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DIY Fixes for Your Apartment: How to Unclog All Types of Drains

By Rebecca Ngu | July 18, 2016 11:18am
 Unclogging a drain, whether belonging to a bathtub, toilet, or sink, can be an easy, DIY fix. Drain sticks, plungers, chemical cleaners, and metal augers are all possible tools for unclogging drains.
Unclogging a drain, whether belonging to a bathtub, toilet, or sink, can be an easy, DIY fix. Drain sticks, plungers, chemical cleaners, and metal augers are all possible tools for unclogging drains.
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MANHATTAN — Sometimes you just can't wait for the plumber to show up. For those situations, we've compiled a list of tips on how to do-it-yourself.

For sink and bathtub/shower drains

Nathaniel Garber, owner of Garber Hardware, a West Village family-run hardware store established in 1884, advised to start the process with a plastic drain stick.

Drain sticks — also called snares or plastic snakes — are straight, barbed plastic sticks about two feet long that root out clogs at a short distance. They're great beginning tools: affordable ($5 - $10), gentler on the pipes compared to metal snakes, less corrosive than chemicals, and usually effective in rooting out gunk.

plastic drain stick

Credit: Amazon/Cobra Enterprises

Due to their short length, drain sticks can only dislodge clogs near the beginning of the drain — around one foot from the top. Most clogs, Garber said, tend to form in the early section of drains anyway. 

If that doesn't work, a plunger is a simple but effective tool. However, beware of potentially provoking a reverse flow and regurgitating the sludge up to your basin. 


Credit: Shutterstock

If you've tried a drain stick and plunge to no avail, the problem may lie deeper within and may only be fixed with chemicals or a metal snake, also called an auger.

If you get to this point, Garber recommended using a chemical cleaner first. There are two kinds you can use based on what kind of clog you have. If the drain is clogged enough to cause standing water, use a moderate cleaner like Drano that is — and this is the key — heavier than water. If the cleaner weren't heavier than water, it wouldn’t sink but mingle with the water, resulting in a stagnant pool of acid water in your basin.

pouring drano

Credit: Expotv.com/Drano

If there’s no standing water, you’re safe to use more hardcore cleaners that are aren’t as heavy as water.

Ask a hardware store manager about the heaviness of different chemical cleaners. Either way, be safe and make sure you follow the instructions from each cleaner. Wear gloves and use the cleaner in a well-ventilated area. 

If you’ve gone through a bottle of Drano and still haven’t fixed your clog, more chemicals probably won’t help.

But don't throw in the towel yet — you still have options. 

If you're working with a sink clog, take the plumbing apart to identify and remove the clog. While this may operation may seem beyond your humble expertise,  Garber recommended it as an easy process (the plumbing parts are generally standard-sized and easily replaceable) that is gentler than snaking with a metal auger and requires only a solid pair of pliers. (Channel Locks are a popular brand.)

Using your hands and pliers when necessary, pull apart the plumbing. Look here for more detailed instructions. Look to see where the clog is located. If the pipes are all clear, then you know the problem must lie behind the wall deep in the system.


taking apart plumbing

Credit: Lowes 

Finally, you can try your hand at snaking a long, metal auger down the pipes as far as possible. These snakes are generally a dozen feet or longer, more than enough distance to reach a clog. If you're working on a tub clog, Garber advised against snaking an auger, saying that it's essentially a "fool's errand" because a tub's plumbing features "immediate, 90 degree turns" impossible for a snake to navigate. 

If a metal snake doesn't work, it's plumber time. 

metal auger

Credit: Youtube/This Old House

To avoid clogs happening in the first place, it's a good idea to invest in an inexpensive strainer to place at the top of your drain that catches all hair or food stuffs that may fall in. 

snaking a toilet

Credit: The Home Depot

For toilets
Unclogging toilets is more straightforward. “Plunge, plunge, plunge,” Garber said, jokingly referring to himself as “plunger evangelical.”

If plunging is ineffective, he recommended using a specific toilet snake that is partially enclosed with rubber, so that the metal doesn’t scrape the toilet’s porcelain and leave permanent, unsightly marks. As with all snakes, wind it as far as it’ll go, and swivel it around until it hopefully dislodges the gunk.

snaking a toilet

Credit: Youtube/cookiedog2010