How to Keep Drains from Clogging

Prevent and Clear Blocked Drains

Signs of Drain Backups-Thinkstock

A backed-up drain

Signs of a Drain Backup: Thinkstock

If you have running water in your home, here are a few important things you need to know about your drains!

How to Unclog a Sink and Prevent Clogs

  • Let plenty of water run down the drain by keeping the faucet open for up to a half a minute each day.
  • Sink lines commonly plug because not enough water is flushed through them, especially after the garbage disposal is used. Run the faucet for about five seconds after you turn off the disposal. This helps flush the line.
  • Never pour hot oil or grease down the sink—whether or not you have a disposal.
  • About once a month fill the sink to the top with very hot water. Using a fork or other kitchen utensil so you don’t scald your hand, remove the sink’s plug. As the clean hot water swirls down through the sink line, it takes much of the grease buildup with it.


To Keep a Toilet from Clogging

  • Don’t put anything foreign down the toilet except toilet paper.
  • Items such as dental floss, Q-Tips, baby wipes, or any other paper product cling to the roots in the sewer and cause an immediate blockage.
  • Always have a plunger on hand, and don’t wait until you need one to buy one—by then, it’s too late!

How to Unclog Drains: No Chemicals

  • Many people try chemicals before hiring a drain cleaning expert because they want to save money. Then they call the drain cleaner anyway because the chemical hasn’t cleared the drain.
  • Chemicals can solidify in a drain line and aggravate the blockage. If the chemical doesn’t eat through the blockage, therefore not flushing down the drain, the chemical sits in your sink line. It crystallizes, and then there is no way you can easily clean a sink line after chemicals harden in it.
  • It’s a good idea to keep a simple plumbing snake in your home. The snake can help you unclog your sink, bathtub, or shower drain if hair and other gunk happens to block them. Simple plumbing snakes can be bought online for only a few dollars.

Signs of Blocked Drains

When your sewer is plugged or your septic tank needs pumping, here’s what will happen:

  • Water backs up out of your tub drain when you flush your toilet.
  • When you empty your bathtub, the water stops flowing and bubbles back at you or bubbles into the toilet.
  • When you empty your kitchen sink, the sink water backs up into the toilet.
  • When you flush your toilet, sewer water backs up through an outside downspout, patio drain, driveway drain, or the lowest floor drain in your house.
  • When you run a load of laundry, soapy water comes up into a toilet, shower, or floor drain.

More Helpful Household Hints:


This article was originally published in 2010 and is regularly updated.

Reader Comments

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After using the toilet or taking shower or using the sink I have water leaking into my garage. I have a three level home and two bathrooms upstairs and one in downstairs. I need help and advice on what may be the problem. The leak drains around a pipe in my garage. Should I call a professional plumbers? Thanks!

A Watered Down Answer

Hi, Hilton: Absolutely!

So I live in the mountains.

So I live in the mountains. It has snowed a lot! My septic alarm is normal. Every time I wash dishes, laundry, or flush the toilet water comes back up my shower. I'm not sure what the problems is please help.


I run water in my kitchen sink and my toliet fills up in the bowl. I run water in bathroom sink same thing and every time I run water in kitchen and bathroom sink or flush toilet everything comes up in tub. My landlord says it's my problem, how it's just me??? Further more I need the wiring fixed, I haven't used my stove in over a year. He said I paid to fix it before and it on you, well he didn't pay the man so he came and got breaker switch and apparently it's on me. Another thing the roof leaks and needs repair, I told him if I fix it, it comes off rent. What really pissed me off he said I don't pay enough for him to do maintenance on house. I pay 385$ and he sweats me for rent but won't fix nothing and when I do he says he take it off rent well that's BS!!! I have been here 3 years, have 4 dogs, and no where to go if I call city, health Dept,or whomever. No signed lease offered multiple times to purchase house he talking 45gs man you got to be out of your mind. It ain't worth 20gs, and he says I can't sell it to you like this, bullshit you can as is just like a freaking car. Any suggestions I love this house and it has so much potential. Help me please!!!


We are renting a house for 650.00 a month here that's high. Our plumbing went crazy and everything backed up into the bathtub. We tried everything liquid fire, draino, snaked it. We told the landlord he refuses to fix it. Children's service was called and they made my 6 children leave. We have no one here that can keep the kids while we battle the landlord. The air has since gone out and we have been served an eviction notice because we with held the rent. I am on disability and can't afford to just up and move. Any advice

What a landlord is responsible for in thie rentals

Check the rental laws in your area. There are certain basic living conditions the landlord has to provide, or he can lose his rental license. I'm certain working septic is on the list, as well as HVAC (heating & cooling). Why would children's services be called BC of a household issue? It sounds like there is more going on than just the septic tank. Many states you can not withhold payment. It is up to the renter to use common sense & check into what a landlord is responsible for & who you need to contact when the landlord fails to uphold his end. If you haven't taken steps to find out what he's responsible for, do so immediately & contact whichever dept handles rental/landlord problems. Good luck

Bathtub clog,

I purchase a house in the country and I have septic system, my question is, how do I unclog pipes without putting harsh chemicals down the drain, the pipes are smaller in diameter and the regular snake does not work, please help, Thank you!

