Life & Style

SHOP CLASS FOR EVERYONE #49: How to Unclog a Drain

What do you do when your drain stops, well, draining?

First thing: Remember you are a powerful (wo)man. You are stronger than the clog.

Highly suggested (but not required) second thing: Blast Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” on repeat.

Third thing: Follow these steps from Sharon and David Bowers’s Shop Class for Everyone.



Tools (depending on the clog)

  • Sink plunger
  • Plumber’s snake
  • Slip-joint pliers
  • Bucket
  • Long screwdriver or wire coat hanger


  • Baking soda
  • Distilled white vinegar


Unclogging a drain is a little like solving a mystery. You want to eliminate potential culprits before calling in the big guns. So before you go nuclear on your poor drain, start out with simpler, less invasive, and less exhausting measures.


Many liquid solvents can eat away at the clog without doing too much damage to your pipes. But just to be on the safe side, first try a gentler approach: Dump at least a half-cup of baking soda into the drain and chase it with a half-cup of distilled white vinegar. Enjoy the bubbling effects for a moment, and then let it sit for a few hours before rinsing with very hot water. If this doesn’t work, try a stronger chemical solvent, like Drano or Liquid-Plumr.


If Drano didn’t do it for you, you’ll have to try a sink plunger. The trick to plunging a drain is to plug any openings other that the one you’re plunging; otherwise they act as pressure releasers. Start by jamming a wet rag into the sink’s overflow drain. Place the plunger bell over the clogged drain. Fill the clogged basin with enough water to reach at least halfway up the plunger’s bell. Form a seal over the drain and start working the plunger up and down—both pushing and pulling actions help to loosen the clog. After about a dozen pushes and pulls, remove the plunger and see what happens. If water rushes out, problem solved! If not, give it a couple more tries before escalating your efforts.


Plumber’s snake, sink auger, thingamajig—whatever you call it, it’s a twisty head on a long wire that you push into a clog and crank until the clog is clear. Start the easy way, by trying to auger the clog down through the drain itself—if the clog is high enough in the pipe, a couple of cranks should clear it. That said, many clogs will be lower in the pipe. In this case, you’ll have to auger the sink from below. If you think you’ll bump the faucet or your cat or child will delight in turning it on while you’re working, turn off the water supply at the wall. Then place a bucket beneath the curved pipe under the sink, known as the P-trap. The P-trap is help in place by friction washers and slip nuts, which you may be able to unscrew manually. If they’re too tight, it’s pliers time! Remove the P-trap and use the bucket to catch the water that drains from the pipe ends. Check to see if the clog is in the P-trap. If so, you should be able to clear it out with a long screwdriver or a wire coat hanger.


If the clog isn’t high in the pipe and it’s not in the P-trap, feed the auger wire down the pipe. The pipe that leaves your drain eventually reaches a T-joint, at which point one pipe leads farther into the drain (possibly toward the clog) and the other pipe leads up (and away from the clog). To tell the difference, listen to the wall while you feed the wire. You should be able to tell if the auger head is climbing (which you don’t want) or descending. Once you feel resistance, tighten the set screw at the front of the snake and turn the handle while pushing into the clog. Work the auger back and forth until the clog clears. If the clog proves difficult, try pushing the auger past the clog and then pulling it back through while cranking a few times. Once the clog has cleared, gently extract the snake, reassemble the P-trap, and run a substantial amount of hot water down the drain to wash away any material you scraped loose before (horror of horrors!!) it starts a whole new clog.


Hopefully one of the previous steps worked. If not, the clog must be even farther down, and if it is a clear drain you seek, follow it you must. If you can, follow the path of your pipes underneath the house, from either a basement or a crawl space. Ideally, your plumbing includes screw-off, clear-out plugs at periodic intervals, allowing you to check for clogs without removing sections of pipe. Eventually you’ll reach the house trap—a U-shaped pipe probably buried in the basement floor and marked by clear-out plugs at the top. Unscrew these plugs and try the auger. If the clog remains, we’re sorry, but it’s time to call a professional.


More About Shop Class for Everyone: Practical Life Skills in 83 Projects

Shop Class for Everyone

Did you remember your goggles?

There used to be a time when pretty much every high school offered Shop class, where students learned to use a circular saw or rewire a busted lamp- all while discovering the satisfaction of being self-reliant and doing it yourself. Shop Class for Everyone now offers anyone who might have missed this vital class a crash course in these practical life skills. Packed with illustrated step by step instructions, plus relevant charts, lists, and handy graphics, here’s how to plaster a wall, build a bookcase from scratch, unclog a drain, and change a flat tire (on your car or bike). It’s all made clear in plain, nontechnical language for any level of DIYer, and it comes with a guarantee: No matter how simple the task, doing it with your own two hands provides a feeling of accomplishment that no app or device will ever give you.


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