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How To Plumbing Series: Understanding Clogs pt 2

How To Plumbing Series: Understanding Clogs pt 2

See the first post for a brief introduction on this How To Plumbing Series. In the first two installments of the How To Plumbing Series we looked at plumbing emergencies and toilets, including stopping an overflowing toilet, unclogging a toilet, and using a plunger and closet auger.

In the current series we are examining Water Leaks and the DWV (drain, waste, and vent) system to better understand clogs and what to do about them.

How To Unclog a Kitchen Sink Drain

The big difference between the kitchen sink drain and other drains in the house is the addition of a garbage disposer.

The kitchen sink has a drain at the bottom of each basin, assuming it’s a sink with two basins.

  • One drain typically leads to the garbage disposer and then on to the drain pipe.
  • The other basin has a strainer to stop debris, water bypasses the disposer and goes straight to the drain pipe.
  • If you have a dishwasher, it typically connects to an air gap mounted above the sink and then on to the garbage disposer.

A slow drain in the kitchen can often be resolved by running the garbage disposer.

  • If the water begins draining from the sink, turn on hot water and let the disposer run for 30-60 seconds, long enough to grind up the waste and move it through the drain pipe.
  • If the disposer makes no sound, it may need to be reset by pressing the reset button on the bottom, underside of the disposer.
  • If the disposer makes a sound but won’t turn, turn it off and use the manual crank wrench that came with the disposer. Most homeowners forget what they do with this, so a quarter-inch Allen wrench will also work to turn the impeller.
  • Remove the wrench and try the disposer again.

If this does not work, the clog may be more severe and you may need to call a Decatur AL or Hartselle AL plumber or plumbing company. However, most of the time you will be able to dislodge any clog.

Avoid Using Chemicals

If you still have a clogged sink, you might reach for the unclogging chemicals.


Some chemicals can damage pipes, the environment, or you if there is splash back. If you have to work on a drain after a chemical has been added, it makes the work harder and more hazardous. Additionally, most chemical drain cleaners don’t work that well.

Running hot water through the drain is the best way to keep them clear.

If you absolutely must use chemicals, use them sparingly and infrequently. Don’t pour the whole bottle down the drain. Don’t use them every time there is a slow draining sink. Try other means first.

Other Clogs

  • If water does not drain from the sink with the disposer, the clog is in the disposer or in the pipe immediately after it.
  • If the basin with the disposer drains but the other sink does not, a small clog is in the section of pipe leading from the strainer to the drain pipe.
  • If neither side will drain, then the clog is probably in the “P” trap or farther along in the drain pipe.
  • If the clog is affecting other fixtures, such as a bathroom or laundry room, then the clog is more serious and located in a branch drain line or main drain.

More serious clogs should be addressed from clean outs designed to give access to branch and main drains. These are typically found outside or under the home. While homeowners can certainly take care of the clean outs, some may prefer not to deal with the messy clogs and call a Decatur or Hartselle plumber instead.

Handling Local Clogs

If you believe the clog is local to the sink, you can use a plunger, a closet auger or a blow bag to grind or push out a stubborn clog. We’ve covered using plungers, closet augers, and blow bags in previous posts.

How To Unclog a Bath Tub

A bathtub has a drain with a strainer and either a stopper at the bottom or a drain control lever above the drain at the overflow outlet.

The strainer blocks large objects from going down the drain. However, small objects — especially hair and small bits of soap — can end up in the drain.

The strainer tends to snag hair and is often the cause of a slow or gurgling drain. Cleaning out the strainer and removing the accumulation of hair will resolve many slow or clogged drains.

Clogs can also occur below the strainer.

  • To get at a clog a short distance down the drain, remove the strainer.
  • Typically the strainer is held in place with a single screw. Be careful, it is easy to drop the screw down the drain. Covering the drain with a couple pieces of tape or a washcloth can help guard against losing the screw.
  • If the tub has a built-in stopper, it may be a twist and lift or it may have to be unscrewed to remove (unscrew it counter-clockwise).
  • If you have added any chemical drain cleaners, wear gloves, long sleeves, and eye protection (to protect again smash back) and flood the drain with water before attempting to clear the drain.

One popular item in any Decatur or Hartselle plumber’s toolbox is the inexpensive Zip-It! tool. It’s a long rigidly-flexible plastic strip with barbs down each side and is remarkably effective at removing hairy clogs.

If showers or tubs in your home suffer from frequent hairy, soap-scum clogs, leave a Zip-It! in each bathroom (they are only about $4 at Decatur or Hartselle home improvement centers, hardware stores, or plumbing supplies) and use it when you clean to prevent build up. It’s that easy.

If you don’t have a Zip-It!, use the twisty-end of a wire coat hanger in a pinch, although it will not be as flexible and efficient as the jagged-edge Zip-It!

Whatever tool you use, fish it down into and through the clog. Twist the tool repeatedly — it’s like winding spaghetti onto a fork — and then pull out. Repeat as necessary.

Lever Control

If your tub has a lever control above the drain with a pop-up style plug, the mechanism inside the drain tends to snag hair and small bits of soap. Removing and cleaning it may help.

  • Simply pull up on the drain plug and jiggle it while pulling it gently up and out of the drain.
  • The entire mechanism is about six to eight inches long. Clean all the gunk off of it and put it back into the drain.
  • To put it back, insert the tip into the drain and jiggle it back into place. Be sure to orient in the same position it was in when it came out.

Using Chemicals

As we already stated in this post and elsewhere, avoid using chemicals to dislodge clogs. They’re OK for small clogs and occasional use, but most of the time you’re just throwing money down the drain and possibly damaging the pipes in the process.

Using Plungers

As with toilets and bathroom and kitchen sinks, you can also use bathtub plungers.

  • Fill the tub with enough water to cover the drain and place the plunger cup over the drain.
  • Quickly press and release the plunger for twenty seconds.
  • If the water in the tub starts draining normally, then the clog has been pushed out. If instead you hear air, or gurgling coming from the overflow when you press the plunger, then the clog is probably deeper in the drain and will require a drain snake or blow bag to clear.
  • If you are unable to dislodge the clog with any of these methods, call a Decatur or Hartselle plumber who will have professional-grade tools to make quick work of the clog.

A drain snake can be inserted down the tub drain in some cases, but it is better to go down through the overflow outlet.

  • Remove the cover to the overflow, and pull out the drain linkage if you have a lever control.
  • Insert the snake into the overflow opening an extend it into the drain.
  • Crank the snake to clear the clog and then retract the snake.
  • Run some water to make sure the drain is clear and reinstall the linkage and overflow cover.


Issues with various plumbed appliances such as disposers, dishwashers, and washing machines.