How to Clear Clogged Drains (And What Not to Do)

A clogged drain can throw off your day and do some damage to your home if left unresolved.

The best way to clear the clog depends on a few factors. Here’s what you need to know:

Drain cleaners are not the answer

The biggest issue with liquid drain cleaners is their inability to get to the source of the clog.

If the drain is clogged to the point that you notice it, there’s usually water between you and the source of the clog. And any drain cleaner you pour down will likely sit on top of the water and not reach the actual issue.

In addition, acid-based drain cleaners can harm your pipes and fixtures and present a potential hazard if they spray back up from the drain.

Drain cleaners can also prevent plumbers from clearing the drain as the acid-based cleaners will damage the equipment used to clear the drain.

What to do instead

The best approach is to keep an eye out for draining issues, try a simple tool as soon as problems start, avoid using drain cleaners, and call for help if it becomes a clog.

You can purchase simple tools for removing hair—the most common source of clogs in bathroom sinks and showers. These tools can be used periodically or as soon as you notice the problem. This approach will not solve every issue, but it will fix some issues before they become a clog that requires bigger tools.

Any bigger drain cleaning tools should be used with caution as they can damage your system without even fixing the issue.

When should you call for help?

If you have water that is not draining, or you’re running water elsewhere and you hear a gurgling sound, you usually don’t want to wait long. The gurgling sound can be a symptom of a bigger problem, such as a clogged sewer line.

Those issues are unlikely to resolve themselves on their own, and if left unaddressed could result in overflowing water and damage to your home.

What a plumber does to unclog a drain

A plumber will use a drain clearing snake to clear the line. In addition to the drain snake, plumbers can also use a camera to see the source of the clog and ensure that the line is successfully cleared.

Without a camera, it’s difficult to confirm the actual location of the problem, or to know for sure that the line is completely clear. The camera provides the visual confirmation needed to know the true condition of the line.

For example, if roots are causing clogs in your outdoor lines, then you will want to know the actual location. Clearing the line with a snake will not be a sufficient long-term solution since the roots will eventually grow back.

Also if the pipe is damaged then a camera will offer confirmation of the true issue, rather than just removing a symptom of the issue.

Here’s what running a camera down a drain looks like:


Is preventative maintenance worth it?

Clogged drains can be a major disruption, so it might be tempting to have your lines checked periodically to prevent bigger issues down the road.

You might end up paying more for preventative maintenance than addressing issues when they occur, based on how often clogs occur and the average cost to clear them.

Although it’s not the most cost effective method in the long run, it can still be worth it for the peace of mind.

The most cost effective approach is to watch for any draining issues or gurgling sounds, try a simple tool as soon as problems start, avoid using drain cleaners, and to call for help if it becomes a clog.