Many of us have experienced something like this: one minute you are washing a pile of dirty dishes, and the next you hear a strange gurgling sound coming from the mechanical depths of your kitchen sink. The water is staying put, perhaps even changing colour and starting to rise; suddenly the soundtrack to Jaws is playing, and you realize you are dealing with…a clogged sink! Usually you have to act quickly, but don’t panic just yet. Non-toxic home remedies and DIY solutions can do the trick, so before you call a plumber, read on to find out what you can do when your kitchen sink won’t drain.

What Causes Your Sink to Clog?

It’s great to know how to properly care for your kitchen sink so you can keep your drain and pipes running smoothly. For instance, some foods and products should never be washed down your drain, like grease, oil, and coffee grounds. Why? Grease and oil will eventually congeal at cold temperatures, and coffee grounds clump together when they harden. If you run hot water down your drain to flush them out, they will still cause trouble further down your pipe.

Dumping foods like meat, fibrous fruits and veggies like celery or banana peels, and starches such as noodles, rice and potatoes down your drain is also a big no, even if you have a garbage disposal. Food trapped in your disposer is a common problem, often leading to a blocked drain, so be sure not to overload it. Instead, put all your food scraps in your compost or green bin. Think of your drain as a major artery: you don’t want to clog it by putting harmful food and waste down your sink which can build up over time and cause problems.

Popular Home Remedies: What You’ll Need

diy unclog drain naturally

Image credit: Collective Evolution


Drain cleaners like Liquid Plumr or Drano often contain chemicals that are corrosive and harmful to the environment, so it’s best not to use them. Instead, try using natural remedies and the following life hacks to remove any debris. You’ll need to have the following items handy: rubber gloves (if you don’t want to dirty your hands), baking soda, salt, vinegar/lemons (or lots of lemon juice), a coat hanger, a plunger, a mug or container for scooping water, and some large buckets. You can also purchase a gadget called a Zip-It, which is an alternative to using a coat hanger. Ideally, you will already have many of these household items lying around, but a quick trip to a supermarket or dollar store should do the trick. Let’s get to it!

Boiling Water Techniques

The first thing you’ll need to do is remove everything from your sink (dishes, sponges, etc.) and start bailing out the excess water into a bucket. Once it is as empty as possible, and no water is filling back up into your sink, bring a kettle of water to a boil and dump its entire contents down the drain. Hot water can often loosen particles and clear a pathway.

If nothing happens after a few minutes, bail the water out and try again. If this is unsuccessful after a few attempts, pour half a cup of salt down your drain, followed by more boiling water. Wait for a few minutes to see if the water level starts to lower. Again, if nothing happens, you can try again, or try a new approach.

Baking Soda Techniques

Same as before, remove all water from your sink. Pour half a cup of baking soda followed by half a cup of white vinegar or lemon juice down your drain, and once the solution stops fizzing, cover with a stopper or a wet dish towel for about 15 minutes. Run hot water down the drain to check if the blockage is gone. You may need to repeat this a few times to clear the mess.

Alternatively, mix half a cup of salt with one cup of baking soda (do not add water), but for best results you must let this sit for a few hours or overnight. Test it out after by pouring a pot of boiling hot water down the drain.

Go Fish: Coat Hanger or Zip-It Technique

If your sink is still causing you grief, unbend a wire coat hanger into a straight line with a hook, or use a Zip-It to fish out the clog. An alternative to properly snaking your drain, insert either of these tools down your drain until you encounter any resistance, and clear the clog by pulling it up. No luck? The clog might be further down.

Take the Plunge

If these previous techniques don’t work, a little bit of elbow grease may be required. For homeowners with a garbage disposal, always unplug it before plunging and check for any clogs inside. If you have a dishwasher, use a clamp to seal off the drain line – you don’t want any dirty water flowing back into your appliance! Once you have done that, you are ready to plunge. Fill the clogged sink with enough water so the rubber part is sealed tightly around your drain, and work the plunger until you feel something dislodge. It may take a few minutes of plunging for water to start flowing normally down the drain.

Time to Get Messy: P-Traps and Snaking Drains

Image credit: Family Handyman


So, you’ve exhausted all these above options, and nothing seems to be working. Don’t despair, there are still a couple methods left before calling a professional. Be warned, though: this technique is easy to mess up and end up causing more damage, so proceed with caution!

For this method, you will need pliers, gloves, a bucket, and a snake for your drain. Before attempting this, place the bucket under your sink to catch the water and any mess trapped inside your pipes. The P-trap, shaped like the letter ‘P’, is meant to retain water from your drain, creating a seal to prevent sewer gases from infiltrating through your house, but sometimes it can get clogged. Using a pair of strong pilers, unfasten the slip nut from the trap arm first (see above photo for reference), and then the waste tee. Water will likely spill into the bucket once this is removed, so be prepared to get a little dirty while you clean any debris from the trap. If you don’t find anything, it means the clog is further down. Move onto the trap arm, which is the pipe connected to your wall, by unscrewing the slip nut to uncover what is called the stub-out, or drain line. If you don’t have a snake, you can use your coat hanger to fish around in there. However, if you have one available, insert the snake through the stub-out and keep extending it until you feel the clog. Once you do, keep feeding it through until you push through the blockage. The snake will go slack once you have caught it, so now you just need to retract the snake and clean it off. Repeat this process until you have removed it all, and congratulate yourself on finding the source! Once you reassemble your trap arm, P-trap, and waste tee, be sure to run hot water with baking soda and vinegar/lemon juice down your drain to double check that everything is back to normal.

If, after trying these techniques, you still haven’t found the source of the problem, it may be time to call a plumber. Good luck, and remember to consult HomeStars for help in finding a professional!

Posted by Ayla Lefkowich