Tuesday, November 6, 2012

How to Unclog a Sink Drain, DIY Plumbing, and Why To Never Use Caustic Soda for Clogged Pipes

Imagine coming home ravenous after a long day, needing to cook supper because there is nothing ready to eat in the house, but the counter is full of dirty dishes and so is the sink, and there is nothing clean with which to cook your dinner, nor a clean surface area on which to work. You resign yourself to washing the dishes (which you know you should have washed earlier) before even starting to make supper, let alone eating it, only...
You start washing the dishes, and the water won't go down the drain. You clean out the gook from the bottom of the sink, trying to unclog it, but it makes no difference. The sink is hopelessly clogged.

That happened to us last week. Only it was my husband who came home to that mess I left, no supper, and a clogged sink, while I was busy sleeping over at my sister.

He tried to unclog the blocked drain himself, but it didn't work. He ended up washing the dishes in the bathtub.

The next day, when I arrived home, I called the plumber. He named a relatively high price for unclogging the drain, but said that since we're friends of his, he'd make it cheaper. We said we'd think about it, and decided that first we'd try to take more measures to unclog it ourselves, and if that didn't work, only then we'd call the plumber back.

Fortunately, with just a little bit of outlay on equipment, some time, and the willingness to get our hands dirty, we managed to unclog the drain, and the plumber didn't need to make a visit.

So, if you find yourself in a similar situation, how can you also unclog a stuck drain without needing to shell out the cash on a plumber? Here's what we've learned.

Before Anything:
If your drain is a little slow, you can often clean it out and speed it up by mixing 1/4 cup of citric acid and baking soda, pouring it down the drain, and then pouring boiling water over it. This will create a volcano like effect, with a lot of bubbling and a lot of steam, but when it clears up, the water should go down your drain much quicker.

If that doesn't work well, or if the sink is clogged entirely, we've discovered that pushing a wooden skewer down the holes in the sink drain in a few places will usually open up a clog and get things moving again, without needing to go to drastic measures.

Unfortunately that didn't work for us this time, so it was time for step 2- clean the P trap. The P trap is the bend in the pipe underneath the sink, and often debris gets caught either in there or between the sink drain and there. Removing it and cleaning it out does the trick in 75% of the cases of clogged sink drains, from my experience. Only... our kitchen sink has no P trap.

And cleaning it out from the Y where our two drains connect didn't work either. The clog was further down.

My husband tried using a snake that he bought at the dollar store, and while it's worked for us a bit in the past, what you pay for is what you get, at least in this case.

We needed a better quality snake, and a longer one.

Mike went to the store and priced snakes- he found one that suits our needs- approximately 10 feet long, for 20 dollars, which is a fraction of the price the plumber quoted to us. Our apartment is built a certain way that we have 2 access ports to our pipes in the bathroom, which is in the room next to the kitchen, so we didn't need a snake longer than that. 

If you don't have those access ports, and your clog is further down, a 10 foot long snake may not suit your needs- it may need to be a longer one.

Here's 2 videos of mike using the snake to attempt to remove the clog via our access port. He first used the snake in the pipe by the sink, sticking it in the pipe in the floor, and pushing it as far as he could. When there was resistance, he'd push it a bit with a little more force until he was able to get it through. Once it was in all the way, he pushed it back and forth like in the video below.

After pushing it back and forth, he twisted the snake around clockwise, to get even more stuff out, and to widen the space he created.

Because we have these access ports in our apartment, we used the snake going from the kitchen sink pipe towards the bathroom port, and then from the bathroom port in the direction of the kitchen. He then did it in the direction from the first bathroom port to the second. That is actually what is shown in the videos.

Once doing that, our sinks were unclogged!

Thats it, right?

Only... Mike thought that putting caustic soda down the drain would be a good idea. Caustic soda is "drain cleaner", also known as "Drano", sodium hydroxide, or lye.

After he put in the caustic soda, our sink was once again clogged up, this time real badly.


I'll tell you why, I'll tell you something that my husband didn't think about before putting the caustic soda down the drain, and what people who recommend using Drano probably don't know.

Do you know one of the most common and old uses of lye/caustic soda is in soap making?

The way you make soap, in short, is that you mix lye with water, mix that with oil, and mix it up. With enough mixing, it will create a bar of soap.

Well, can you imagine what happened when our drains, filled with kitchen grease, got mixed with lye and water?

That's right. It made soap.

One huge, thick, goopey, gross "bar of solid soap", the entire length of our pipe between the kitchen sink and the bathroom.

Stopped up entirely. Nearly as thick as cement.

I apologize in advance for the grossness, but this picture over here is what our pipes were filled with. Packed with it.

Gross kitchen waste "soap".


In case you don't believe me that that's soap, it made suds, and was slippery like soap. It definitely is soap, though not the way I recommend making soap, because I would NEVER wash anything with "soap" that filthy and gross.

Please, please, please, listen to me- never, ever, ever put caustic soda down your kitchen sink drain, or any place else that ever has greasy things poured down it.

If you're wondering how we got THAT clog out...

