Unclog Sink Drains The Right Way

I wish I could unclog sink drains with a plunger. Tools like a “plumbers helper” (you call it a toilet plunger or a sink plunger) are found in most homes. If they were truly effective, you wouldn't need to call your plumber to unclog a sink with a power tool. The same applies to chemical drain cleaners and (unfortunately) to natural drain cleaners. They just aren't effective to unclog sink or tub drains most of the time.

Here's why. For the most part, it's hair that's clogging a sink or tub drain. Hair doesn't adhere to the inside of smooth-wall pipes like ABS or PVC, so those pipes don't usually plug-up with hair. Coarse-wall pipe, like cast iron and galvanized iron, DOES catch hair readily. A vigorous plunging won't loosen it from its position.

Instead the plunging action causes the normal slime of soap scum and skin on the interior of the pipe wall to come loose. It will drop down the drain further, and completely plug the drain at the original hair plug. Thus that slow drain that was a nuisance becomes a totally stopped drain that is an emergency. For this reason I don't recommend using a toilet or sink plunger on your bathroom sink, tub, and shower drains.

Another common way to unclog a sink is with chemical drain cleaners. Hair is protein, it won't dissolve with boiling water, lye, or soda. Hair may be digested with the enzymes found in a natural drain cleaner, but I don't have any to recommend. Frankly I haven't done the research because I own a drain snake and I use it. If you're going to try to unclog a sink or bathtub with a chemical or natural drain cleaner, do it while the drain still works at least a little. That way the chemical will be drawn past the clog instead of pooling in the sink.

As a plumber, my biggest problem with drain chemicals is that if they don't work, you then call the plumber. I get to use my drain snake and have to deal with everything coming up from the drain of your clogged sink. The caustic chemicals soak into my cable drum. And I risk getting splashed all over with those chemicals. It's not a pretty picture!

Ultimately it's your choice how you try to unclog a sink or other drain. But if you do use any drain cleaner in a drain and then call a plumber because it didn't work, please tell the plumber before he or she begins to work. Then they can put on whatever safety gear they carry for that purpose.

In this Plumbing Geek's opinion, using a drain snake or drain auger is the best way to clear a drain. It's always faithful to clear hair from a drain, even if it takes a couple of tries. It's a relatively inexpensive plumbing tool that deserves to be in your tool closet.

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