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Why Is My Drain Clogged and How Do I Unclog it?

There’s nothing more inconvenient than a backed up drain or clogged toilet. Typically, the cause is any one of the following:

  • Food waste, fat, oil or grease
  • Hair, dirt, or soap scum buildup
  • Too much toilet paper, wipes or foreign objects
  • Mineral buildup, tree roots, or offset pipes

Whether it’s your kitchen sink, shower, toilet or appliance, below we’ll delve into why drains clog and some DIY methods to unclog them.

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Issue #1: Food waste, fat, oil or grease

If your kitchen sink is backing up, it’s probably due to grimey buildup from cooking oils, fats and other food that’s been washed down the drain. In this case, fats and oils will start to clot which can block the way for new waste to drain– even if you run the garbage disposal.

For a quick DIY fix: Try pouring ½ a cup of dish soap down the drain and running some hot water to break up the grease.

If the clog is too stubborn and the DIY fix doesn’t seem to help, you may need to call a professional plumber.

Prevention: To avoid the hassle altogether, it’s best not to put the following foods down your drain:

  • Coffee grounds
  • Potato skins
  • Eggshells
  • “Stringy” vegetables and fruits (like banana peels, asparagus, celery, onion etc.)
  • Excess fats and oils

It’s also best to never put these items down your sink:

  • Bones
  • Fruit pits
  • Pasta
  • Rice
  • Corn husks
  • Produce stickers
  • Paint

A compost bin or trash is the best way to dispose of them.

Issue #2: Hair, dirt or soap scum buildup

Shower and bathroom drains commonly clog because of hair, soap and even dirt buildup. You might think dirt just dissolves, but it can actually clump pretty quickly, especially when combined with soap scum and knotted hair bundles.

For a quick DIY fix: Use the vinegar and baking soda method. Start by running some hot water. Then, pour about ½ cup of baking soda down the drain. Follow it with a cup of vinegar, wait 30 minutes and then run more hot water to flush it down.

Note: You don’t want to pour boiling water down the drain, as this could damage your pipes. Use warm to hot water instead.

If the drain is still clogged after a DIY attempt, you can also try using a plunger (they’re not just for toilets!). However, if all fails, consult a professional to handle it. This will prevent any long-term damage.

Prevention: To avoid clogged drains in the bathroom, purchase a hair catcher for your shower and avoid brushing your hair over the sink. Additionally, as bar soaps are often made with fats that cause excess residue, you might consider switching to a liquid variety.

Issue #3: Too much toilet paper, wipes or foreign objects

Quilted toilet paper is one of the most common reasons why a toilet drain gets clogged up, so it’s best to limit the use if you can.

For a quick fix: A plunger is a great way to unclog your toilet. If you’ve already tried to flush and the water won’t go down, place the head of the plunger over the drain hole and press down several times. Depending on how firm or quality the plunger is, you may have to press a few more times. If the drain doesn’t automatically flush, try flushing again and repeat the process until it’s gone.

If a plunger can’t do the fix, you can also purchase a drain snake from your local hardware store. However, if you’re not familiar or comfortable with how they work, you’ll want to consult a professional plumber who will likely use a snake tool to unclog the drain for you.

Prevention: In addition to limiting heavy toilet paper use, other common items you should not flush down the toilet include:

  • “Flushable” wipes (even the pre-approved kind)
  • Feminine hygiene products
  • Cotton wipes and swabs
  • Q-tips
  • Diapers
  • Kleenex
  • Nail clippings
  • Floss
  • Hair
  • Cat litter
  • Paper towels
  • Medicines

Issue #4: Mineral buildup, tree roots or offset pipes

Sometimes drains are clogged because of more serious issues that unfortunately don’t have a quick or DIY fix. Some examples include:

  • Mineral buildup - Depending on how hard your water is, mineral deposits (like calcium and magnesium) can build up over time, causing the flow of your drain to slow.
  • Tree roots - Overgrown roots can put pressure on your pipes, causing them to crack or bend.
  • Offset pipes - If you have an older home, with time and gravity the ground can shift and cause your pipes to move or break, disrupting the flow to your sewer line.

Prevention: To avoid mineral buildup, if you know that you have hard water, installing a water softener is a great way to prevent it.

However, if too much damage is present, all of the above scenarios are definitely a job for a professional plumber, as you will likely need a camera inspection and possible pipe replacement.

Need help with your clogged drain now? Contact Michael & Son today.

Schedule an appointment online and we’ll get one of our licensed professionals out to you ASAP. With 24/7 emergency support and most drains cleared the same day, it’s no secret why we’ve earned 3,000+ five star reviews. See our drain clearing page for more details.

Select services are not available at all locations. Contact a location near you for service availability.