DIY Plumbing Problem Solving: How To Clear Clogs

by Guest Contributor

The following is a guest post by Chris Long, a store associate at a Home Depot in the Chicago suburbs. If you would like to write an article for Money Q&A, please visit our Guest Posting Guidelines page.

dollar-bills-down-drainWhen your toilet is out of commission or your sinks are stuck, instead of calling in the professionals for a pricey sink or toilet repair, invest in a few inexpensive plumbing supplies and tackle the job yourself. You can tackle plumbing problem solving yourself to save money.

It’s true: many plumbing repairs are within your grasp, even if you are a first time DIY-er. Of course, the more complicated the problem, the more likely you’ll need to enlist some professional support but for many issues – namely, clogs – you can get by with some simple plungers and drain cleaners. You can handle DIY plumbing problem solving.

DIY Plumbing Problem Solving

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Believe it or not, that little Pepto-pink/rust-red rubber plunger that you can pick up for a couple of bucks (and are likely to find in any house on the map) is not even designed for the toilet. Which prefaces this nicely: not all plungers are created equal.

The “plunger” with which most folks are intimately familiar is actually designed for use in the sink, not the toilet. These are referred to as sink, forced cup or bell plungers and have a wide suction cup shape with a flat bottom edge in order to fully encircle whatever drain it is sitting atop.

They are very effective at unclogging sinks, bathtub drains and even dislodging material trapped in a garbage disposal.

For the toilet, you have your toilet plungers (gasp!), also called flange, bellows or even accordion plungers.

Basically, a toilet plunger is a sink plunger with a narrow flange attached to the bottom of the bell. This flange fits snugly into the toilet’s drain hole in order to provide a forceful rush of water to break up blockages.

*Tip: If you have a low-flow toilet, get a low-flow plunger designed just for this purpose: they are made with a funneled nose that creates a tighter seal in the drain and prevents backsplash!

When used properly, these sink and toilet plungers can handle the majority of clogs all on their own. For tougher clogs, you may also choose to use a drain opener or cleaner in conjunction with the appropriate plunger.

Different Drain Cleaners

Initially, always start with the path of least resistance to find the place that is causing the resistance. In other words, chemicals should only come in to play after a plunger on its own has proven insufficient.

After all, if you use the chemicals first and they don’t work, you have to go to work on the clog that is now situated in toxic water that might come back to bite you. Like, literally burning you in the face when it splashes back out of the drain. Not fun.

So if you do combine the two, be sure to let the chemicals sit overnight to reduce the risk of injury to yourself and others. And always wear gloves!

That being said, here are two types of go-to drain openers.

Enzyme Drain Treatments

This type of drain cleaner utilizes enzymes that eat away at the organic matter clinging to the sides of your pipes. Best used on slow running drains, enzyme cleaners are not effective on completely clogged pipes. You can buy these in either a powder or ready-to-use liquid form.

For these treatments, you need to be able to leave the water off for an extended period of time – the longer the better but at least overnight – so it’s a good idea to pour this before going away for the weekend.

Simply mix up the appropriate amount of powder with water and drizzle it down the drain, or just pour the ready-to-use liquid right in. You may need several applications when first using this product but continue with a monthly drain cleanse thereafter. These products are similar to what anyone who has a septic tank would use monthly to keep the honey wagon away.

Alkaline Drain Cleaners

An alkaline liquid drain cleaner like Drano works to remove buildup and clear clogs caused by grease, hair and gunk. These cleaners come in liquid, gel, crystal and “foaming” types, but all do the same thing and work quickly.

An effective cleaning method using this type of product is to pour it down the drain, allow it to sit for an hour or so and then follow it up with a boiling water flush (boil a pot of water and carefully pour it down the drain).

Free Flow Lines

Now that the clogs are cleared, keep them that way by following a couple of simple preventative guidelines:

  • Use a drain screen in the shower to catch hair that will work its way back into your pipes.
  • Stay on top of toilet and drain maintenance because if you wait until you experience a problem, it’s already too late.

What are some of the DIY plumbing projects and repairs you’ve performed that have helped to clean your pipes and keep your cash?

Chris Long is a store associate at a Home Depot in the Chicago suburbs. Chris writes on plumbing topics for the Home Depot website, helping homeowners on the repair of toilets to bathroom sink and shower plumbing topics.

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Bryce @ Save and Conquer

We had a problem with the drain pipe getting clogged out by the street. (I think my wife may have flushed a supposedly flushable clean wipe.) I could tell it was outside the house because both the washing machine drain and kitchen sink drain were backing up. I went to the local tool rental and rented a power snake. I then opened the drainpipe access port at the front of the house. I ran the snake until it seemed to hit an obstruction. There was a point where it got difficult to push, and when I pulled it back, it had some white cloth-like stuff stuck on it. I rammed it back down and cleared the clog. I asked my wife not to flush anything other than toilet paper. We have not had a clog like that for years. Knock on wood.


Christine @ ThePursuitofGreen

I’ve been living in apartments so usually I can call maintenance to fix the issue! At times though I have done my own diy unclogging for when the drainage just gets slow. I don’t buy anything at the store, I use an earth-friendly method that works decently well for small stuff. I pour about 1/2 cup of baking soda down the drain, microwave 1 cup of vinegar til hot, then pour that down. It creates a big foamy mess, but I find the water does drain faster afterwards. Plus no chemicals!



I am fortunate enough that my husband is an engineer (and also specializes in plumbing), so he’s the one to solve all these issues. Not having someone like him or being willing to do some of the ‘dirty’ jobs ourselves, would surely cost quite a lot.


Simon @ Modest Money

Fact, plumbers can be a bit pricey no doubt about that. With the internet though I guess one can pick up one or two things to successfully conduct a DIY plumbing solution and as you do point out, its not that hard!
Still, I think I would be better off in the hands of a qualified plumber, I mean, who knows, I might exercebate the problem and have to cough up more later!


Grease Trap Maintenance NJ

Getting your drains cleaned by a professional is the best way to keep your drains and sewer system fully functional. Sometimes the issues that homeowners experience are far more complicated than they realize. Many customers will easily find themselves spending hundreds of dollars paying for chemicals and equipment to repair a clogged plumbing issue that they could never fix, only to call us later.


drain cleaning service NJ

One of the first advantages of drain cleaning is that you limit the occurrences of clogged drains. Depending on the location of the clogged drain, there are a number of substances that can clog your pipes and render them useless. Hair, objects, cooking oil, mineral build up and food are all common causes of clogged drains.Getting your drains cleaned by a professional is the best way to keep your drains and sewer system fully functional. Sometimes the issues that homeowners experience are far more complicated than they realize. Many customers will easily find themselves spending hundreds of dollars paying for chemicals and equipment to repair a clogged plumbing issue that they could never fix, only to call us later.
Drain cleaning allows your pipes to dispose of your wastewater quickly. The more efficient your waste plumbing, the less of a risk to cross-contamination issues, such as backflow. We do not want organic waste to begin to accumulate inside our piping, which can lead to blockages and piping damage.


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