All plumbing systems develop clogs—there’s simply no way to avoid it. However, most stopped-up sinks and plugged toilets can be fixed without calling in a plumber. What you need to complete the job on your own are the right tools and a little determination.

Unclogging a Toilet

A clogged toilet can be an intimidating situation and at times it take a hearty do-it-yourselfer to keep from calling in a plumber. Nonetheless, unclogging a toilet can be easy, not fun, just easy. Use a “fluted” or funnel plunger designed to seal inside a toilet bowl. Extend the fluted flap of the plunger, fit it tightly inside bowl drain to form a good seal.

Plunge up and down several time and quickly break the seal. Repeat this a few times to work the clog back and forth and eventually free it. If the clog remains, insert a closet auger into the bowl. Position the bent end of the auger into the bowl’s trap and fish the rod through until it hits the clog.

Crank the auger’s handle clockwise and push it into the clog a bit more. Once the clog is “hooked” with the spiral tip (or ball) pull the auger back and forth. Repeat these steps until the clog is freed. Avoid flushing the toilet. It may still be clogged and backup. Instead, fill the bowl with a bucket. If the water level doesn’t go down, the clog is still in the line.

Unclogging Sinks

Hair can often clog a bathroom sink and potato peels and other food waste will plug up kitchen sinks. Regardless of the obstruction, unclogging both sinks is done the same way. Place a plunger over the clogged drain. Add enough water to cover the plunger lip and form a seal. Plunge straight up and down several times and “pop” the plunger away. Repeat this method a few times to free the clog.

If the clog remains, position a bucket underneath the sink’s trap. Unscrew each end of the trap and drain the water into the bucket. Clean out any debris in the trap and if a kitchen sink has a disposer, disconnect and drain its waste line and clean out any debris. If no significant debris is found in the sink lines, the clog is located in the sink’s drain line or main waste line. A clog in the main line will also plug other drains above it, and that needs to be cleared with a sewer snake.

Using Sewer Snake

Another handy tool is a sewer “snake” or auger. It’s basically a flexible metal rod with a spiral hook or ball on the end. There are two basic snakes

  • a closet auger with bent tip made to fit in a toilet’s built in trap,
  • a drain auger which is a coiled rod or flattened metal strip.

With both augers, when the rod meets an obstruction in the line, tighten the handle and ram the snake into the clog — sometimes that’s all it takes to clear the line. Otherwise, crank the rod clockwise so the hook (or ball) snags the clog.

Back the snake off slightly, then steadily push inward again while turning the handle clockwise until the debris is solidly hooked. Firmly push the snake back and forth until the obstruction is freed. The clog may have moved a bit further down the line just to get stuck again.

So, repeat the procedure while running water and feeding out more line — all the way to the septic tank or city sewer line connection if possible. Once the clog is gone, reconnect the sink’s trap and flush the line with water. Check the connections for leaks. Run more water down the drain and monitor it a few minutes to ensure the clog is gone.

If the blockage still remains (like tree roots), you may need to rent a commercial “power” auger with a rotor or blade bit that chops up whatever is in the line.

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