How to Unblock A Drain

Need tips on how to unblock a drain? Fear not, let the blocked drain specialists at Drainfast provide you with some vital DIY plumbing know-how for when you’re faced with a minor blocked drain issue.

In many cases a blocked drain signifies deeper problems in your plumbing system. These issues warrant the attention of a qualified plumbing professional, so don’t hesitate to contact Drainfast in the event that your plumbing system isn’t behaving itself. With that being said, many blocked drains can be unblocked using readily-available materials and easy-to-follow methods that we will discuss on this page.

DIY Drain Unblocking Checklist

Consider the following points before attempting to unblock a drain without professional assistance:

  • Do I know what caused the blocked drain? If not, can I find out if any others who have used the drain might know? If I don’t know the cause, it could be something more serious than a simple blockage.
  • Have I got access to a plunger and other basic tools/equipment?
  • Have I researched recipes for a natural drain cleaner? Am I aware of the risks associated with using commercially-available chemical drain cleaners?
  • If yes to all of the above, am I prepared to follow the advice of the experts so as to not make the problem worse?

You may know what is causing your blocked drain, for example, you may have flushed something down the toilet that you shouldn’t have, or washed food scraps down the sink drain. In these cases it is perfectly acceptable to attempt to unblock the drain on your own before calling a professional, as the causative agent in your blocked drain is already known and deeper issues are probably not present.

Some homes or businesses may be more prone to suffering the occasional blockage than others. This can be a result of things like the age and layout of your plumbing system, how many solid or sedimentary materials you wash into your drains and pipes, as well as any vegetation which can wind roots into your system (fig trees, we’re looking at you). For this reason, it is good to have some DIY knowledge about how to unblock a drain when a minor blocked drain occurs in your home or business.

 

Blocked Drains

A blocked drain is a real inconvenience, especially if you’re a business or a busy homeowner stuck with overflowing drains or a toilet that won’t flush. Not all blocked drains call for professional assistance, however; with a few tools and some spare time to learn the DIY plumbing basics you can probably unblock a minor blocked drain by yourself.

We’ve got a few tried and tested techniques for how to unblock a drain. As blocked drain plumbers in Melbourne, we handle blocked drains, blocked toilets, floor drains, sink drains, blocked sewer drains, blocked stormwater drains, and any other domestic or commercial drains you care to mention!

However, you should take this advice with a grain of salt and remember that if you fail to clear the blockage yourself after a couple of tries, you should call the blocked drain experts at Drainfast. We will make sure that there aren’t any serious underlying issues, and will get your blocked drain unblocked fast!

This is an important point to remember, as pipes and fixtures can be damaged by overzealous attempts by DIY plumbers to unblock a drain that is merely symptomatic of a more serious plumbing issue.

You’ll need some tools

Unclogging a simple blockage only requires a few tools, most of which can be bought at your local home centre or hardware store.

Firstly, the obvious: if you want to know how to unblock a drain, you’ll need a plunger to started. You can pick up a good one for $5-$15, but make sure you choose a size which fits the fixture or drain you’re trying to unblock. A good plunger can often be all that’s required to clear a minor blocked drain in most domestic fixtures, including baths, toilets, sinks and showers.

A worthwhile investment for any small business or homeowner, having a plunger on hand could be the difference between hours of inconvenience or a few minutes work to clear your blocked drain. In fact, a blocked drain plumber is likely to use a plunger in the event that no serious issues are present, as plunging is a relatively efficient way of unblocking a drain.

Plumbing snakes, augers, and sewer jetters (blocked drain tools)
If you’re unlucky enough to have a blockage which has occurred further down the length of your system, a plunger might not do the job. Luckily for you, there are tools designed specifically to target deeper or thicker blockages; the plumbing snake, also known as a drain snake or auger, and hydro sewer jetters are two key examples.

A plumbing snake is basically a flexible length of steel cable fitted with a hand crank for easy dispensing and storage. Commercially available snakes come in lengths of up to 100 feet, but a 25 foot long snake is likely all you’ll need for most hard-to-reach domestic blockages. These too can be bought at your local hardware store, for between $15 and $20. Snakes/augers may be handheld/hand-powered, hand-powered by dispensed via a large reel, or electric powered.

These creative commons images from Wikipedia are included to provide a visual representation of these tools, which are not widely used by our plumbers. They are derived from this article on drain cleaners. You can view each image and the page where their authors uploaded them by clicking on them.

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Handheld drain auger

The closet auger is a variety of plumbing snake which is specifically designed to unclog blocked toilets. With a more rigid shaft and angular head for easy insertion, a closet auger can slip through most toilet traps to get to wear the blockage might be hiding – one of these will set you back between $15 and $40.

