Dear Handy Andrew,
The sink in our bathroom has been draining slowly for some time now and suddenly it just sort of stopped draining all together. What should I do?
Dear Stopped up in Nevada City,
Keep a sharp eye out for signs of a sluggish drain. It’s easier to unclog a slow drain than it is to open a drain that has completely stopped. When the drain is slow, you can try a couple of easy things first. First try pouring scalding water down the drain to loosen any buildup of grease or soap scum. If that doesn’t help, you can clean the stopper, pop-up or drain screen. (This is not for the faint of heart. My wife makes a funny face whenever I clean the pop-up.) If this doesn’t solve the problem, the next thing you’ll want to do is grab a plunger. If you don’t have a plunger, or if you have one of those silly little guys from the grocery store, go out and buy a good one. Pick a plunger with a large enough suction cup to completely cover the drain and create an airtight seal against the surrounding sink. The one I use is black rubber with a yellow handle and has a cone on the bottom which can be folded up when I use it for clearing sinks or tubs. First cover the drain with the plunger and fill the sink with hot water and completely cover the suction cup. Seal off the overflow if you have one with a wet sponge or a rag. Push out any trapped air beneath the cup, and then give the plunger 5 to 10 vigorous up-and-down pumping strokes to jolt loose the clog. It may take 3 or 5 times to do the job. (One thing you should know is a plunger works with both the up and down stroke, so really tug up on it.)
If none of this works you could try using a hand cranking snake, but let me tell you from my experience, they don’t work so well. They take a lot of effort with very little affect. You really need a good electric snake to do the job right. You may be able to rent one from the rental yard, but it helps if you know how to use it, they can be very dangerous to use.
One other thing you can do before the drain gets clogged is to use an enzyme drain cleaning product. The enzymes help to digest the organic material and break it down to it basic element. It’s a great, environmentally safe product. And if you’re on a septic system the enzymes will work their way down into the tank and digest the gunk in the septic tank as well.
If none of this works, well then I guess it’s time to call out the professionals.