We first put a plunger over the drain in our kitchen sink. Because we have two sinks with two drains next to each other, and we wanted to make sure that there actually was some vaccum, and things were being forced down the pipe instead of coming out the sink next to it, Mike and I simultaneously used plungers over both sinks. I've since heard that you can just cover one sink with a wet rag, but I haven't tried that. We pumped and pumped with the plunger, but nothing came out, but it probably did loosen something in there.

I then put in the snake from the bathroom port, in the direction of the kitchen. There was a lot of resistance and I wasn't able to push it in far. When I removed it, a chunk of the gross soap came out with it. I then put the snake in, pulled it out, and even more soap came with it. I did it again and again and again, pulled out more and more soap, until at one point, all the water that was in the kitchen sink and pipe started flooding out the port in the bathroom- I'd cleared the pipe!
I then widened the opening in the pipe by rotating the snake as in the second movie above. I then used the pipe between the two ports in the bathroom.


Our sinks and pipes are no longer clogged.

It was a team effort, it was gross and dirty, but we managed.

And we have the snake for the future, so even though the small investment already paid off, it'll pay off even more every time we need it from now on.

When you have a clogged drain, what happens to it? Do you deal with it? Your spouse? Your kids? Neighbors? Call a plumber?
Do you own a snake? How long is it? What do you usually do to unclog drains? Do you use Drano? Why or why not?
If you usually do these things yourself, have you ever had a clog so bad that you needed to call the plumber, after trying to fix the problem yourself and having no luck?

See my disclaimer


  1. Thanks for the tip about the Drano. I have heard about lye soap or caustic soap. Why on earth would they make that into a product to clear your drain? I've heard people say it makes the problem worse - maybe that's why, so they get the repeat business!

    1. This is the biggest crap I ever heard.Drano is 100 % exactly like Caustic soda.

    2. Which is what the article said.

  2. what a brilliant find on the internet. Thanks for that entertaining read :P the picture is way gross, hahahahaha

  3. i was about to put the c s down my drain but will have to keep trying boiling water, hopefully it will dissolve a mush of soap ...
    yuk and thank u

  4. Try Citric acid...not instant, but worked for me

  5. I've heard the recommendation that once a month, fill your sink or sinks with boiling water, then remove the stoppers so you get the whoosh effect. No explanation of how you remove them when the sink is filled with water that hot. But the general principle makes sense to me.

    Thanks for the warning. Normally I tend to learn these things the hard way, but life is too short to make all the bloopers oneself.

    1. Great idea about using boiling water. To remove the sink stopper, just grab it with a pair of pliars. Whoosh! Water drained.

  6. I have a steam wallpaper stripper about £30 to buy unless you know a decorator. Force the hose past the bend about 1/2 hour later all is clear plus your pipes should be ultra clean . Easiest solution done it many time no chemicals needed.

  7. This anti-drano/lye argument is very misleading. Yes, fats+lye makes soap. That's partially the point of using lye to clear kitchen drains. Lye will break down (most) non-fats and turn the fats to soap. Soap, unlike fat, is water soluble and will rinse away with enough hot water. The only way you're going to get a huge clog like the one shown here is if you've got tons of fat in your drains, then pour too little drano/lye and then also don't thoroughly flush with hot water. It looks to me like a better solution to this problem would be to quit pouring tons of fat down your drain.

    1. I have to agree. As long as you are not pouring TONS of grease down your drains (any grease from bacon or other 'fatty' cooking goes in a tin can that I regularly dump out in the woods behind our house) putting caustic soda down your drains should not make a bar of soap like this lady had come out of her drains.

  8. I've used my works industrial jet washer just put a towel around nosel so water don't go everywhere been clear ever since tescos washing liquid inbetween blasts down the hole was brilliant to do took 5 min's

  9. I just cleared my blocked kitchen sink pipe with Caustic Soda
    (Drano etc). it took a strong solution,
    but it did MELT the grease and fat.
    Caustic Soda AKA Lye AKA Drano etc DOES work.
    A word of warning, it needs to be handled VERY carefully,
    as its similar to an acid, can easily burn your hands.

    1. It’s actually the exact opposite of an acid. It’s a base

    2. Sodium hydroxide doesn't just melt the grease, it turns some of it into soap. Under good conditions enough of the soap dissolves in the hot water to unclog the drain. While sodium hydroxide is a strong base and thus the opposite of an acid,it can burn your hands. Your skin can't deal with either extreme.

  10. I would recommend Drain-FX. Heard about it on the Gary Sullivan radio show & bought it online. It's ecofriendly & effective. It's usuable and I didn't have to use chemicals.

  11. Caustic soda, or lye is sodium hydroxide. It is on opposite side of the pH scale from acid, also known as a base. For all of that, it will burn much like an acid. Please wear chemical safe gloves when using this.

  12. Also important: don't put grease and fat down your drain. Evidently grease and coffee grounds are the favored formula for wealthy plumbers. Other solids too should be kept out like rice and lentils and tea leaves!

  13. I use citric acid in my dish washer. Prevents lime build up on the glassware and inside of the machine. Secondary effect, when it drain is also gives the pipes a cleaning. Buy it in bulk on Amazon.

  14. Can it use to cleaning of oil containers?

  15. Plumbing fittings incorporate a wide grouping of plumbing equipment including lines, spigots and the joints that interface these installations.Plumbing
    burst pipe repair

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