Keep drains flowing

Pour one cup of baking soda into the drain. Slowly add one cup white vinegar, allowing to bubble for a few minutes. Follow with a teakettle of boiling water. Do this once per month & you'll never have to worry about a clogged drain!

Drain water backing out of drain outlet in toilet

We live in duplex unit and we have a issue of drain water backing out of the ground floor toilet whenever we flush, use shower or use water in any of the sinks. the only place water comes out is the ground floor toilet that has a outlet on the floor. Irrespective where we use water, it comes out of that outlet. And the water is dirty and smelly. We don't know where to use plunger or put vinegar, etc. What should we do?

Wax like substance in septic tank

Every so Often I have to snake the main line at the point it drains into my septic tank. I have been getting clumps of what seems to be wax. Is this because I use the laundry detergent pods? Also,if I stop using the pods and have my tank pumped,will I still have this problem?
Thank you

Over time, there waxy

Over time waxy substance can collect in the drain from coagulated grease, oils, etc from dishwashers and washers draining into the same drain. You can try to pour a gallon of white vinegar into the kitchen sink drain about once a month to see if that helps. The vinegar will disolve any grease that’s in the drain.

When I do laundry my bathroom

When I do laundry my bathroom floods out of the toilet and bathtub all over my floor we've snaked the pipes under my trailer 3 times this week but it happens every time I washcloths, bath or potty my hubby is a do it yourself kinda guy so what would be your best advice

You might check your drain

You might check your drain vent, if you have one. This is usually a tube visible on the roof, and a few helpful youtube videos are out there describing how to fix the issue. Basically, the drain vent provides a passage for air, to help leverage the movement of water through your pipes. If that air doesn't come, then water through pipes creates pressure and (surprise) water can flow backward, coming out of drains elsewhere in the home.

After flushing my Toliet. The

After flushing my Toliet. The tank & bowl fills up. Then the water in the to let bowl drains out. The tank is still full & everything is flushing out of the toliet. Back to back bathrooms & both are doing this. This Morning I Was Running Water down the tub drain and my toilet started gurgling. What's going on. Help please!

Toilet not flushing. Bathtub & sink cause toilet to overflow

I am in an old rental house and the plumbing has always been slow. Now when I try to flush the toilet, the bowl fills with water and slowly drains out without actually flushing.

Water from the tub and sink drain into the toilet and will cause an overflow unless the water from the toilet has drained enough to hold the new drainage.

I was loading my dishwasher

I was loading my dishwasher and noticed that my sink on both sides were backing up. I turned off the water and my boyfriend went into the laundry room (going out to the garage) and noticed that water, dirt and food were wall over the laundry room floor. We can't figure out where the clog is. He snaked the kitchen and the laundry room drain. The bathrooms are just fine, nothing is backing up. Has anyone else had this problem?

We just purchased a home that

We just purchased a home that has been empty for over two years. There is a septic and also a gray water line the we can not find (per the neighbors). we had heard bubbling sounds from washing machine to kitchen sink and bathtub and vice verse, but no noise in the toilet. My husband placed a mini vent on the kitchen sink. That seemed to cure the issue for a week. Then today, we are all backed up, tub and kitchen sink is full of the washing machine water. It does not smell like sewage nor does it look like sewage. It smells like laundry soap with little chunks of dirty dish water. We do not want to hire a plumber... we are broke since we just purchased the home. please advise.

After using the toilet or

After using the toilet or taking shower or using the sink I have water leaking into my garage. I have a tri level home and two bathrooms upstairs and one in downstairs. I need help and advice on what may be the problem. The leak drains around a pipe in my garage

The drain in my garden has

The drain in my garden has been flooding out dirty foul smelling water into my garden. I noticed that when i ran kitchen tap the drain in garden started over flowing. What would you suggest? Can i deal with this myself?
Thanks in advance

My bathtub drains okay until

My bathtub drains okay until almost finished. It stops draining for a few seconds and the toilet begins bubbling. The tub then finishes draining and the water bounces around the pipes (very loud rushing water) until it finally gurgles out the main exit pipe. Our septic was pumped less than a month ago. No problems with any other drains in the house. No septic smells. Could this be a partial blockage or venting issue?

Please help. We're having

Please help. We're having problems in our house. There's water coming out from the first floor floor drains. We already called a professional for it but it doesn't change at all especially when we're using the washing machine. Thank you!