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Drum-mounted electric drain snake

For more serious blockages, such as those which have built up over a long period of time in larger pipes, or those caused by entangled tree roots, an electric power auger may be required. This is what your plumber might use to fix a serious blockage, but you can rent one yourself from some hardware retailers or rental agencies for between $20 and $100 per-day (plus a deposit).

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Heavy duty electric drain snake being used to unblock a sewer drain

Power augers use an electric motor to cut through dense blockages, but be aware that if broken pipes are present you may get the auger stuck. For this reason it is important that you are sure that the blockage is caused by built up material and not broken pipes, and that you know how to safely dispense and retrieve the auger cable before you use it on your own.

Natural Drain Cleaner Recipes

When we say ‘natural’ drain cleaner, we mean one that can be easily prepared at home from non-toxic ingredients that can be safely handled and that don’t pose any threat to your pipes or other materials. Many recipes can be found online for natural drain cleaners, either in liquid form or a multi-stage application requiring a powder and then a liquid to trigger a reaction inside the blocked drain.

Drainfast previously published this guide to making and using natural drain cleaners. If you have access to the required ingredients (e.g. baking soda, borax, lemon juice, vinegar, check guide for details) then a natural drain cleaner is well worth a try for minor blocked drains.

Unlike commercially-available drain cleaning products, a natural drain cleaner produces little vapor and is generally safe to use in that it is unlikely to exacerbate the blocked drain or any underlying problems. If you are unable to unblock a drain with a plunger alone, softening up the blockage using one of these recipes may provide success.

Commercially-Available Drain Cleaners

A range of commercially-available drain cleaners, in the form of gels, liquids, crystals, powders etc., claim to assist in breaking down blockages and ultimately unblocking blocked drains.

These products are available in most supermarkets and hardware stores, and whilst they may be useful in assisting an effort to unblock a minor blocked drain, they are not a recommended tool. This is due to the fact that these products contain hazardous materials that pose a threat to the health of those using them as well as surfaces around the drain to which they are applied. These risks are amplified when such products are applied by someone who isn’t a plumber, but is using DIY methods to unblock a drain.

For these reasons, we recommend that you try the ‘natural’ drain cleaners discussed in the previous section. These recipes are likely to provide the same benefit as commercially available products whilst posing far less risk to the health of the user, surfaces around the drain, and the pipes and joints inside the drain. Moreover, the aforementioned home-made drain cleaners have less of an impact on the environment, which is particularly important if your water is being recycled or re-used.
Types of drain cleaning products
Drain cleaning products may be generally divided into two main types; acidic drain cleaners and alkaline drain cleaners.

Alkaline drain cleaners generally trigger a chemical reaction that creates heat and gas, which can soften and dislodge material inside the drain and dissolve some types of material. Acidic drain cleaners, which are often only available to plumbers or other approved users, contain a strong acid that dissolves material inside the drain.

Both types work to soften blockages inside a blocked drain by introducing reactive chemicals into the drain. These chemicals then react with the water and material inside the drain, as well as gases present in the drain to affect blockage.

Considerations
These products contain powerful chemicals that when introduced to your drain, can have varying effects depending on the composition of the blockage, the type of pipes and their condition, and many other factors.

It is not uncommon for these products to fail to unblock even minor blocked drains, and they often require the use of a plunger and for the product to be left sitting in the drain for an extended period of time while the chemical reaction takes place. During this time vapor from the reaction is released into the air, causing an unpleasant odour and a health risk in poorly-ventilated spaces.

Moreover, these products can damage old or worn pipes, especially plastic pipes and joints. Avoid these issues by using a natural drain cleaner alongside a plunger and other tools. Doing so will save you time, money, and potentially prevent further damage and/or a worsening of the original issue.

Blocked Toilet Drain

A blocked toilet can be the most annoying domestic blockages, especially if you’re experiencing problems with backflow.

Luckily, most toilet blockages are the result of something becoming lodged in the up-curving trap, which means you might be able to dislodge it with your trusty plunger. If not, you will need to use a plumbing snake or a closet auger, especially if the blockage is situated further around the bend.
Commence the operation by inserting the end of the plumbing snake into the toilet bowl, with the tip turned upwards.

Try and hold the shaft steady as you unwind the snake. Continue cranking until the shaft has reached about three feet deep into the fixture. Once you’ve cranked the cable out that far, start to pull it back in whilst cranking the handle simultaneously. Once you’ve done this once or twice, flush the toilet to see if you managed to clear the blockage. If not, repeat the process another two times, aiming up the left and right hand sides of the trap.

Attacking the blockage from three sides is likely to dislodge it, but if it happens to be something more solid, you will probably need a power auger to deal with it once and for all. If this fails, contact our blocked toilet plumbers for assistance.

Blocked Floor Drain

In a domestic situation, you might have floor drains located in your garage, laundry, or basement, put there to carry away water from air-conditioning units, heaters, washing machines, or even snow melt in some areas. If you’re a small business operating a kitchen, or any other workspace which requires lots of cleaning with water, you’re floor drains may be especially prone to blockages.

