Seven easy ways to unclog your kitchen sink

Nothing cramps your culinary style like a sink full of standing water floating with the ghosts of dinners past. Clogged drains are a part of life—luckily, kitchen sink clogs are easy to address, and even easier to prevent in the future.

arm with tattoos wearing a mint green rubber glove giving a thumbs up

Table of contents

Why kitchen sink clogs happen in the first placeWhat you’ll need to unclog7 ways to unclog your kitchen sink4 tips for preventing clogs

Why kitchen sink clogs happen in the first place

Kitchen sink clogs are caused by food. Over time, all the scraped plates and crumbs and liquids (especially cooking oil or fat) poured down the drain or garbage disposal can accumulate and form a clog.

You’ll know it’s time to unclog your sink when:

  • The water takes longer than usual to drain

  • There’s a funky odor that you can’t track down

  • The sink has filled up with debris-filled water—and running the garbage disposal has little to no effect. 

But before you go sticking your hand down the drain for a feel, unplug the garbage disposal so that you’re sure it’s off and there’s no risk of it turning back on while you’re working. 

What you’ll need to unclog

  • Rubber gloves. Gloves are a good call when facing the deep, dank underworld of clogs. They’ll help protect your fingers from the blades of the garbage disposal, and give traction when dealing with grease.  

  • Plumber’s wrench. You’ll use this to loosen the slip nuts holding the drain pipe in place.

  • Empty bucket. To place under the open pipe while you clean the drain trap.

  • Plunger. Plungers aren’t just for clogged toilets: They may just work some magic on your sink, too. For the best suction, you’ll want a cup-style plunger that completely covers the drain opening to create a tight seal.

  • Drain snake. Prepare to accept that the drain snake, also called a plumber’s snake, will become your go-to for clearing clogs. This retractable, flexible drilling tool does it all: toilets, shower drains, clogged bathroom sinks, and yes, kitchen sinks. You can pick up at any hardware store. Disposable plastic versions of the snake are also available—no cranking required. 

  • Old toothbrush. For detailing the inside of a drain trap as needed.

  • Rags. For plugging up overflow openings, sealing around a plunger, soaking up any splashes, and more.

  • Flashlight (or your phone). For getting a visual on the clog.

kitchen sink against a white wall with a round mirror

7 ways to unclog your kitchen sink

Here are seven simple methods to unclog your sink using household items, with step-by-step instructions.

1. Remove the clog by hand. If you can, use a flashlight to get a good look inside the drain. Sometimes, a clog is immediately visible near the surface and easily accessible. Put on a pair of rubber gloves and extract the clog as best you can.

2. Use a plunger. 

Step 1: If your kitchen has a double sink, use a rag to plug the drain that is not clogged.

Step 2: Place the plunger cup over the clogged drain and establish a strong seal. If there is no standing water in the sink, add some now. You want just enough to cover the plunger cup.

Step 3: Plunge the drain: Make 6 even, up-and-down thrusts, keeping the seal intact.

Step 4: Remove the plunger: If the water drains away, you’ve cleared the clog. If it doesn’t, repeat the process. 

3. Use boiling water. Often, a clogged kitchen sink can be solved with one or two good blasts of very hot water. (This works best if the sink is not already full of standing water.) 

Step 1: Boil water in a large pot on your stove.

Step 2: Carefully pour water down the drain to loosen or break up the clog. 

Step 3: Test the drain again, and repeat as necessary. 

4. Use a natural drain cleaner. Conventional drain cleaners don’t usually work as well as they claim to, and they’re full of harmful chemicals. A natural remedy of vinegar and baking soda can be just as effective, depending on the state of the clog. 

Step 1: Pour 1 cup of baking soda into the drain.

Step 2: Pour 1 cup of white distilled vinegar into the drain. 

Step 3: Allow to sit for at least an hour, then rinse with boiling water. If there’s no change, the clog is likely further along in the pipe and will need to be broken up manually. (See the next two methods.)

Repeat as necessary. 

5. Remove and clean the drain trap. Sometimes the clog will be located below the garbage disposal in the drain trap, also called a U-pipe or P-trap, which is located underneath the sink. 

Step 1: Place a bucket underneath the U-pipe to catch any runoff. 

Step 2: Use a plumber’s wrench to loosen the nuts on either side of the pipe, holding it steady with the other hand. 

Step 3: Empty the pipe into the bucket and inspect for clogs. 

Step 4: Clean, and reattach the U-pipe when finished.

6. Use a drain snake. If you have a sink without a garbage disposal, you can also use the long cord of a drain snake to break up a clog. If you do have a garbage disposal, you won’t be able to access it through the top side of the drain, so you’ll need to work below. 

Step 1: Place a bucket underneath the U-pipe to catch any runoff. 

Step 2: Use a plumber’s wrench to loosen the nuts on either side of the pipe, holding it steady with the other hand. 

Step 2: Use the snake to send a metal wire or grooved plastic rod down into the pipe to either break up or pull out whatever is clogging it. You’ll know when you’ve reached it when you feel resistance. The end of the snake will catch the clog, and then you can either dislodge or capture and remove it. You may need to use a push and pull method to coax the clog out.

Step 3: Slowly pull in the line in a clockwise motion, so as not to lose the clog along the way. The bucket should catch the clog, and you can remove the snake through the drain.

Step 4: Reassemble the U-pipe and run hot water down the drain for a minute or two to clear of any remaining debris.

7. Call a plumber. If all of the above has had no effect on the speed of the drain, it’s time to call a professional.

circular drain with water rushing down

4 tips for preventing clogs

1. Regular cleaning. Now that you know how easy it is, it’s a good idea to clean your kitchen sink drain every so often to prevent build-up and keep things in good working order. Your seasonal deep clean is a great time to do this.

2. Go easy on the garbage disposal. It’s tempting to sweep food scraps into the sink and disappear them under the satisfying whirr of powerful blades, but any plumber will tell you: A garbage disposal isn’t actually meant for garbage. Things like seeds, pits, and nuts wreak havoc on filters and drains, and long peels or stringy vegetables like celery get wrapped around the blades and accelerate build-up in the drain. If you can, keep a compost bin for food waste and leave the sink for minor debris. 

3. Don’t dispose of grease or oils in the sink. The proper way to dispose of cooking oil is to let it cool completely, then transfer it to a disposal container, like a glass jar or Tupperware. Save plastic delivery containers for this purpose and you won’t be as tempted to pour it into the drain, where it coats the pipes and traps food as it passes by, leading to stubborn, hard to dissolve build-up.

4. Keep odors at bay. You may have heard that used coffee grounds can be put down the garbage disposal as routine maintenance, but don’t. They may help with odor up top, but they can build-up and lead to clogs down below. A regular dose of baking soda and white vinegar, or even a juiced lemon, are a much better option.   

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