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How to Unclog a Sink

No more greasy residue.

We all know that icky feeling when you’re doing the dishes and the water doesn’t drain. You leave it for a while but return to a thick layer of gross residue covering your sink.

In these circumstances, it’s good to know how to unclog a sink.

Unclogging a sink isn’t rocket science, and anyone can do it using tools already in your home. We’ve gathered ten methods for you today, so let’s get cleaning.

How to Unclog a Sink

Boiling Water

The simplest and least expensive method is good old boiling water. Try this first, and if it doesn’t do the job, move on to something else. Here’s what you do:

1. Boil Water

Fill your kettle and bring the water to a boil.

2. Drain Your Sink

While the water is coming to a boil, try to drain your sink. If the water doesn’t go down, unscrew the drain trap underneath the sink. If you don’t feel comfortable doing this, use a mug or pan to bail out the water.

3. Pour the Boiling Water

Once the sink is clear, pour in the boiling water — aim for the drain. If it doesn’t drain, let it cool and then remove it to repeat the process.

Be Cautious

If you have a porcelain sink or PVC pipes, take caution when using boiling water. For porcelain sinks, you must aim for the drain — otherwise, it could tarnish the material.

Boiling Water and Salt

After you’ve emptied the sink, pour half a cup of salt into the drain. Let it sit for a few minutes, and then flush it down with boiling water by repeating the same steps as above. You don’t need coarse salt; regular table salt will do.

Salt and Baking Soda

1. Prepare Your Mix

Combine half a cup of salt with one cup of baking soda. Use regular table salt.

2. Apply to Drain

Pour the mixture down the drain. Make sure that everything goes in. Then let it sit for several hours (no less than two).

3. Flush

Bring water to a running boil, and then pour it into the drain to flush out the mix. Depending on the blockage, you may have to repeat this process a few times.

Vinegar and Baking Soda

1. Apply Baking Soda

Pour a cup of baking soda into the drain. If there’s water in the sink, remove it first.

2. Pour Vinegar

Once the baking soda is in place, pour down the drain an equal amount of either white or apple cider vinegar. The solution will bubble at first, but then it settles.

3. Flush

Wait 15 minutes before you open the hot water tap to flush away the blockage. Use boiling water if the clog is stubborn.

Unscrew Drain Trap

1. Locate Your Drain Trap

The drain trap is easy to locate under the sink. It sits at the curve by the drainpipe inside the cabinet.

2. Unscrew the P-Trap

Get your bucket ready underneath the p-trap. Unscrew it until it comes off. Rinse the p-trap under running water, preferably in another sink.

3. Flush the Drain

Empty the catch bucket and reposition it under the sink. Pour a kettle or two full of boiling water into the drain. If the water doesn’t clear the blockage, use a tool to try and push it out.

4. Refasten the P-Trap

When you’re happy that the drain is clear, refasten the p-trap. Make sure it’s screwed on fully and is water-tight before you open the tap to check that the water flow is now unrestricted.


1. Prepare for Plunging

For the best results with a plunger, you must create a tight seal. Place the plunger over the drain and fill the sink with enough water to cover the plunger’s bell. With double sinks, seal off the second drain with either a towel or a stopper.

If you’re working with a bathroom sink or bathtub, remove the drain stopper and seal the overflow outlet at the top. You can use duct tape or a damp rag for this.

Which Plunger Should You Use?

There are two types of plungers available — cup or flange (toilet plunger). For bathroom and kitchen sinks, it’s best to use a cup plunger.

2. Plunge

Start plunging — you want to be firm and vigorous — and do it several times until you hear suction. This indicates that the clog has cleared.

3. Remove and Flush

Once you’ve heard the suction, remove the plunger, and quickly flush the drain with warm water. If you want, you can keep a kettle of boiling water at hand to pour in.

The clog should be clear now. If not, repeat the steps a few times. A plunger is great for clearing kitchen sinks.

Sink Auger

A sink auger, sometimes called plumber’s snake, drum or canister auger, is excellent for stubborn clogs. It can reach deep into the drain, clearing out stuck hair or debris.