Over time, sedimentary materials such as dirt, sand, laundry lint, soap, and bacteria can collect in the drainpipe, forming a blockage. If the drain is still working, but water is being carried away slowly, give your plunger a try. It may be that there’s a soft build up of material in the drain which could be dislodged relatively easily. If this doesn’t work, your problem might originate from deeper within the drainpipe. You will likely require an electric power auger with a cable length of 50 feet or more to break through any deep-sitting blockage.

You’ll need to start the unblocking process by removing the strainer which covers the hole of most floor drains. Once the strainer’s off, look for the clean-out plug, which should be located somewhere on the side of the drain’s basin. Some drains don’t have a clean-out plug, which means you will need to feed your cable through the drain’s trap, which will give you less manoeuvrability. Use a wrench to help get the plug out so that you can insert the auger’s cable into the drainpipe. Once this is done, plug in your auger and ensure that the motor and spooling unit are placed next to the drain. Use both hands to feed the cable into the drainpipe until you feel a blockage, pressing down on the foot pedal to cut through any obstructing material. When you reach the main blockage, you may be able to feel resistance in the cable or hear the motor struggling to power the blades.

At this point, switch off the motor and reverse the auger’s rotation. Switch it on again and pull the cable back towards you a few feet, then push it back down in a clockwise motion. Repeat this process a few times until you have cleared whatever was causing the blockage. Now it’s time to carefully draw the cable back out of the drainpipe and unplug the electric power auger. Once this is done, you should pour some hot water down the drain (at least a few bucketfuls) to clear any remaining material. If the water is still moving slowly, give it another go, and if that fails, call your expert plumber/drain-unblocking professionals!

CAUTION: If your drain has a clean-out plug, make sure that you put it back on once you have cleared the blockage! Failing to do so could result in dangerous sewer gases entering your home or business via the drain.

Blocked Bath Drain or Blocked Shower Drain

You might notice that your shower or bathtub has started to drain more slowly, causing water to build up around your feet while the water is running. This is a sign that a blockage is building beneath your bath/shower fixture and that you’ve got work to do. Bathroom drains are prone to clogging up with the soap and hair which we wash down those drains every day. Luckily, these blockages are often the easiest to deal with owing to the fact that they are usually the result of a build up rather than a more serious problem.

To begin with, you might want to try a chemical drain cleaner, as this will dissolve most soap and hair which might be causing your drain to clog up. However, chemical means are not preferred when dealing with bathroom blockages, as there is a risk that the chemicals could burn your skin if they happen to wash back out of the drain. To perform a mechanical unblocking, you should remove the screen from the top of the drain (if there is one), and clean it thoroughly to remove any built up material. Your shower or bathtub may have a pop-up drain; if it does, use the lever to open it up and clear any material which has built up near the surface. Sometimes this is enough to get your drain working again, but if not, you should reach for your trusty plunger. Place wet rags on top of the holes under the overflow plate, and start plunging the drain.

If plunging fails to clear the blockage, you should move to the plumbing snake we discussed earlier. Remove the overflow plate and start to feed your cable down whilst rotating it steadily and cranking the handle – about 60 centimetres should do it. Hopefully you will feel the blockage; if you do, keep cranking until the plumbing snake has reached the P-trap below your bathtub/shower. Once you’ve broken up the blockage, withdraw the cable slowly and wash away any remaining material with a few bucketfuls of hot water. If your drain is cleared, you’re ready to replace the overflow cap and drain screen and start enjoying your bathroom again!

Blocked Sink Drain

A blocked sink drain may occur due to the food and other material we frequently wash down our sink drains. Again, as is the case with most bathroom blockages, a blocked sink is relatively easy and you can probably fix the problem yourself in a few minutes. Grab your trusty plunger, as it can probably clear any minor blockage. Before you start plunging, fill the sink half-full with water, then plunge vigorously a few times. Pull the plunger off the drain in a swift motion and see if it drains quickly.

Your sink may be a double-bowl. If this is the case, you should stuff a wet rag into one of the holes and plunge the other one. The rag is used to ensure that pressure is mounted on the blockage when you plunge.
If plunging doesn’t clear your blocked sink, you might need to use a plumbing snake. This can be a bit of an ambitious job, as shouldn’t put the snake directly down the sink’s fixture. Before you use the plumbing snake, you will need to remove the sink trap with a pipe wrench (you might be able to do this by hand if you have a PVC trap with bigger couplings). Let the water from the sink pour into a bucket, and check that the trap itself is clear of blockages. A horizontal trap arm should be protruding from the wall’s stub-out, you will need to remove this.

