When it comes to being handy around the house, there are two areas where many of us tend to shy away — electrical work and plumbing. While anyone who’s ever received an electric shock understands the risks of doing that type of work, basic plumbing is something just about anyone should be willing to take on.

Whether it’s a clogged sink, shower, bathtub, or toilet, before you pick up the phone to call a plumber, here are a few things you should try first.

Taking the Plunge

A good old-fashioned plunger is great way to loosen clogged drain pipes. Plungers come in multiple sizes — use a small one for sinks, showers, and bathtubs and a large one for a clogged toilet. Plungers work best submerged in water because this allows for greater suction. Plunge steadily, keeping in mind it may take a several attempts to successfully eliminate a blockage.

If you’re trying to unclog a double kitchen sink with a plunger, begin by closing off one sink with a stopper. This will prevent any liquid from splashing back once you begin plunging. Then fill the other side of the sink with enough water to cover the bell of the plunger and create a tight seal.

Plumber’s Snake and More

Another solution that doesn’t require using potentially harmful chemicals is a plumber’s snake. This long flexible wire with teeth along its outer edges can be used to dislodge hair, soap, grease, or anything else clogging the drain. If you don’t have snake on hand, a coat hanger may do the trick. You can also try using a wet and dry vacuum to suck out the clog. To do this, insert the nozzle directly into the drain.

Drain Cleaners

  • The natural mix: A mixture of vinegar and baking soda can be a convenient and effective non-chemical solution for unclogging drains. Pour 1/2 cup of baking soda into the blocked drain and then pour in 1/2 cup of white vinegar. Plug your drain and let it stand for at least 15 – 20 minutes, then flush with boiling water. Repeat if necessary.
  • The chemical solution: You’ll find a number of drain cleaning products available at your local hardware or grocery store. These come in a variety of strengths, so be sure to look for one that’s right for the type of drain you’re trying to unclog. These products specify a period of time for the chemical to “stand’ and then flush using hot water. Again, repeat if necessary. These cleaners are made of extremely strong and even corrosive chemicals. Be sure to follow directions closely and take the necessary precaution of using heavy rubber gloves and goggles.

Different Drains Require Different Approaches

If you’re unable to unclog a kitchen or bathroom sink with any of these methods, try removing the “P-trap,” which is located at the bottom of the drain pipe where it curves. Loosen the slip nuts at both ends of the pipe with a plumber’s wrench. Use the snake on the remainder of the drain pipe, then clean out any debris in the trap before reattaching it.

Turn off the electricity when attempting to unclog a kitchen sink that has an electric garbage disposal. Try using the vinegar and baking soda mix first to remove grease and trapped food. If that doesn’t work, you’ll want to try to one of the chemical solutions.

You may use any of these methods on a clogged shower or tub drain. However, you may need to disconnect or remove the internal stopper mechanism before you begin.

Using chemicals can be harmful to your toilet. First, try pouring 1/4 cup of dish detergent into the toilet bowl. Dish soap acts as a lubricant to help break up any residue. Then add boiling water and use a plunger to finish dislodging the clog.

The Bottom Line

Unless a foreign object has become lodged in a drain pipe, clogs tend to develop slowly over time. The accumulation of soap, grease, hair, and other detritus results in slow draining and even standing water. Regular cleaning and proper drain strainers can save you time and money.

Next time, before you call a plumber about a clogged drain, try these simple techniques. You’ll be surprised by how easy DIY plumbing can be.