Closeup of a plunger being used for unclogging the sink

How to Unclog a Sink

A clogged sink is one of the most common plumbing problems encountered by homeowners all over the world. Whether it’s the bathroom sink, the kitchen sink, or some other type of sink in your house, the inconvenience it causes pushes us to find a solution as quickly as possible.

It is important to understand that not all cases of clogged sinks are alike and though most DIY solutions seem harmless, some of them carry risks of damage to your plumbing – damages that can be seen immediately or through time.

This is why we’ve put together this comprehensive guide – to tackle the most common DIY solutions circulating out there, how they work, and if they should have any warning labels on them.

You probably have a sink to get unclogged ASAP – so let’s get started!

Closeup of water flowing into a drain

Why is My Sink Clogged Anyway

You may already have an idea of what could be clogging your sink based on how the sink is used in your house. But just to make sure that all possibilities are considered, we’ve listed the most common causes of clogged sink drains.

Hair

Along with this category, we can also include animal fur since both are made of keratin and are both string-like. Hair and fur can knot and combine with other substances like grease or soap and then attach to parts of the drain, causing a clog.

Soap

Soap residue, also known as soap scum, can accumulate over time on the walls of the pipes, reducing the pipe’s diameter. Alternatively, a small bar of soap can be dropped into the drain and be stuck, resulting in a clog.

Dirt

After a day of gardening, you may be tempted to wash your tools and gloves on the sink but watch out – because dirt can either build up by itself or contribute to a clog that is already forming from other substances.

Mineral Buildup

If the water is hard in the area where you live, a mineral buildup could be causing your clogged sink. This is the only clog on the list that cannot be dislodged by DIY – whether safely or not. For a situation like this, the pipes will need to be descaled or replaced by an expert plumber.

Oil, Grease and Fat

Oil, grease, and fat can cling to and solidify on the pipes, causing blockages. This is a very common experience with kitchen sinks.

Food Waste

Even with a garbage disposal, food waste can still clog up the pipes from time to time – whether by themselves by adhering to other substances like grease. It is important to note that some food such as coffee grounds and tea leaves are particularly problematic because they don’t break down.

Small Objects

Washing small objects over unprotected sink drains is an accident waiting to happen. When the object is dropped into the drain, it can cause a clog – which could be a good thing if ever it was an item of value and now, it can be recovered – but it will still cause or contribute to a clog.

Is it Safe to DIY Unclog my Own Sink?

Let’s face it. Nothing is more tempting than a DIY quick-fix. It seemingly saves time and money – but this could be a matter of luck. Perhaps you can select a few likely candidates from the causes of clogged sinks that we’ve listed in the previous section but this is still not conclusive.

At the end of the day, it’s guesswork and this may well be the first risk associated with any DIY plumbing endeavour. You’re operating in the dark. And some DIY methods, on top of possibly not giving you the results you want, may carry some risks of damaging your pipes. We’ll talk more about that in the next section.

What are the Popular DIY Methods of Unclogging a Sink?

A bit of a disclaimer before we begin. Here, we cover popular DIY methods to unclog a sink. This, however, does not mean they are all effective.

1. Plunger

When used right, a small plunger used over the sink’s drain can help loosen various types of clogs. Simply place the small plunger tightly over the drain and plunge it until you hear the sweet sound of a loosened clog. Oftentimes, this can be enough to unclog the sink.

Mode of attack: mechanical
Usually used for: Hair, soap, food waste, small objects, dirt, oil/grease/fat

2. Manually Cleaning the P-Trap

The clog could be an outward sign that the p-trap, located at the curve of the drainpipe under the sink, needs cleaning. To do this, you will need to unfasten the p-trap, remove the clog manually and put it back. The downside to this is that it’s a lot of work and it still does not guarantee that the problem is solved – especially if more clogs are found deeper in the pipes.

Mode of attack: mechanical
Usually used for: Hair, soap, food waste, small objects, dirt, oil/grease/fat

3. Coat Hanger

Some homeowners say that the coat hanger can be shaped in a way that it can be used as a homemade plumber’s snake. It would definitely not reach as far though, but it can be long enough to release some clogs. However, this method can damage the pipes and even cause more problems if the reshaped coat hanger gets stuck.

Mode of attack: mechanical
Usually used for: Hair, food waste, dirt

4. Boiling Water

This is an easy DIY that many homeowners try out first. Simply pour boiling water (not just hot water) down the drain. However, it is only mildly effective towards soap scum. And it is not really efficient at removing oil/grease/fat. But some swear by this method if you have the patience to do it over and over.

But here’s a warning: don’t use this if you have PVC pipes as the heat can cause the joints to become loose.

Mode of attack: physical
Usually used for: Oil grease fat, soap

5. Baking Soda and Vinegar

Let’s get this one out of the way. It simply does not work. None of these chemicals, by themselves, are even strong enough to erode clogs. And moreover, when put together, they neutralize each other’s pH levels. You may find this on many blogs and articles but save yourself the time and the supplies.

Mode of attack: chemical
Usually used for: hair, soap (but does not work at all)

6. Drain Cleaner

We don’t need to explain that drain cleaners can definitely clear up various types of clogs. However, it comes at a price as these products will damage your pipes over time.

Mode of attack: chemical
Usually used for: Hair, food waste, dirt, oil/grease/fat

7. Prevention

Prevention is always better than cure. Protect the drain of your sink from solid debris and be mindful of what chemicals you toss into the sink. The only clog types that this may NOT save you from are soap build-ups (because we all use soap) and of course, mineral buildups – because that happens by itself if you live in a hard water area.

Closeup of someone using baking soda to unclog a drain

When Do I Need to Call in the Experts & What’s the Difference if I Do?

As much as possible. It’s better to call in expert plumbers no matter how small the plumbing concern may be. Plumbers have the tools and experience to zero in on problems more efficiently. For example, what if it’s a mineral deposit causing the clog? Only a trained plumber will be able to tell, as well as be able to offer a solution for it.

And no matter how bad the clog may be, plumbers have the tools and expertise to deal with it completely whilst causing no damage to your pipes. DIY can acutely or gradually damage your pipes and the cost for the repairs would be far greater.

Where can I get expert help?

1st Rooter Plumbing is a leading provider of quick and reliable service for residential, commercial, and emergency plumbing concerns. Contact us today for professional plumbing help to fix your clogged sink.