Cleaning Clogged Drains in Sinks, Bathtubs, Showers, and Toilets

As anyone who uses running water knows, it’s only a matter of time until you encounter a clogged drain. In most cases, drain blockage can be removed with relative ease when using the proper tools and precautions.

Two of the most common tools for unstopping a clogged drain are the plunger and liquid drain cleaner. Each one of the tools in its own right does a good job at clearing stopped up sinks, tubs, and toilets. But, both also have limitation depending on the severity of the clog, and the material that is preventing the fixture from draining.

Tips for Clearing Clogged Drains with a Plunger

The go-to tool for clogged or blocked drains is the plunger. Unlike mankind, all plungers are not created equal. Also, as straight forward as the standard plunger appears, there is often a trick or two for properly using it in order to gain the best results. Observe these tips and tricks when using a plunger to clear any clogged drain:

  1. Partially fill the sink or tub with water before attempting to plunge the drain. The additional water will help develop a vacuum with the plunger, and clearly show when the drain clog is clear.
  2. Plug the adjacent sink drain, or overfill drain if in a sink or bathtub, with a wet rag to help ensure a positive suction on the main drain line. If in a bathtub, it may be necessary to remove the chrome cover from the overfill drain with a screwdriver before plugging the drain hole with a wet rag.
  3. Before using the plunger, wipe the lip of the plunger clean and smear a thin coat of petroleum jelly along its face. The petroleum jelly will help create a strong seal for plunging.
  4. Do not allow trapped air under the plunger when submerging it into the sink or tub to plunge the drain. Insert the plunger at an angle and to allow the air to escape from the underside of the plunger before inserting it over the clogged drain.
  5. Create a suction with the plunger by first gently pumping the plunger up and down to ensure a seal. Once you have a firm seal, vigorously pump the plunger fully in both directions for 10 to 15 strokes before removing it to check if the drain is clear.
  6. Repeat this process at least three or four times before moving on to another strategy. Each time you use the plunger, it’s likely you’re loosening the debris that is causing the stoppage.

Tips for Clearing Clogged Drains with a Liquid Drain Cleaner

Liquid and chemical drain cleaners are often helpful for preventing clogs, as well as removing restrictions and blockage in the drain line. The most important consideration when using liquid and chemical cleaners is to read and understand the manufacturer’s instructions before using the product.

Not only does the manufacturer’s instructions point out how to safely use the product, they often contain critical steps to follow both before, and during, the use of the product to better ensure success when using the cleaner. Here are some guidelines to follow anytime a liquid drain cleaner is used:

  • Do not use a plunger in combination with a chemical drain cleaner. The caustic material can be splashed back on you while plunging a drain containing the chemical.
  • Wear gloves and safety glasses or goggles when using a liquid or chemical drain cleaner. Some of the more powerful cleaners will react with the blockage in the drain and can spew back onto your skin or eyes.

Use these cleaners just as if you were handling battery acid – although it is not as caustic as battery acid.

  • If the drain is completely clogged and doesn’t drain at all, avoid using chemical cleaners when the fixture is holding water above the drain. Liquid cleaner, despite some advertisements, will not effectively reach the drain through the water, and will only add to the problem.
  • Never look down the drain while pouring liquid or chemical cleaner into it. Even after pouring cleaner into the stopped up drain, allow the chemical to work before peering into the drain to see if the clog is clear. The chemical, while reacting to the clog, can splash back into your eyes.

Almost all chemical and liquid drain openers and cleaners available over-the-counter today are safe to use. Most, while aggressive on clogs and dirt when first introduced into a drain, become inert and harmless after a short time. Many of the chemicals used in drain cleaners in years passed that posed a hazard to the environment, are either no longer available, or they are only available to licensed plumbers.