Then you are free to begin feeding the plumbing snake into the stub-out, working the crank and guiding the cable until you feel pressure. Start withdrawing the cable and trying to tighten the lock-screw, repeat this process until you feel that you have broken up whatever material was causing the blockage.
If at any point you feel that the plumbing snake has become bogged or caught on something, you should start rotating it the other way and pulling it back. Once you have completed the snaking process, withdraw the cable and put the trap arms and sink trap back in place. Run hot water through the sink to flush it and make sure that the blockage has been removed. If it is draining slowly, it may be that the broken up blockage has turned into loose material which is reducing the flow. If this happens to you, fill the sink half-full with water and use the plunger to clear the loose material before flushing it out with hot water again.

Don’t Try to Unblock Sewer or Stormwater Drains

The above information provides advice on how to a blocked drain that is minor and occurs in a small and easily-accessible drain. These blocked drain problems are common, and don’t always warrant the attention of a professional blocked drain plumber. However, there are some blocked drains that regularly occur in homes here in Melbourne that you should never attempt to unblock yourself.

Your sewer drain and stormwater drain systems are vital to the functioning of your home or business’s plumbing, and when a blocked stormwater or sewer drain occurs, you need to call a professional blocked drain plumber. If the issue gets worse, or causes further damage, costs can skyrocket due to the extensive work and need to replace drain components. For this reason it is vital to call a professional at the first sign of trouble with your sewer drain or stormwater drain.

Blocked Sewer Drain

A blocked sewer drain may present as a blocked toilet, with water failing to flush away despite nothing having been put down the toilet to block it up. This is not always the case, however, and the presentation of a blocked sewer drain will depend on the location of the blockage and its composition.

Along with the stormwater drain, the sewer drain connects to the local community plumbing system to carry waste and water away from homes and businesses. When the sewer drain becomes blocked, this water and waste cannot be removed from the plumbing system, and pressure builds. This can result in a sewer back-up (sewerage coming out of the toilet and out of other low-lying drains that are connected to the sewer drain), which creates an enormous mess as well as being a health-hazard.

When a blocked sewer drain occurs, call a blocked drain plumber such as Drainfast that is qualified to repair blocked sewer drains. Your blocked sewer plumber will identify the cause of the blocked sewer by using tools such as plumbing rods, drain cameras, and other sources of information. Your plumber has the experience and skills to act quickly in order to prevent any further damage from occurring, as well as fixing the blocked sewer drain at its cause.

Remember, if you suspect a blocked toilet is really a blocked sewer drain, or have any other reason to suspect that you are dealing with a blocked sewer, call a blocked drain plumber. This will save you time, money, and much inconvenience. blocked sewer drains are a serious plumbing issue that always require the attention of a qualified plumbing professional.

Blocked Stormwater Drain

A blocked stormwater drain is also a serious issue that requires assistance from a qualified blocked drain plumber. Without a functioning stormwater drain, surface and clear water cannot be carried away from your premises and may therefore cause flooding, leaks, or overflow into the sewer drain. These leaks may occur adjacent to any drains, pipes, or gutters that connect to the stormwater drain. For example, a wet patch on the ceiling could be caused by water leaking from gutters and downpipes due to a blocked stormwater drain.

Your stormwater drain carries rainwater and other ‘clear’ or ‘grey’ water that runs into drains that are usually located outside of the building itself, or directly adjacent to its exterior. Examples of drains that feed into the stormwater drain include downpipes and gutters, outside surface drains and basins, and some laundry drains.

Similarly to sewer drains, the cause of a blocked stormwater drain is likely to be more serious and require professional training and experience to identify/repair. As a result, it is vital that you call a blocked drain plumber with experience in repairing blocked stormwater drains at the first sign of trouble.

Contact Drainfast for Assistance with Blocked Drains in Melbourne

We hope you’ve found these tips on how to unblock a drain useful, or at least informative! Remember that not all blocked drains can be unblocked using DIY methods and tools, and that blocked sewer and stormwater drains require professional assistance. See our blocked sewer drain Melbourne and blocked stormwater drain Melbourne pages for more information on these potentially serious plumbing problems, and what we can do to get your drains unblocked fast!

Our blocked drain specialists have been serving Melbourne as leaders in blocked drain and drain cleaning services for two decades. Drainfast offer reliable, affordable, and efficient solutions to your blocked drain issues, so don’t hesitate to give us a call for a free quote on our services.

Drainfast is also an emergency plumber service that can respond 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to assist you with your blocked drain problems in Melbourne.

If you’re still unsure on how to unblock a drain, call the blocked drain plumbers at Drainfast on 1300 102 233 or leave a message on our contact form.

How to Unblock a Drain – Quick and Helpful Links:

Melbourne Water
Triple zero – 000
Victoria State Emergency Service
VicWater
City of Melbourne – Floods and Storms
Yarra Valley Water

Department of Health – Plumbing and Sewerage

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