24 March 2010

How to Unclog a Bathroom Drain

I received a few requests to write an article on home maintenance, so I figured that I would dust-off this article (published in 12/2008), and share it with you. Although this article describes how to unclog a drain, you may also use these directions in the instance of a leaky P-trap.

Also, if there is a specific repair job you are interested in, please let me know in the comments and I'll do my best to write an article about it.

Note: if you have a really old, chrome P-trap, be prepared to go to the store for a replacement. When I did this for a living (the apartment complexes I worked at were over ten years old and it was the original plumbing), I cannot count the number of times that I would begin to unscrew the nut and I would feel the entire trap twist and then break.

What you will need...

bucket or pail
paper towels
a long, slim, stick such as an old chopstick
pipe wrench and cloth(if your pipes are not plastic)

  • Firstly, I emptied all the things that get stored under the sink; it's amazing how much stuff accumulates under there

  • Place the bucket under the P-trap (the U-shaped pipe)

  • Running your hands down the Tail-Piece (the straight pipe that leads from the sink to the P-trap), you should feel a straight metal rod attached by a nut.
    This is the rod which raises and lowers your drain stopper

  • To remove, unscrew the nut and then, with one hand on the stopper, remove the rod from the pipe

  • Remove the stopper from the drain

  • Unscrew the nuts which attach the P-trap (be sure not to remove the nuts from the pipes, unless you plan to change the washers) and place the P-trap in bucket

  • Rinse/ clean out the P-trap while still in bucket (that way you can dispose of the gunk outside)

    • If you are working on brass (usually chrome plated) or other metal pipes, wrap the cloth around the nut (this will help ensure that you do not damage or scratch the pipes with the teeth of the wrench)

  • Take a paper towel and crumble it and place inside the drain

  • Using the chopstick, push the towel all the way through the pipe

  • repeat

  • This should clean out all the soap scum that has been slowing down the water flow

  • Once the P-trap and the tail-piece have been cleaned, reverse the process

    • If you are going to install a new P-trap now, obviously, is the time to do so. If you are unsure of what size to get, just take your old trap to the store with you

  • When you tighten the nuts, be sure to not over-tighten

  • For plastic pipes, hand tight is usually sufficient

  • For metal, hand tighten and then give maybe a quarter turn with the wrench (You can always tighten it further, if needed

  • Replace the drain stopper and feed the rod through the hole in the bottom of the stopper and tighten the nut...again only hand-tight

  • Take your paper towels and make sure the pipes are nice and dry

  • With the bucket back under the P-trap, turn the water on and test for leaks

  • Use your paper towels to make sure everything remains dry

  • If there is a leak, tighten the appropriate nut until the leak stops

If you have any questions, please let me know.

I originally posted this in December of 2008 as cleaning a bathroom drain


  1. That's great information to know but I go the easy route when I have a clogged drain. I tell my husband...lol

  2. Ann: The even easier route is to just use Drain-O, but that makes for a very short article :)


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