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How to make clogged bathroom sinks and toilet troubles disappear

Clogged Bathroom

As mentioned in an earlier post, you need to keep an eye on potential summertime plumbing problems. Your sinks, toilets and showers can get a lot of extra use thanks to hot, sweaty family members and houseguests. This heavy-duty workload can open the door for some genuinely unpleasant situations, like a clogged bathroom sink or a troublesome toilet.

Address the mess: Clogged bathroom sinks and toilets that won't stop running

Clogged bathroom creates lines

Your clogged bathroom sink keeps clogging and re-clogging, over and over again. You dump some Drano, the clog goes away and a week later, it's back. Why?

Or maybe you're familiar with this scenario: you're running late. You hit the bathroom before you run out the front door. You flush the toilet, and you wait for the tank to fill, but the water keeps running...and running...and running.

Sometimes, a quick jiggle of the toilet handle does the trick. Other times, it doesn't -- at least not on the first try. You can waste gallons of water (and so much time!) if you don't know how to make that running stop.

Why sinks clog and toilets run

  • A clogged bathroom sink or tub drain is the result of accumulated dirt, skin flakes and hair. This nasty trio binds to soap scum inside of your plumbing. Over time, this accumulation reduces water flow -- or dams it altogether.
  • Toilets depend on gravity and a fairly simple system to flush correctly. That simple system, however, can still get out of whack, especially after prolonged use or a period of years.

Here's how to tackle these problems:

Clogged bathroom sink

Fixing a clogged bathroom sink

If your bathroom sink isn't draining, pull out the remove the pop-up stopper (if you have one). You may have to do this from beneath your sink. Tug slowly, in case a glob of hair and soap is stuck to it. Oftentimes, you'll be able to clear the obstruction that's been trapped here. Voila -- problem solved.

Drano or even sulphuric acid can eat through a clog, but regular use of caustic products can be expensive, time-consuming and dangerous. Probably not the best idea to regularly torch your plumbing, either! There are several home remedies for clearing a clogged bathroom sink, including boiling hot water mixed with vinegar or chlorine bleach.

Snaking a drain is another way to clear a clogged bathroom sink. There are a couple of inexpensive options that homeowners can try: a drum auger, which is a plumbing snake that you attach to a drill. The drill spins the snake slowly but surely down the pipe and, hopefully, through your clog.

Some homeowners swear by a drain-cleaning tool called the Zip-It to force through and break up bathroom clogs.

If the first steps don't work, you may start feeling adventurous. You can remove the drain’s elbow joint and clean it out. Our own team wrote about this plumbing solution a while ago, and offer some important advice:

Be prepared for some unfamiliar smells when you actually go about untwisting the trap, as the main function of this piece is to literally "trap" water in a way that will block unpleasant plumbing odors.


Still having a problem?

Check the vents on your drain plumbing—they are on your roof. A blocked vent can prevent your clogged bathroom sink from draining properly.

Yes, this involves climbing up on the roof and potentially clearing out anything from a dead (or, maybe worse, a live and angry) bird to leaves and garbage. Proceed with caution!

The clog may also be somewhere in your plumbing system that you can't reach with your own tools. You may need to call a plumber with a professional-grade, extra-long snaking equipment to clear your line, especially if you live in a neighborhood with mature trees. The roots often find their way into cracks in your pipes and cause blockage.

The ever-running toilet

Fixing clogged bathroom sinks and troublesome toilets

The good news: a running toilet is usually an easy, do-it-yourself fix. Let's dive in, shall we?

Pop the lid off your toilet tank and take a look inside. You should see four main parts:

  1. A round rubber flapper, probably in the center, connected to the flush lever.
  2. A pump, usually located to the left, which refills the tank after it empties.
  3. A float, probably on the right-hand side, which rises and lowers with the water level.
  4. An overflow tube, which should be right next to the flapper.

NOTE: The water in the tank is clean, so don't worry about putting your hands in it. Just wash them when you're done.

Now what?

Check the chain that connects the flapper to the lever. Is it too short or too long, preventing the flapper from closing correctly.

Look at the flapper itself. Is it warped? Cracked? Dirty? If so, replace it. You should be able to pick up the new parts inexpensively at a hardware store.

Next, flush the toilet and watch to see when the tank stops filling. The water should stop just below the overflow pipe. If it doesn't, the float is set too high. Try to bend the rod connecting the float to the pump to keep the float lower, signaling the pump to turn off sooner.

Alternately, you may need to adjust float in the tank by turning the screw on top of the fill valve. You want the toilet to stop filling approximately 1” below the top of the overflow tube.

Calling in the professionals

Sometimes, DIY solutions don't work. You may feel uncomfortable doing the work yourself because you're worried about breaking something. Maybe you just don't want to deal with gross, sticky hairballs or tinker with the guts of your toilet.

Fair enough! In those situations, call the plumbing experts. You can schedule service with us online at your convenience. And if you have any questions, feel free to connect with us on Twitter.