University of Nebraska Cooperative Extension in Lancaster County Home and Community Resources


Your Home and Community
updated August 1, 2002


Sink and Tub Drains-Care and Maintenance
submitted by Lorene Bartos, Extension Educator

Sluggish drains can be an agitating problem. Taking a few precautions when using sinks or tubs can keep the problem from occurring.

In sinks or tubs where hair is washed, use a plastic or metal "hair catcher" or screen to catch hair before it gets into the drain.

Do not pour grease down kitchen drains; pour liquid grease from cooking into empty tin cans and set in refrigerator until solidified; put can into tightly closed plastic bag, wrap in newspapers, and put into trash bag.

To keep kitchen drains clear, flush daily with scalding water. For grease buildup, dissolve 1 pound washing soda in 3 gallons of boiling water and pour down the drain. To avoid burns from boiling water, hold water container close to drain and pour slowly and directly into drain. For heavy grease buildup, use a commercial drain opener.

Periodic use of a drain cleaner will prevent accumulations in the pipe. Be sure to read and follow directions on the container. Do not have your head over the drain when you pour the cleaner into the drain. The violent reaction of the cleaner in water can blow up in your face.

Drain cleaners are very hazardous so be very careful in using them.

If you have a slow emptying drain problem, many times the problem is hair and soap curds caught in the stopper. Check first to be sure all the other drains in the house are working. If a regular stopper is used, the hair is probably caught in the drain pipe just below the stopper. Take the stopper out and clean it.

Next use a plunger which applies first pressure and then suction to the plugged drain. To provide the suction and pressure, smear a good layer of petroleum jelly on the edge of the rubber stopper. Then plug the overflow with a wet rag so the air will not short circuit through the overflow pipe. Pump the plunger to loosen the stoppage. If this loosens the plug, rinse the drain with hot soapy water

Take a piece of wire (a regular hair pin, bobby pin, or thin coat hanger), put a very short bend on one end, maybe 1/4" or less. If the piece of wire is very short, bend the other end so you can hold onto the wire and turn it without dropping it. Work the hair back out of the drain. This may take patience until it is all out.

After all the hair has been removed, flush several cups of hot water down the drain. This should allow the bowl to empty.

Fixing Plugged Sink or Lavatory Drains

If all other sink and toilet drains are open, the blockage is probably local.

  1. Check the stopper for accumulations of hair, soap and other foreign material. If a plain rubber stopper is used the accumulation is probably on the grate in the drainpipe just below the stopper. Proceed as described for slow emptying lavatories.

  2. Some mechanical stoppers can just be pulled out, others can be lifted, turned and raised, still others require disassembling the unit. Take the stopper out and remove all hair and foreign material.

  3. If the stopper will not come out you have a more difficult problem. Remove the trap below the sink as described in Step 4. Also remove as much of the pipe to the bowl as possible. Now with a wire with a short hook, clean the hair out by working both from below and above the sink.

  4. After the bowl drain is free, remove the bottom of the trap below the lavatory by turning the two large nuts. The nuts are on the pipes too so turn them counter-clockwise as you look at them from the pipes. Be sure to put a bucket under the trap to catch the water which accumulates in the trap. Clean out the trap with hot soapy water.

  5. Insert a plumber's "spring snake" into the drain pipe and turn it as it goes into the pipe. There is usually a hook on the tip which will catch on whatever is in the pipe. If and when you feel it catch, pull it back out. Do not try to push it through. Usually a plumbing fixture is within 5 or 6 feet from a vertical pipe so if the snake goes through to this pipe you can feel it on the snake and the system should drain.




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