A beginner’s guide to sink unblocking

When we notice that our kitchen sink, bath or wash basin is draining a bit more slowly than usual, our standard reaction is to think, ‘I’ll deal with that later’ and get on with our days. Some poking down the plughole with a coat hanger may follow and you may even reach for a brand name drain unblocking fluid if the sink or bath continues draining slowly. These methods may help, but in most cases there will be an underlying problem that is causing your sluggish plughole.

The bad news is that you will probably have to deal with the problem, as left unattended, it may just get worse. The good news is that this is relatively simple to do and that even the least-experienced DIY-er should be able to deal with it. Unblocking your pipes could even be seen as a gateway to bigger DIY jobs. The satisfaction of finishing off a simple job like this may well see you seeking out more minor jobs around the home that you can sort out on your own.

purple and white kitchen

Image source: Susan Serra, CKD

Whilst the drain unblocking fluid (or your homemade variant) may help to rid you of some blockages, such as fats, it won’t get rid of more solid build-ups. It also won’t introduce any pressure into the drainage system and allow blockages to be flushed out.

The best way to do this is perhaps the oldest and most simple method, although not everyone does it right. Yes, not everyone wields a sink plunger in the correct fashion and what looks like drain-clearing basics is not as straightforward as it may at first appear.

Firstly, you need to make sure you have a plunger that is both large enough and flexible enough to do the job. Something from the local pound shop may not be the best, so if you need a plunger then head to your local ironmonger or DIY shop. It will still only cost you a few pounds, but it will do the job better than something made of stiff, inflexible rubber.

modern kitchen design

Image source: Photographs by Gnangarra via Wikimedia Commons

Run some water into the sink and allow your drainage to block a little, then place the plunger over the plughole, ensuring some water is left in the sink. Then it is very important to cover the overflow, preferably with a damp cloth. This allows the plunging action to work properly. Many people try to plunge the sink or bath without covering the overflow and just give up when nothing happens.

If you need extra grip then you can rub a layer of petroleum jelly around the rim of the plunger to create a good seal. Carry on pumping for a couple of minutes until the water drains away as it should. You can also try to repeat this with a small hand-held hydraulic pump if you have one. They can be purchased for around £10.

If plunging or pumping does not clear the blockage then you may need to get your hands dirty. Again, this is not a difficult task and requires very little DIY knowhow. Simply place a bowl or bucket beneath the trap (the bowed part) underneath your sink, basin or bath and then unscrew this piece of pipe. Its shape and position mean that this is the part of the pipe that will collect anything that washes down your plughole, from hair to cotton buds or even wedding rings. You will often find that you simply have to remove a pile of rather hairy black gunk from this trap to get your water flowing down the drain again.

If neither of this methods work then it could be time to call the plumber. The blockage may be further down inside your pipework, although this is usually a simple job for a plumber to solve. It just might take a little while to locate the problem.

Iain Aitch

Iain is a London-based writer who works as a journalist for a number of newspapers and magazines. He has also written two books, one of which is a hilarious lexicon about Britishness – Iain is a Brit through and through!

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    1. Hi Robert,

      If you need help finding a trade member to help, you can post your job on our main website and up to three trade members can get in touch to help you (here: We send you links to their profile pages where you can use our rating and review system to help you hire a trade member that you’re comfortable working with. We always advise having a read of our homeowner checklist before hiring too:

      Best of luck getting those toilets fixed!

  1. I have quite often found that if you place the palm of your hand over the plug hole and quickly force the trapped air underneath it does the job.No tools necessary.Give it a try.

  2. Apply Bicarbonate Of Soda & Malt Vinegar Periodically
    To All Sink, Bath & Basin Plug Holes To Keep Drains Clean & Clear.
    Citric acid powder in a hot 90C w/ machine wash will also keep your m/c free of limescale & its associated pipework free of bacteria / odours.

  3. I found this a tricky job (the fittings were not standard in my old house, difficult to get to and stiff) and was left with a waste pipe I couldn’t put back together again – a worse situation than I had in the first place. I recommend a home emergency insurance policy, or finding a trustworthy, reasonably priced plumber before you need them, 100%. My home emergency insurance is the best investment I’ve ever, ever made for my home, avoiding the need for hefty call out charges. Totally fantastic.

  4. knocking noice when using cold water ie toilet washing machine dish washer have tried to get rid but still there

    1. Hi Mrs Pinder,

      I would recommend seeking a trade member ( to help you if DIY attempts have failed. When you post a job, up to three interested trade members local to you are able to get in touch to offer their services and from then on, it’s up to you to decide who to hire, using their profile pages complete with ratings and reviews as a guide. Best Wishes!

  5. Unblocking sewage drains is not easy to do. This article will definitely help everyone who is unfamiliar with cleaning drains. Before I knew how to clean drains properly, I always hire professional cleaners to do the work for me. If you are having a hard time following the tips here, hiring a professional is not a bad idea since you might damage your drain system if you do it without supervision.

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