Methods you can use to unclog a blocked drain

Having a blocked tub, sink or shower can be very distressing, especially if you are alone and unable to get a professional to help in good time. This is why all homeowners are advised to keep simple drain-unblocking equipment in the house, rather than waiting for a problem to arise to start finding one.

Below are two simple tools that can be used to unclog blocked drains. Before you begin, ensure you have protective clothing as well as lots of sponges, cloths and buckets to keep the mess contained. For older or corroded drains and pipes, however, it's best to get a professional plumber.

Cleaning stoppers and strainers

First, remove the pop-up strainer/stopper by unscrewing it from the drain and prying it up using a flat-head screwdriver. You can use a screwdriver with a magnetic tip to prevent your screws from getting lost inside the drain.

Some stoppers simply need twisting and lifting to remove, while others require that the horizontal under-the-sink pivot rod be removed (place a bucket under the sink for these). First, the rod should be freed from the upright strap and then the lever seal should be unscrewed from the drain pipe. Pull the rod out and lift the stopper – use pliers if necessary.

Next, run water through the drain to wash away loose matter, clean the strainer/stopper and replace it.

Clearing with a drain stick

Remove the stopper/strainer as outlined above. Take your drain stick and insert into the drain and through the trapping. The tool may need to be twisted in order to get the correct angle. Next, ensure the tip is as deeply embedded within the clog as possible so that the barbs on the drain-stick can hook onto the mass.

Pull out the drain stick in order to lift the mass responsible for the blocked drain, then run water through to get rid of loose particles before reinstalling the stopper/strainer.

Clearing with a plunger

Use a wet cloth to block the overflow outlet in your sink or tub. For sinks, block the overflow outlets to adjacent basins as well. This is done in order to focus the full force from the plunging activity on the cause of blockage.

Add about 2-3 inches of water to the sink/tub if there's no water, taking care to ensure that it doesn't overflow. Using a plunger pushes this water into the drain to force the blockage out of the way. You can create a tighter seal by applying a thick layer of petroleum jelly to the rim of the plunger-cup.

For the actual plunging, remove the strainer/stopper then cover the sink/tub drainage with the plunger. Work the plunger handle up and down several times, then lift and see if water has started draining properly. If still sluggish or slow, repeat the process. If unblocked, run lots of water, preferably hot, to wash away any grease and loose remnants from the blockage. Replace the strainer/stopper.

Ensure you plunger has a flat-bottomed cup for best results.