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How to Locate a Drain Clog

Every plumbing fixture in your home carries waste to the sewer or septic tank via a system of drainpipes. Also connected to this system are vents, which expel sewer gases out the roof. Each fixture has a “trap”—a U-shaped pipe (in the case of a toilet, part of the fixture itself)—that contains water in order to block sewer gases from entering your home.

When a fixture is blocked, check all the other toilets, sinks, and tubs in the house to see if they’re also draining improperly. If only the one fixture is clogged, the stoppage is usually located in that fixture’s trap or branch drain. If other fixtures are backed up, the blockage is probably beyond where they join a branch line.

Backups at lower points in the system—or throughout the entire system—usually mean that the main stack or sewer line is clogged. To remedy this situation, it’s usually wisest to call in a plumber.

General Advice for Unclogging Drains

1) If a drain is simply moving slowly, you can use a chemical drain cleaner, but beware—the caustic nature of most drain cleaners can damage certain kinds of pipes and upset the delicate chemical balance of a septic system. And, if the drain becomes fully clogged, the caustic solution can back up into a fixture, making it hazardous to plunge the drain.

2) Plunge the drain at the fixture.

3) Try to clear out a hair blockage in a sink or tub drain with the help of a straightened coat hanger with a small hook at one end. Remove and clean the pop-up as hair and debris often collect around this assembly.

4) Connect a hydraulic bladder to a garden hose and try blasting out the clog.

5) Try to clear the blockage with a snake, working from the fixture.

6) Try to clear the blockage with a snake, working from a branch cleanout.

7) If all else fails, call in a plumber.

It’s much easier, of course, to prevent a drain blockage in the first place. Scalding water can clear drains of grease. Install a strainer in kitchen and bathroom sinks to prevent hair and soap,  small utensils, and other objects from slipping down the drain.
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