1. Prepare Your Sink

Prepare your sink by removing the drain stopper if you have one. Perhaps get some water on to boil for flushing the drain afterward.

2. Apply the Auger

Place the auger cable into the drain opening and extend it down. Once you feel resistance, tighten the screw on the canister. If the blockage sits deep in the drain, open the p-trap and insert the auger from there. Then continue to extend it until you feel the clog.

3. Turn the Crank

Begin to turn the crank handle on the canister — turn it clockwise as you apply moderate pressure. It may get stuck or even bend in the drain, but keep turning. As you turn, the clog loosens and begins to break up.

Continue extending the cable until it becomes easier to turn, indicating that you’re through the blockage.

4. Pull the Cable out and Flush

Gently pull the cable out — be ready with a receptacle to catch the debris. Once it’s out, flush the drain with warm or hot water. Repeat if necessary.

Coat Hanger

If you don’t have a sink drill, a wire coat hanger can do. Make sure you can bend it to fit. It won’t reach as far as the auger, but if the clog isn’t too remote, it could work.

Start by straightening the hanger. Then insert it into the drain or stub pipe to push the clog through. Keep working with it, gliding it back and forth, and extending as far as possible.

Once you’re satisfied that the obstruction is gone, take the wire out and flush the drain with warm water. Repeat if needed. Be careful not to scratch your sink.

Wet and Dry Vacuum

A wet and dry vacuum is a possible alternative to a plunger. However, you need to create a tight seal around the drain. You can use the top of a soda bottle or even a plunger head.

Set the vacuum to its highest liquid setting and let it go to work. If the clog isn’t too far down, it should work. When you think it’s clear, flush with warm water.

Take Caution

If you don’t have a wet and dry vacuum, don’t use this method. Using a regular vacuum could lead to electrocution.

Dish Detergent

If the clog isn’t too severe, you can use dish detergent. Apply a generous amount, about half a cup, to the drain and flush with hot water. Soap acts particularly well to break blockages caused by grease.

Unclogging a Sink Using Chemicals

When the sink gets clogged, it’s easy to want to grab the strongest chemical you have and pour it down the drain. However, this isn’t the best idea. Chemicals aren’t good for many reasons.

Cleaning chemicals are harmful to the environment and your health if misused (1). They can also cause considerable damage to your pipes and drains. The truth is, most won’t be successful in clearing a clog — the methods above are much better.

Common Causes of Clogged Sinks

It’s generally the same sort of things that clog most domestic drains. It differs slightly, however, between the kitchen and bathroom. Here are the most common culprits:

  • Food.
  • Grease.
  • Hair.
  • Small objects — this is especially common in households with young children.

It’s essential to flush drains regularly to prevent clogs. Do this with either boiling water or vinegar and baking soda.

If you have a kitchen garbage disposal, don’t overload it; only discard small amounts at a time. Also, avoid putting down the following:

  • Eggshells.
  • Hair.
  • Leftover food.
  • Oil, grease, fats — also those from cars and lawnmowers.
  • Condoms.
  • Rags.
  • Paper towels.
  • Feminine hygiene products.
  • Flushable cat litter.
  • Coffee grinds.
  • Produce stickers.

Clear the Blockage

Having your sink overflow due to a clogged drain isn’t fun. It leaves a greasy residue behind that’s enough to make you run the other way.

Unfortunately, blockages occur now and then in almost every home. Therefore, knowing how to unclog a sink is an essential skill for every householder.

Thankfully, however, there’s plenty of methods for unclogging. Vinegar and baking soda are favorites, but for more deep-rooted blockages, use a plunger or sink auger.

Also, try to avoid getting excessive hair, food debris, and grease into the drain — use a filter to catch it. And finally, don’t overfill the garbage disposal and be wary about what you discard in it.

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About the Author

Peter Gray

Peter has been a homeowner for 35+ years and has always done his own repair and improvement tasks. As a retired plumber, Peter now spends his time teaching others how they can fix leaks, replace faucets, and make home improvements on a budget.