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Fix-It-Yourself Project #101
"How to Unstop Clogged Drains, Toilets and Sewers"

Tool and Material Checklist

Closet auger, Suction cup plunger, Force ball plunger, Penetrating oil, "O" rings of assorted sizes, Work gloves, Hammer, Plumbing wrenches, Chemical drain cleaner, Plumber's snake or drain auger, Plastic or galvanized pail, Graphite packing, Hand cleaner, Punch or cold chisel, Hacksaw, Sewer cleanout tape

Here are simple, easy to follow instructions on unstopping clogged drains, toilets and sewers. Read these instructions carefully before undertaking these jobs.

1. Unstopping Clogged Sink Drains

If drain is sluggish but not completely clogged, turn on the hot water tap and let the hot water run for approximately 5 to 10 minutes. This sometimes opens the drain. If running hot water does not open the sluggish drain, try a strong chemical drain opener. Such cleaners are available in several forms. They are made primarily from caustic soda with bauxite and other ingredients. Read the label on the drain cleaner and follow manufacturer's instructions. After using any chemical cleaner, flush the cleaner from the drain pipes by letting the hot water run at least 10 minutes.

2. Opening Drains that are Completely Clogged

In some cases, a simple suction cup is all that is required to open a clogged sink drain. First, remove the basket strainer from the drain. Run hot water until it stands about 2" deep in the sink. Take a suction cup plunger and pump up and down directly over the clogged drain. The water in the sink provides a seal. If the suction cup does not clear the drain in a few minutes, you will probably be forced to remove some of the pipes to get the job done.

If you cannot open the drain with the suction cup, set a pail underneath the sink trap and remove the cleanout plug and washer. If the drain is only slightly clogged, a few quick probes with a screwdriver may solve the problem. If a few probes with a screwdriver do not open it, use a snake or drain auger through the pipe.

A drain auger works best if you rotate it, feed it in a short distance and then rotate it again. By repeating this, the drain auger can be inserted deeply into the pipe. After the drain pipe is opened, replace the cleanout plug and washer and run hot scalding water through the pipe to carry away any accumulations.

3. Unstopping Clogged Lavatory Drains

If the lavatory drain is only slightly clogged, you can sometimes open it by removing the drain stopper and probing for hair and other debris with a short piece of wire. If this does not work, try a plunger. Since lavatory drains have overflow outlets, it will be necessary to plug these with tape or rage before using a plunger. After plugging these overflow drains, use the plunger exactly as you would in opening an ordinary sink.

If the wire and plunger treatments do not work, use a sink auger or plumber's snake. This can sometimes be done without removing the sink trap. If none of these efforts work, set a pail under the lavatory and remove the trap. Cover the chrome nut with a rag or tape to prevent marring by the wrench. Loosen the thumb screw on the plumber's snake and move the handle back about 3'. Insert the snake into the drain pipe, rotate the auger, feed it in, then rotate again. By repeating this process, the snake can be driven deeply into the drain pipe.

4. Unstopping Bathtub Drains

It is always well to try the running hot water, the plunger or the chemical method in attempting to unstop bathtub drains. Remember to plug the overflow outlet before using a plunger. If the chemical, the plunger or the hot water treatments do not open the clogged drain, the drum trap cover will have to be removed. The drum trap is usually mounted directly underneath the tub. Removing the drum trap cover can be extremely difficult.

First, apply a good grade of penetrating oil to the drum trap cover, let it sit a while and then attempt to remove the cover with a large wrench. Turn counter-clockwise to remove the cover. If you cannot budge it with a wrench, it may be necessary to cut notches in the cover edge with a hacksaw. A hammer and punch or cold chisel can then be used to remove the cover. Once the cover is removed, a drain auger can be used to unclog the stopped pipes.

5. Opening a Clogged Toilet

In most cases a clogged toilet can be opened by using a force ball type plunger, (A). A regular suction cup plunger, (B), will seldom do the job. A force ball type plunger exerts a great deal more pressure for cleaning toilets than the regular type. Be sure to have sufficient water in toilet bowl when using the plunger.

If the plunger does not clear the clogged drain, use a closet auger. Start the auger or snake into the bowl and continue to crank it until it becomes tight. This cranking and pulling action will usually bring up the object that is causing the clogging. If the closet auger is not effective, use a small snake in the same way as described for opening lavatory drains.

If neither the plunger, the closet auger, nor the snake removes the obstruction, it may be necessary to remove the toilet from the floor, turn it upside down and force the obstruction out from the top or bottom. If it becomes necessary to remove the toilet from the floor, use either a wax preformed "O" ring or fresh plumber's putty in reseating the toilet when it is replaced.

6. Opening Clogged Sewers

There are three basic causes for clogged sewers. Excessive mortar left at soil pipe joints may start a build-up which may eventually clog the sewer pipe. Roots from trees and nearby plants may also enter the soil pipe at the joints. This may seem impossible, but roots are seeking water and they often force their way right through the mortar into the pipe if given time. Broken soil pipe permits foreign matter to enter the drainage system.

This can often cause clogging. To open a clogged sewer, set a container just underneath the cleanout plug. Loosen the plug just enough to permit water and waste to flow into the container. When all the water and waste has drained out, remove the plug and insert a cleanout tape. Rotate the reel clockwise as you unroll it and push the tape forward into the sewer pipes.