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How to Clear & Unblock Drains

Blocked drains can cause a lot of hassle! Get to the root of the problem and find a solution fast by using the help and advice in this article.


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If you’ve noticed an odd smell or water not draining away properly, all signs point to a blocked drain. This article will provide a helpful guide to clearing blocked drains around the house.

Sometimes it can be easy to forget about drains, hidden below out of sight, they are efficiently designed to deal with waste. Then they suddenly start to smell or work slowly and you’re immediately very aware of them. Fortunately there are plenty of simple ways to unblock drains and even simpler preventative methods.

When using a pressure-based solution (a plunger or vacuum), you need to seal off secondary openings to that drain for it to work (for example, in a double sink). If there isn’t a plug, this can be done with a wet rag or another plunger.

Drain Cleaning Tools

Before you can start unblocking drains, you need some tools to do so. Most of these are cheap, simple, and readily available from hardware stores.

  • Plungers are great for bulky, not-too-strong clogs. Keep a separate one for the toilet.

  • Barbed plastic drain tools are long, flexible-yet-rigid plastic strips with a series of swept-back barbs along the length. When stuck down the drain and drawn out, it removes hair and other blockages along with it. It works best on strong clogs near the drain mouth.

  • The wire snake and plumbers snake function similarly to a barbed tool. A wire snake can easily be made from a wire coat hanger (see our key steps) and professional plumbers snakes can be brought from hardware stores. The professional snake is more flexible and longer reaching.

  • Finally, if you have a wet/dry vac with a blow function, it can be used similarly to a plunger by creating a seal and turning the blower mode off and on repeatedly. Do not leave it running a long time, as this could damage the pipes or the vacuum.

how to clear drains

Safety Warning

Do not swallow; do not mix with other detergents or chemicals, particularly cleaners. Mixing may generate toxic chlorine gas. Ensure adequate ventilation when using, vapour may be harmful. Strongly alkaline and corrosive. Attacks skin and eyes so avoid contact. May produce severe burns. Wear protective gloves and eye protection when mixing or using. Do not mix with hot water. Store upright below 25 degrees celsius. Rinse containers with water before disposal.

 *Domestos kills germs such as:

  • Pseudomonas aeruginosa

  • Escherichia coli

  • Staphylococcus aureus

  • Proteus vulgaris

How to Unblock Drains – Methods to Try

  • Plunging: Fill the sink enough to cover its floor and the drain. Press the plunger down firmly over the drain to form a tight seal, and thrust it quickly up and down several times without breaking the suction.

  • Though both can be used on their own, the plunger can be used to bring deeper blockages within range of a wire snake, where they can be hooked.

  • Boiling water: If the blockage is grease-based, pouring a large quantity of boiling water down may be sufficient on its own. This can however cause larger grease blockages to be flushed further down where they’re harder to reach.

A homemade mix of vinegar and baking soda can also be effective both for blocked sinks and drains:

If none of this works and problems persist, call a plumber.

Preventing Clogged Sinks

Like many household tasks, prevention is the best measure:

  • Know what not to wash down the sink. Some foods swell when water’s added, these include semolina, flour, rice, and pastry scraps. Liquid fats can also solidify once inside the pipes.

  • Use drain catchers. These will catch food in the kitchen and hair in the bathroom. They may look a little grim, but it’s better to clean a little out every day than having to dredge large, smelly lumps of gunk up.

  • Run boiling water down the drain once a month.

  • Once a month, clean drains with a capful of strong household bleach, like Domestos*, making sure to follow any safety or usage instructions on the bottle. Domestos is proven to remove bad odours – so if your drain is particularly smelly, it is the ideal cleaning product to use.

  • Untwist the hanger so you have a long, straight, stiff piece of wire.

  • Use pliers to bend the very end of the wire back on itself. This makes a very small hook to catch hair.

  • Viola. Use to hook hair from drains.

Originally published