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Clogged Drain?

Oh man, don’t you hate when this happens? Another clogged drain.

Today on Repairs101 – I’ve got a sink that won’t drain and if you’re watching this I imagine you’ve got one, too. So I’ll take you through your options and show you what you can do about it.

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I’m allowing the washing machine to vent into the sink which allows for a build-up of what is otherwise just “dryer-lint” that never made it to the dryer. I’ll get you a shot of some of that stuff. Yeah it’s pretty horrible.

Hydraulic power

OK as always the first line of defence is going to be a plunger. I’m just going to get in there and see if we can’t get a real good seal on it. I say the plunger is the first line of defence because it’s the most “eco-friendly” choice you have: that is just to use hydraulic pressure to drive through the blockage. You know this is the second time I’m trying this and it’s really not working out for me so I’m going to have to move on to something stronger.

Drain snake

Alright, so this is my snake. There’s all kinds of different snakes, actually. This is just an inexpensive manual snake that you’ll find at virtually any good hardware store. This one’s probably fifteen feet long – I’m not really certain – I’ve had it for many, many years. And, the reason I’m wearing gloves, of course, it to keep me from coming into contact with the horrible places that this little fellow has been. So I’m just going to unwind it and drop it on the floor and show you that that’s what we’re looking at. It’s nothing but a spring that’s been unwound a bit at the end.

So I’m just going to let it seep. I know it’s probably going to be clear in a few hours. Clear enough that I don’t have to bucket it all outside or pitch it out the window. So I’m just going to wait it out. That’s often the best thing you can do, especially with home plumbing like a toilet. Sometimes, if you can, apply the twenty-four hour rule which is just come back twenty-four hours later because very often organic matter will break down in the water in that period of time and clear itself. This isn’t going to but it will seep fast enough through the material.

You can see, that’s just a rag I was using yesterday. I’ve got a lid from one of these Rubbermaid storage bins and I’m going to use that to catch the water. Look at that. Very often you can just undo these by hand. You don’t even need a pipe wrench.


You can never have too many tools!

OK now there are a lot of options available to you, as far as what you can use to open up that elbow joint. This pair of Channellocks here might be kind of overkill, they’re quite something. Just an ordinary pair that you might find in virtually anybody’s kitchen drawer on the other hand is really all you need.

You can use a pipe wrench but pipe wrenches are heavy and cumbersome and might be inclined to damage the plastic pipes. There is a new style of pipe wrench available. That would certainly be very effective and very useful but that’s kind of an expensive wrench for the average person. So I might still recommend you go with the medium sized Channellocks here.

If all you’ve got is say a chain wrench or a locking chain wrench, you know this kind of stuff will obviously do the job but you’re going to have to be very careful, as with the pipe wrench. You know, you’re going to have to be very, very careful – you’re dealing with plastic fittings and they don’t take a lot.

Now, a specialty wrench here: the manufacturer was kind enough to let us know what it is. It’s called a “Slip and Lock Nut Wrench” and I’ve had a lot of use for this in the boat building industry. I use it on plastic “through-hull” fittings. It’s just a wide jawed adjustable wrench and you’re just going to slip it like that. Now this is a very, very light duty little tool. But if you’re collecting unusual tools… and because they’re nice and light you’re not as likely to slip and say damage a new fibreglass boat when you’re putting in thru-hull fittings.

Safety gear

OK so this time I’m going to be wearing my respirator with the organic cartridges on it. Although this isn’t a toilet outlet it is connected to all the other toilet outlets in the neighbourhood and the smell coming out of it is just ferocious. You’re going to want to ventilate the room well and – like I’m doing – wear a respirator.

Always wear a respirator when working beyond the water-trap!

I’ve already loosened off the top nut with these Channellocks here. I’ve got my catch basin underneath, I’m just undoing it and out it comes. I’ll just pour the water into this catch basin here and – to my surprise – the elbow is completely clear. The problem is further downstream. Lucky for me I’ve got a snake. Before you do anything else you need to shove a rag or something to plug that hole because you get the sewage gas smell coming up because now there’s no water trap to stop it. So you’ve got to get something in there fast. Ughhh! The smell is just horrific.

Alright I’ve got my mask on, I’ve got my gloves on and I’m ready to tackle this thing. The first thing I’m going to do is just back off that nut. OK it’s loose. I’ve got my catch basin here.

Working the snake

OK I’m going in with the snake. OK I’m going to use the crank. It’s a very crude little crank but it works nonetheless: it allows you to spin. You just tighten that thumbscrew right there and the S-turn in the metal allows you to crank a little bit then you back it off and feed some more in. There you go. It’s going a lot further now. And, good.

Check it out, that is the absolute end of my snake. It is all the way in, all but this one foot that you see in my hand. So I’m going to put my catch-basin right here again and slowly pull it out and clean it off as it’s coming out. This Rubbermaid lid – storage bin lid I was telling you about earlier. Very handy.

OK I’ve got my mask back on, my gloves back on. I’ve got a couple of wet rags and my plastic bag ready to receive the snake. We’ll expect the worst and hope for the best. Pull the plug. I’ll start pulling this thing out and feeding it into the bag, cleaning it off as necessary.

OK you can see this black organic matter coming up already. That’s what I’m going to try to avoid coming into contact with and I’ll try and catch it all with the rag. I’m already seeing some schmere inside the plastic bag so I’m glad I’m using a plastic bag because clearly the rag isn’t getting it all. OK that’s pretty horrible. I’ll put it with the rag and everything in the bag, get this plug back in for the moment and get myself organized to put that water trap back in. OK, here we go.


There we go – you want a nice seat on this seal there. Then let this thing pull it down into it. Now hopefully that’s going to hold water. Hand tight is generally tight enough and hand tight on top as well. This is the critical area here that’s going to leak if we have a leak. I’ll leave my catch-basin underneath and get some water in it.

OK well I don’t know that it’s running properly but I do know at least that the trap is full of water and so the smell can’t come up from the sewer and I can take this damn thing off. And here I’ve gone and knocked my glasses off. How you doing?

Last line of defence

It’s not over yet though, I haven’t even tested it, but I’ll tell you this straight-up: if it doesn’t work I’m going to pour some Drano down there. And, you know that’s my last line of defence. You might want to go and try a product like this Drano Max Gel. I’ve had a lot of success with this in other areas of the house. So it says on the back it contains Sodium Hydrochloride and, you know, it’s a great product I just wanted to suggest that when you’re trying to decide whether or not to use a product like that: consider the fact that the water you’re pouring it into is indirectly the same water you’re drinking.

OK it sounds like it’s going to require some more plunging. Yeah. It’s not free running yet.

Eventually I did break down and clean the sink. Kind of.

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