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Clogged sink? Here are 5 ways to fix it fast

A little time, patience, and elbow grease can save the cost of a plumber

A sink plunger sits in a clogged kitchen sink. Credit: Getty Images / Liudmila Chernetska

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Clogged sinks are a nuisance. Unfortunately, they happen—debris can build up in the pipes over time and cause a backup. Before you bring in a plumber to clear the drain, here are a few tips for how to unclog a sink yourself.

1. Plunge away the plug

A person plunges a clogged kitchen sink.
Credit: Getty Images / steved_np3

Plungers aren't just for toilets.

Most clogs are small and loose, and are easily cleared out with a plunger. However, there are some nuances to plunging a sink versus a toilet.

If your kitchen sink has a second drain, plug it with a towel or a drain stopper. Likewise in the bathroom, make sure that you plug the overflow hole with a towel. Closing these off will force more of the pressure from the plunge to the clog itself.

Once the sink is sealed, fill it about halfway with water. Then plunge the drain like you would the toilet. Don’t overdo it with either the number of plunges or the pressure you apply—you don’t want the pressure to damage your pipes.

Ideally you would use a dedicated plunger for your sink, but if you have to use the toilet plunger, make sure you thoroughly sanitize every inch of your sink, probably more than once.

2. Use a mixture of baking soda, vinegar, and boiling water

Containers of vinegar, baking soda, a glass of water, and a spoonful of baking soda.
Credit: Getty Images / Sent kui Lim

You'll need some patience when using chemical assistance.

For more persistent or deeper clogs, you may need some chemical assistance. Fortunately, most of us have the chemicals on hand to make a decent drain cleaner.

First, pour equal parts baking soda and vinegar down the drain—about a cup each usually works. Plug the drain with either your sink stopper or a towel, and let the mixture sit for 15-30 minutes. This wait time gives the chemical reaction time to eat away at the clog.

Then pour hot water down the drain—this can be from the tap or, for more stubborn clogs, can be boiling. You may need to repeat this process a couple of times to fully clear the blockage.

3. Clean out the trap

A hydraulic wet siphon for a wash basin against a black background.
Credit: Getty Images / Piotr Wytrazek

Be sure to place a bucket under your sink when unscrewing the trap.

If plunging and baking soda don’t work, clear the trap beneath your sink. This is the u-shaped pipe beneath your sink that is designed to hold water and keep sewer gas escaping from the pipes. It is also a place where debris can settle and form a clog. These pipes are typically simple to clear, and come in two main styles.

The first style has a small nut on the bottom that unscrews easily with a crescent wrench. The second style has the entire U assembly come off with large nuts on either side. You likely will need a large pair of pliers or a pipe wrench to remove this type.

Before unscrewing the trap, position a bucket underneath it to catch the water - there will be a lot. Often the debris will simply fall out with the water, but you may need to use a plastic drain snake or a piece of wire to reach in and clear debris in both directions—don’t forget to clear the pipe connecting to the sink. In a pinch, a butter knife can work as well.

Once you have cleaned out the trap, reattach it. Be careful though—don’t overtighten, or you can crack the plastic and create a leak.

4. Invest in a drain auger snake

A person cleans a clogged pipe with a flexible spring drain cleaner.
Credit: Getty Images / Narin Eungsuwat

Deeper clogs may require you to utilize a drain snake.

Deeper clogs may require a bit more firepower. Drain augers are coils of metal wire that you force down your pipes. When they reach the clog, you turn the handle, spinning the wire in the pipe, and destroying the blockage. Then simply retract the wire, pulling the clog out.

You can usually snake directly down your drain pipe, but it can be a challenge to make the turns in the P-trap. So if you decide to use an auger snake, doing it when you’ve removed the trap already can save some time and effort.

Drain augers can also be a bit difficult and messy to use, but they are a great tool to have on hand for the rare instances when you need it.

5. Let a heavy-duty cleaner work its magic

A person pours a bottle of liquid drain cleaner down a sink.
Credit: Getty Images / Boonyarit

There are tons of liquid drain products you can choose.

If all of the above fail, it may be time to try one of the heavy-duty chemical drain cleaners. There are a ton of products on the market.

Depending on the most likely culprit for your clog and which sink it is, you’ll want to invest in a different product. For example, a product that clears hair easily might not fare so well on heavy grease. The big names of Drano and Liquid Plumber have solid general-use products.

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