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Clearing a clogged drain

So the other day I’m doing some laundry, I go down to put it in the dryer and FUUUUUDGGGGEE, the utility sink is COMPLETELY FULL. Not good, right? The sink should easily be able to handle the water from the washer.

No way it should look like this.

No WAY this should be this full.


So now what.

This might seem very elementary, but sometimes the mind goes wonky and you start to think worst-case-scenario. Like that there’s a busted pipe under the basement floor and you’re going to be buying a plumber a new boat. Don’t freaking run to the phone and call a plumber. Let’s break it down.

Obviously there must be a blockage.

Check out cleaning a tub drain, you’ll reach in and pull a big clump of lint that’s blocking the drain and SPLOOOOOSH, the water will be gone in a minute… Um, not in my case.

Next, move to the plunger. Let me just say that using the plunger in a sink full of soapy water is a WAY different experience than using it in a toilet to fix the problem for which it was invented, especially when you get a splash. But I digress, in my case, the plunger did nothing.

Once you’ve exhausted the two simplest options it’s time to wait for the water to drain sloooooooooooowly and then check the p-trap. In a bathroom or kitchen sink situation, the p-trap is no big deal, it’s unscrew it, clear it, reattach it. But with a basement utility sink you better wait until you have all day in case some old pipe decides to crumble in your hand, or you break the bottom of the 50 year-old utility sink off, or even better, you break the pipe off that goes underground. So what I’m saying is BE CAREFUL.

Anyway, my trap had some stuff in it, most of which was, I’m embarrassed to say, hardened grout or mortar from our bathroom renovation and Mr. lazy (me) convincing himself that it would all wash down, but once I cleared that all out and reassembled the p-trap, it was still not draining.

Now it’s time to get out your drain auger.

If you don’t have one, now’s the time to go buy one. I’d guess that in most cases a 25′ pistol-grip drain auger will work just fine. I’m sure you’ve seen them. They look like this and can be very handy. They might also be called a drain snake.

Using one of these is pretty simple and straightforward. Since you’ve already cleared the p-trap you should just remove it again and go right down the drain. You feed this baby in slowly and when you feel resistance, you’re there. You may feel slight resistance turning corners or whatever, but you’ll be able to feel the difference between a corner and a clog.

Once you’re at the blockage, try and move the end of the snake through the clog, flip the lock (which most have) and then start turning the handle. I usually try and feed out more and keep using in and out techniques, feeding more out, working that drain. You need to just use that moment of drain clearing zen and know when to reel that baby back in (don’t worry, you’ll need to repeat this a few times to REALLY clear the blocakge out). If you’re lucky, hopefully you’ll catch something. like this:


I know that’s a “clean” mess because this is not a toilety drain, it’s washer lint and other gunk that’s gone down the drain so it’s not completely disgusting, only mostly disgusting. NEATLY clean that gunk off the snake. It will be gray and flicker and splatter as you clean it off, and it will have a weird stench to it, and the smell will NOT wash off of your hands. Just ask Emily.

After a few rounds of drain snaking, I ended up with this:

Stinky blockage


Just to make the pipe extra clean I busted out my BrassCraft drain bladder and BLASTED that baby. If you don’t know what a drain bladder is, it’s kind of like a heavy duty water balloon that you hook up to a hose, shove in a pipe, crank on the water, and wait for it to expand. When it touches the sides of the pipe it lodges in place, it won’t be able to expand any more, and that’s when the water jetstreams out of the little hole in the end of it, effectively blasting out anything that might be in its way.

Brasscraft Drain Bladder


And now, the world famous LIVE video test. OK, it’s not world famous, Marty did it on his carb cleaning post so I thought I’d do it in mine, too.


  • Heather

    That is NASTY. I can barely stand to clean out the shower drain when necessary, and it has never looked anything like that. When the shower drain got clogged while I was pregnant, I made Michael clean it out because even the thought of it made me gag. And I won’t even pretend that it wasn’t all MY hair, either.


    • Pete Fazio

      I have little experience with being pregnant, but can’t almost anything make you want to gag even if it’s not the nasty drain?


  • Strep

    A fun tip from my mom: use one leg of pantyhose (tightly) attached around the tube where laundry water empties into the sink. It will trap lint better than a mesh store bought version and is super cheap to replace.


    • Pete Fazio

      So funny. My mom called me and told me the same thing. My only response was “who wears pantyhose anymore, mom?”


  • Tobi

    Thanks for sharing this. I struggled a lot with blocked drains but found so many valuable tips. It’s fantastic that you are sharing your experiences with all of us. Highly appreciated and very helpful!


  • Greta James

    For the last few days, my kids have been telling me that the drain in their bathroom shower is not working very well. Thank you for your advice that a drain auger can help pull out a lot of the clog as it gets tangled in the clog. I really appreciate your advice on how to do it yourself; however, I don’t like getting my hand dirty, and I don’t have the right tools. I think I will just look for professionals that could help us!


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