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How to Fix a Blocked Drain

plumber wearing blue fixing blocked drain in the kitchen with a plumbing snake, watched by a lady

Blocked drains are up the top of the list when it comes to annoying home problems. From the awful drain smell to showers that turn into shallow baths, it's a little more than just inconvenient. Left untreated for too long, you risk bigger plumbing problems than just a blocked drain.

Thankfully, blocked drains are generally preventable, you just need to be wary of what goes down your drains. We're listing the most common causes of blocked drains as well as how to fix a blocked drain when you find yourself with one.

Causes of a Blocked Drain

plumber using orange wrench to tighten stainless steel drain pipe under bathroom sink

Your drains are only equipped to handle a select few things - water, and the three Ps (pee, poo, and toilet paper). Anything outside of this has the potential to cause a drain blockage.

Here are 15 of the most common causes of a blocked drain that you might have thought were safe to go down the drain include:

  • fat
  • oil
  • grease
  • food scraps
  • hair
  • tissues
  • paper towel
  • flushable wipes
  • baby wipes
  • cotton wool
  • cotton buds
  • soap
  • tree roots
  • cat litter
  • foreign objects.

Most of these are entirely preventable with just a little work. Using a drain cover or drain protector can stop food from entering your kitchen sink and can stop hair from going down the shower drain. Items such as flushable wipes, cotton buds, and cat litter shouldn't be going down your drain in the first place and should be disposed of in the bin.

Some blockages are completely out of your control, unfortunately, and this is where you need to step in.

How to Clear a Blocked Drain - DIY

plumber wearing blue overalls replacing kitchen sink drain pipe with tools next to him

If you've found yourself with a sink that's draining slowly or is suffering from regular gurgling sounds, chances are you have a clogged drain. Good news! You can often deal with minor drain blockages yourself with a DIY method.

Reach In and Grab It

A hands-on approach is often the best way to deal with solid blockages. Literally. Make sure to wear gloves and simply reach in and pull out the cause of the blocked drain.

It's unpleasant, we know. But just take a deep, calming breath and go for it. Wash your hands after the deed is done and you're back to free-flowing water again in no time.

Plunger

A simple but effective way to unblock your drain is with the classic plunger. A toilet plunger can make quick work of whatever is blocking your toilet when used correctly and eliminate the need for a plumber entirely in many cases.

DIY Baking Soda and Vinegar Recipe

Natural cleaners like this baking soda-vinegar recipe can break through that tough soap or grease build-up while still being gentle on your drain. Follow these seven steps to freshen your drain with these easy, at-home ingredients.

  1. Run hot water down your drain for a few minutes.
  2. Pour one cup of baking soda down your drain.
  3. Pour one cup of white vinegar down the drain.
  4. Close the drain plug or cover the drain with a makeshift cover.
  5. Leave this reaction to sit for 10-30 minutes.
  6. Pour boiling water down the drain slowly to flush out any remaining debris.
  7. Repeat if necessary.

This fizzing chemical reaction helps to dislodge and move whatever is causing the blockage.

Commercial Drain Cleaner

When the natural method hasn't worked, sometimes you just need to pull out the big guns. Chemical drain cleaners can make quick work of whatever is blocking your drain.

When using a store-bought drain cleaner, make sure to follow the directions entirely. Used incorrectly, these products can seriously damage your pipes, leaving you with a bigger problem than just a blocked drain.

Makeshift Drain Snake

If a DIY drain cleaning solution or chemical drain cleaner hasn't done the trick, you can DIY a drain snake to unblock a drain. This is especially useful for shower drains blocked by soap, hair, and other shower products.

All you need is a wire coat hanger, some pliers, a rag, tape, gloves, and a bucket. Unwind the coat hanger and straighten it as much as you can using the pliers. Shape one end into a hook shape and tape a rag around it to prevent it from scratching your pipes.

While wearing gloves, insert the hook end down the drain and use it to pull out the blockage. Have a bucket handy to toss whatever you pull out the drain into.

How to Unblock a Drain - Plumber

plumber using orange wrench to tighten stainless steel drain pipe under bathroom sink

For more severe blockages, you will need to call a professional plumber to clear your drain.  DIY methods can only go so far and you risk making matters worse by attempting more advanced techniques.

Not only that, but all the above methods only solve the immediate problem. They don't address the root cause of the problem, leaving you susceptible to future blockages.

CCTV Drain Cameras

A plumber can come out and assess your drain with a CCTV drain camera. This is a camera they insert into your drain used to provide a visual inspection of what is blocking it and even the condition of your plumbing. While not a solution in itself, this can help to determine the best course of action.

Plumber's Snake

For particularly stubborn blockages,  a plumber can use an electric eel, also known as a drain snake. This is an advanced tool that can cut through tree roots and major blockages with ease. Used incorrectly, it could damage your pipes, so this tool is best left in the experienced hands of a professional.

Hydro Jet Drain Cleaner

Hydro jet drain cleaning is another effective tool that cuts away the debris and buildup in your pipes. Using high-pressure water, your pipes are often left cleaner than they were before the blockage.

Pipe Relining and Excavation

Depending on the cause of your blockage, you might need a section of pipe repaired or replaced. This can either be done via excavation where the pipe is dug up and physically replaced by a team of plumbers.

Alternatively, pipe relining can be used to repair the section of pipe from the inside out, no major dig up needed.

The next time you find yourself with a blocked drain, you'll be sure to clear it with one of these easy methods. When in doubt, always call a plumber. While a blocked drain can be a stressful experience, a DIY mishap that leaves you with a worse problem will be even worse.

Adriana Aziz is the operations manager at MaidForYou. With over 6 years of experience managing cleaning operations, she knows all the best hacks when it comes to cleaning residential and commercial buildings. With expert experience in managing house cleaning operations, interior design and logistics. She spends her free time with her family and as a freelance food critic.

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