cat in Sink clog

The cat in your sink is the least of your issues (Source: Wavish Industries via Flickr Creative Commons)

Friends are coming over for dinner in an hour and your kitchen drain is clogged. Instead of letting a sink full of mucky water ruin your evening, give these quick do-it-yourself tricks a try. Before you get started, it’s important to note that sometimes a clog takes more than one strategy to unclog. It’s best to start with the easiest strategy and then work your way up to processes that require special tools.

Most all clog remedies have the potential to get messy so don’t wear the blouse you plan to wear at your dinner party. Be sure to have a bucket, sponge and towels close by.

Drain Solution Basics: Vinegar and Soda

A couple of items from your pantry may help clear your drain without the use of a harsh chemical cleaner. This tactic works best on sluggish drains and is less effective with those that are completely clogged or backed up.

Start by pouring a half-cup of baking soda down the drain followed by a half-cup of white distilled vinegar. Seal the drain with a stopper or wet cloth and let the reaction between the acidic vinegar and the alkaline baking soda loosen any debris in the drain. After 5 to 10 minutes, flush with hot water. If this doesn’t work the first time, repeat the process.

Take the Plunge: How to Plunge Your Drain

Plungers are sold at any hardware store or home center. To effectively plunge, you’ll want to start by filling the sink with about four inches of water. If you have a double sink, use a strainer to seal the other sink bowl or block the other drain opening with a wet rag.

Plunge by rolling the rubber head of the plunger into the water so you force water, not air, into the drain. Pump vigorously for several minutes or until water begins to run down the drain.

The Nuts and Bolts: How to Clean the Trap

Take a deep breath. This one isn’t as gross or difficult as you might imagine.

Start by placing an empty bucket under the U-shaped pipe (called “the trap”) beneath the sink. The bucket will collect the water and debris that will spill. Using a plumber’s wrench, loosen the slip nuts at both ends of the pipe. To protect the finish on metal slip nuts, wrap tape around the jaws of your wrench or pliers. If your trap is plastic, it’s likely you can turn the slip nuts by hand.

When the trap is free, remove it and turn it upside down, emptying the contents into the bucket. You may also need to fish around inside it for debris, and do the same with the pipes that were holding it. An old toothbrush is good for getting the tough gunk out. Rinse the trap with hot water and then put it all back together, being careful not to overtighten the slip nuts.

All About the Auger: How to Snake the Drain

If the clog persists even after plunging and trap cleaning, you may need to use a drain auger – also known as a snake – to clear the clog. Available through home improvement and hardware stores, a plumber’s snake is a slender, coiled metal auger.

If you already have the trap removed, you can insert the snake directly into the waste line and rotate the crank on the hand auger so that it pushes the cable into the pipe until it reaches the clog. Turn the handle clockwise to dig the tip into the clog; continue to push and pull the cable through the obstruction to break it up.

Pull the snake back out, cleaning the cable with a rag as you retrieve it. Reinstall the P-trap and run water to test the drain.

Tips on How to Prevent a Clog in Your Sink

Once your drain is flowing again, take steps to ensure it remains clog-free.

Be careful about what you put into your drains, taking note to avoid major culprits such as cooking grease, coffee grounds, hair and soap scum.

Give your drains some extra love by running hot water after each use. Hot water keeps oils running down the drain rather than building up in your pipes.