Good drain maintenance and the use of drain strainers can prevent the majority of clogs, however, clogging is inevitability for the vast majority of drains and pipes. While the most serious clogs can require the attention of a professional, more common obstructions can usually be cleared in a few minutes with the right tools at hand.
Most minor clogs are due to pipes becoming choked with food, soap, hair or other household byproducts and this type of clog is the easiest to dislodge. Fill the basin of the fixture halfway with warm water, then position a plunger over the drain. Work the plunger up and down a few times to force air into the pipe. If the blockage is cleared, you will hear a gurgling sound from within the pipe and the drain will quickly clear.
More persistent clogs are usually caused by blockages in the U-bend, or the water-filled trap beneath kitchen sinks, baths and other fixtures. To clear an obstructed U-bend, simply place a bucket beneath the pipe to catch any trapped water, then unscrew the retaining caps to detach the U-bend from the remaining pipe work. Empty the water into the bucket, then use a length of wire to extract the obstructing debris from the pipe. Flush the U-bend with soap and water, then return it to the fixture.
If your pipes are still clogged after plunging and clearing the U-bend, the blockage is probably rooted more deeply in your pipe work. In cases like this, plumbers often use a tool known as a drain snake, a flexible length of steel attached to a handle. Drain snakes are available in a variety of lengths, although a 25-foot auger should be adequate for most household clogs.
To clear pipes with a drain snake, feed the wire into the drain while twirling it in your hand to help it reach the blockage more easily. When you have reached the obstruction, start gently pulling the drain snake upward to break it up. If this method does not work after the first few attempts, the blockage is too deep to reach and requires professional attention.
Many laundry rooms, basements and other areas prone to moisture contain floor drains to carry away excess water. Over time these drains can become clogged with material that flows down the drain with water. A clog significant enough to block a floor drain is likely very solid and deeply rooted, and requires a special kind of drain snake called a power auger. Power augers deliver the added muscle the professionals need to break up the toughest clogs, and can usually be rented from home supply stores.
To use a power auger, feed the cable into the drain until the blockage is reached, then activate the motor to agitate the obstruction. Continue to push the cable into the pipe until there is resistance or strain on the motor, then reverse the rotation and slowly pull the cable out of the drain a few feet. Repeat this process until the blockage is cleared, then flush the pipe with several buckets of the hottest water available. Be sure to replace the clean-out plug when you’re finished to prevent the escape of sewer gases.
A clogged pipe can be a frustrating experience, but is not beyond a quick repair for most homeowners. Although the most severe cases should be addressed by a licensed plumber, clearing a clogged pipe of debris only requires equal parts effort, patience and preparedness in the vast majority of cases.