper.

  • If there is a strainer over the drain, as in a tub or shower, remove the screws securing it and pry it up with a screwdriver. Be careful to keep the screws from falling down the drain.
  • You can remove some pop-up sink stoppers by twisting and lifting them out. Others require you to remove the horizontal pivot rod under the sink. Place a bucket under the assembly. Free the rod from the vertical strap, unscrew the lever seal from the drain pipe and pull out the rod. Now lift the stopper free. If you need to use pliers to remove a stopper, pad the stopper so you don't mar the finish.
Good to Know

A screwdriver with a magnetic tip helps you keep the screws out of the drain.

Step 2

Clean and reinstall the stopper or strainer. Run water to flush any remaining material from the pipes.

Using a Drain Stick

Step 1

Drain Stick.

Remove the strainer or stopper as described above if necessary. Insert the drain stick down the drain and through the trap. You may need to twist the tool to find the right angle. Embed the tip into the clog as deeply as possible to allow the barbs to hook the material.

Step 2

Remove the drain stick to pull up any material it snags. Run water through the drain to wash out any loose debris and reinstall the strainer or stopper.

Using a Plunger

Step 1

Block the overflow opening on a tub or sink with a wet cloth. If you're working on a sink, block the drain and overflow of any adjacent basin. Blocking these openings helps focus the force of the plunger toward the blockage.

Step 2

If standing water isn't already present, add 2 to 3 inches, but be careful to keep it from overflowing. As you use the plunger, the water helps force the obstruction out of the way.

Good to Know

Apply a thick layer of petroleum jelly to the rim of a sink plunger cup to create a tighter seal.

Step 3

Remove the strainer or stopper as described above. Cover the drain hole with the plunger cup and work the handle up and down repeatedly. After 15 to 30 seconds, see if the water drains properly. Try again if the drain is still blocked or sluggish. After you clear the clog, run water to flush away any remnants of the obstruction.

Good to Know

A plunger that has a cup with a flat bottom works well for sinks, tubs and showers.

Removing and Cleaning a Sink P-Trap

Good to Know

Some P-traps have a clean-out plug in the base of the bend that may allow you to clear a clog without removing the trap. Take out the plug, insert a drain stick and push it around the bends of the trap.

Step 1

Bail out any standing water in the sink and place a bucket under both connections of the trap.

Step 2

Loosen the slip nuts securing the trap to the sink drain pipe and the waste line. Carefully remove the trap, allowing water in the pipes and trap to drain into the bucket. If you use tools on chrome fittings, pad the fittings with a cloth to protect the finish.

Good to Know

Wear rubber gloves to keep your hands clean and give you better grip when removing the trap.


Don't leave an open waste pipe after removing the trap. Plug it with a wet cloth to prevent sewer gas from backing up into the house.

Step 3

Emptying the Trap.

Hold the trap over the bucket and work a bottle brush through it to push out buildup. Check the trap for wear or corrosion that could lead to a leak. Purchase a new one if necessary. Remove the cloth from the waste pipe and reinstall the trap. Fill the sink basin with water and let it drain to test for leaks.

Using an Auger or Flat Sewer Rod

Step 1

Drain Auger.

Insert the auger cable or sewer rod.

  • On a tub drain, remove the overflow plate and insert the cable into the overflow line.
  • On a shower drain, remove the strainer in the shower floor and insert the cable into the drain.
  • On a sink drain, you may be able to remove the stopper and insert the cable or rod directly into the drain. If not, remove the trap and insert the cable or rod into the waste line. See the instructions above for removing a stopper and a sink trap.

Step 2

  • When using an auger, push in the cable until it reaches the obstruction. Turn the handle clockwise to dig the tip into the clog. Twist, push and pull the cable to break it up.
  • When using a sewer rod, direct the rod through the pipes until you reach the obstruction. Push the rod forward and pull it back to break up the clog.
Good to Know

As you reach bends in the pipes, you may need to twist the auger or sewer rod and use moderate force to push through the turns.

Step 3

Pull the auger or rod back out when the line feels clear and any standing water drains. Reattach the overflow plate, strainer, stopper or trap and run water through the line to wash any remnants of the clog.

Good to Know

If you removed and replaced a sink trap, test it for leaks.

Using a Chemical Drain Cleaner

Step 1

Make sure the product is intended for your system and is suitable for the type of pipes you have. If you have a septic tank, make sure the product is labeled for use with septic systems. Then match the product to the type of clog you have and the fixture — sink, tub or shower.

Step 2

Follow the manufacturer's instructions. Keep in mind:

  • If one drain cleaner doesn't clear the clog, don't try a second type. Mixing chemicals can create toxic fumes.
  • Don't allow a drain cleaner to remain in the pipes longer than recommended by the manufacturer — flush it out with water as directed.
  • Don't let a drain cleaner contact finished surfaces such as faucets, stoppers or drain trim.
  • Don't use plungers or other drain-opening tools or remove a trap or cleanout plug after using a chemical drain cleaner. You could come into contact with chemicals that may still be present in the water. If the drain cleaner doesn't open the drain, contact a professional plumber.

Tips to Prevent Drain Problems

  • Don't empty coffee grounds, grease or any material that can clump or solidify into a sink.
  • When using a disposal, run plenty of cold water to flush food particles down the pipe.
  • Clean strainers and pop-up stoppers frequently.
  • Consider using a drain maintenance treatment, designed to reduce buildup in pipes. Make sure it's suitable for your system.
  • If you have a septic tank, have a professional inspect it every two to three years, or as required in your area.
Good to Know

Plumbing vents on the roof of a house draw air into the pipe system to allow household drains to function properly. If a vent is blocked by leaves or other debris, drains may run slowly or stop completely. A clogged plumbing vent can often be cleared with an auger. If you're not comfortable working from the roof, contact a professional plumber.

Watch our DIY Basics video: How Do I Unclog My Toilet?