We had gurgling from both

We had gurgling from both (back to back)bathroom toilets. Sewage started backing up into both bathtubs. This is on the 23rd floor of a condo (3 floors below the penthouse). The condo dates 1975. A plumber was called, removed both toilets & found ''the cause of the blockage was tampons and baby wipes. I pulled out many on the end of the sewer machine.'' (What ever that is) Current female occupant is beyond menopause and there has not been a female nor baby in the unit since the summer of 2011. Could this waste date back 4 years? There have been no issues in those 4 years. Any ideas?

The house I'm living in is

The house I'm living in is over 100 years old. It's big and there's lots of divided plumbing lines to certain things they belong to. For instance, we have one bathroom that has it's own lines. Then there's a part of the house we call the laundry room but it also has a shower in it that works, but doesn't drain. In fact the sink drains into that shower and causes such a mess we can't even keep up with. We've talked to the land lord but he's totally clueless and doesn't even try to fix it, so that leaves us to do it our selves. We were cleaning it almost every day with a shop vac, a heavy duty push broom, and bleach. That whole room gets flooded and it's really a waste of time because the dishes are done every night. We eventually just gave up and said that the landlord had to fix it because we didn't cause this problem, we're just living here. But he never fixed it and it's been months, we have been seeing cockroaches, the water backup has turned into a thick film and we just can't stand to know theres a room in a hour that is this bad. My mom is cleaning it right now for the first time in a while, and it's just completely out of control. We tried to use the shop vac one again and it's broken now because it couldnt handle what was in the room I'm assuming. I really don't know what is causing this to happen. I'm not sure, but I do think someone came and snaked the drain for us once, and they said that it wasn't clogged or anything. We've used so many chemicals to "unclog" the drain, but nothings worked. I've tried to tell my mom it's never going to stay clean, and I think she knows this but what else is there to do really. She has an idea of building some kind of wall on the out side of the shower so that it all stays inside. Which might be a good idea, but I'm not sure. There's actually an add on room by the shower that was once used as a canning room and it was completely ruined by the water. We are going to have to pull up the carpet and take everything out of it. Anyways, I'm not sure what else to mention, but I really hope someone reads this and knows of any ideas of what to do to keep this from happening.

Re plumbing issues I rented a

Re plumbing issues

I rented a house for awhile that had issues similar to what others here are having. If your renting and your landlord wont fix it this can be reported the local health department.My old landlord had someone clean the drain from the street.This did not work.Why? Because it was the main sewer line that goes from the house to the street.This can run around 10,000 to repair.I suggest you video tape ,and take pictures of the issues for your records. Write or type up a nice letter requesting he fix the problems. Give him at least 5 days. Then contact the local health department. If you have already asked him to fix it ,and hes failed call the health department. They may condemn the home thou. I had to move out of my rental because the landlord would not make the repairs.

I'm having a problem with our

I'm having a problem with our old farm house plumbing. Every time we flush either toilet they fill CLEAR up before actually flushing. Once the decide to flush we here gurgling in all the drains *kitchen sink, bathtub, ect* We've tried chemicals but that hasn't done the trick. Any ideas?

Recently the toilet was

Recently the toilet was blocked plumber came out and cleared the blockage, but said a part in the cistern was broke taking ages and I mean ages for water to fill having me have to top up with a jug! Anyway yesterday plumber fixes broken part toilet works fine then tonight put my washing machine on and all of a sudden hear my toilet running after washing machine finshes notice toilet still running I go and check and when flush cistern takes seconds to fill which is good but keeps filling I have now a very loud and annoying hiss and water running sound been like this for now a good couple hours please help can't sleep!!

Need a better seal on flap or

Need a better seal on flap or a new flap. Some water is draining and the fluid master will keep kicking on to compensate. Replacement flapper are sold at any diy store. Very easy to replace

when i run either one of my

when i run either one of my sinks it overfills toilet ive had a plumber over twice first time he said it was a airbubble and worked fine for a few days next time he said it was my sump pump same thing worked for a few it a problem with the leechfeild?

Reverse problem, not in a

Reverse problem, not in a septic system. Our bathtub drains fine, but as it drains, it causes the toilet bowl (not tank) to drain out too. Is this more likely a clog, or something bad with how the lines are set up?

Bought an old 45 year house.

Bought an old 45 year house. Had new washer machine and when it drains I can hear it at my kitchen sink. But the problem is that the water starts over flowing out the washer drain pipe so I went and extended the 2 foot pipe to nearly four feet. Worked great for 3 weeks then started to overflow again. So then I figures to cover both sinks completely with plunger while completely duct tapping the washer drainage line to force down the water at high speed, but then black water force it's way up both sinks and smell like hard iron and sewaGe but not sewage at all, make sense? What kind of backup do I have. I'm on city sewage no septic. Help me please !!!!!