woman using baking soda to unclog a sink

Can I Unblock a Drain Myself?

If you’ve noticed a horrible smell in your home, particularly around any of your drains, or if you’re struggling with a particularly slow drain, you might be dealing with a blocked drain.

This can be a real irritation and can make your bathroom/kitchen uncomfortable to be in and around.

kitchen counter with clogged sink, plunger and plumber's tools

How often do you need to unblock a drain?

You should be cleaning your drains at least once a week. This involves using a chemical cleaner or a homemade drain cleaner and flushing the system with very hot water to remove blockages, potential blockages, and debris.

If you don’t clean your drains often, you may find yourself having to unblock them regularly.

Sometimes, even when you clean your drains regularly, you’ll find that you still have to unblock your drain on a semi-regular basis. This might mean that you have an issue with your pipes that needs being looked at by a professional plumber.

Often, if the ground has moved since the pipes were laid, they become unsettled and might be in a position that is particularly prone to blockages.

What causes a blocked drain?

There are many things that can lead to drain blockages on outside drains and indoor drains, says Rider Drains Cleaning & Repairs .

Common causes of blocked drains are:

  • A foreign object
  • Fat or grease
  • Soap scum and detergent
  • Product residue
  • Food particles
  • Outdoor debris
  • Hair
  • Sewage

Which one is likely to have clogged your drain depends on which drain it is that is blocked.

External drains are more likely to be clogged by foreign objects like bird feathers and other outdoor debris, whereas a toilet drain is most likely to be blocked by toilet paper, sewage and hair.

Your kitchen drain is likely to suffer from fat, grease, and food particles clogging the drain pipes.

How can you unblock a drain yourself?

Often, you can unblock drains at home on your own. There are a range of ways to unblock drains, but which method you pursue depends on where the drain is and what is likely to be causing the blockage.

Natural methods

These are by far the easiest and least disgusting methods of unblocking a drain. It involves minimal mess and can usually be done with things that you just have sitting in your pantry.

These methods work best on organic blockages, such as hair products, hair, sewage, soap scum, food, and grease.

Baking soda and vinegar

Baking soda, or sodium bicarbonate, when combined with vinegar produces a chemical reaction. The reaction fizzes aggressively, and when this mixture is poured down a drainpipe, it breaks up the blockage in your sink, outside kitchen drain, shower, or toilet.

Disrupting the blockage allows whatever is causing it to be washed away down the pipe, or if need be, fished out of the drain using a drain snake.

To try this method, pour a half cup of baking soda down your drain and then add a half cup of vinegar on top.

Leave the mixture to fizz for an hour or so—or overnight if you can. When you come back to the drain, pour very hot water down it to flush away any residue.

Boiling water

For very small blockages, boiling water is often enough to do the trick. The heat of the water melts any organic blockages, and the water itself flushes away the debris that might be caught in and around the blockage.

However, if you have PVC pipes, you should use very hot water from your sink rather than boiling water from your kettle. Boiling water may damage the pipes, causing more issues further down the line.

Store-bought drain unblocker

There are lots of different brands of drain unblocker that you can use to tackle clogged drains, however many of them are packed full of harsh chemicals which are often corrosive and can cause damage to the drain and the pipes.

Generally, unblockers are fine to use every now and then, but if you have a long-term recurring blockage, it is worth contacting a plumber rather than continuously using chemicals.

Plumbing tools

If none of the basic natural methods are working on your clogged drain, it is time to break out the big guns and really get at it.

Plumbers have a wide range of tools that they use, like a plumber’s auger, a drain snake, plungers, and drain rods for a reason. Many of these you can find online and use yourself—so long as you know how!

How to use an auger or drain snake

Drain augers are for external drain blockages and can be used on pipes ranging from 1.5 to 3 inches wide. Drain snakes are better for internal use on smaller pipes.

To use your auger or snake, place the drain auger or snake into the drain or the toilet (you will need to remove the drain cover first). As you push the snake in, rotate the handle in a clockwise direction until you encounter your clog.

The snake and auger will automatically grab the clog. When it does, pull the snake out without rotating, and the tool will bring with it any clog out of the drain chamber and pipes.

You might then want to pour boiling water down the drain to flush the system. Once done, your blocked external drain or sewage drain is now, hopefully, unblocked!

How to use a plunger

Plungers are not really designed for an outside drain. They’re much better for use on a blocked drain indoors. Sinks, showers, and toilets are usually where plungers come in handy.

To use a plunger, first prepare to get dirty. Cover your floor in newspaper or bin liners, and put on gloves and clothes you don’t care about.

Then, make sure that your plunger is covered by water but that it isn’t going to overflow when you start moving it. This might involve adding or removing water.

Place your plunger at a 45-degree angle, and gently thrust. At a 90-degree angle, keep thrusting the plunger until you wish to check your progress.

When should you call a plumber?

If you don’t feel comfortable using a drain rod insert, an auger or a plunger, and all of your natural methods seem to still leave your drain blocked, then it is time to summon a plumber to help!