How to unblock a sink

A blocked sink is usually something you can easily tackle yourself, without needing to call out a plumber. Here are our top tips to unblock it fast

unblocking a sink with a plunger
(Image credit: Getty/AndreyPopov)

Need to know – and fast – how to unblock a sink? We've all had that sinking feeling (sorry). But a blocked sink immediately makes using your kitchen impossible, and more often than not, it's a job you can take on yourself rather going to the expense of calling in a plumber, then the inconvenience of waiting for one to turn up. So if you're looking for tips to unblock your sink, you're in the right place – we've found all the best ways to approach the job.

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1. Use a plunger to unblock the sink

This method works when the problem is with bits of food stuck in the pipe. The trick is to cover the plunger with water once you've placed it over the drain hole: this will ensure that the plunger is properly sealed in. Next, use a pumping action to physically dislodge the blockage. 

2. Unclog the sink with a saline solution

If you don't have a plunger, or it's not working, you may be dealing with a more stubborn, compressed blockage that will consist of grease and food (your own little fat berg, if you like). What you need in this case is a solution that will break down the fat, forcing your blockage down the pipeline. To start, try dissolving a couple of tablespoons of salt in water, and pouring it down the plughole. Let it work for a good half hour to 40 minutes; then pour boiling water down the sink to wash down the solution. 

3. Use vinegar and baking soda to unblock the sink

This is a stronger solution than simple salt and water, and should work on tougher blockages. Use two teaspoons of baking soda to a cup of white vinegar; pour the mixture down the plug hole. 

4. Use a plumber's snake

If water isn't going down at all, you may be dealing with a really stubborn blockage that will need some elbow power to dislodge (and, of course, you can't use any of the liquid solutions recommended above in this case). A plumber's snake is basically a long, flexible wire that will travel down the pipe, allowing you to identify where the blockage is located. Try twisting it regularly to make sure you're not missing any bits inside the pipe. Then you can dislodge it and push it down. We advise against using hangers or any non-plumbing wires, as they might get stuck inside the pipe, making your problem even worse.

5. Unscrew the U-bend and clean the pipe manually

This is most time-consuming and labour-intensive option, but it may be the only thing that will work. Make sure that you turn off your water supply (there should be a red stop cock somewhere in your bathroom, or sometimes the kitchen) and line the kitchen flooring with old towels, as there is likely to be some spillage when you've unscrewed the U-bend. Unless you've done this before, take pictures along the way, so that you don't forget how to put it back together. Give the pipe a thorough clean, using rags and a bottle brush or old toothbrush to really get at any stubborn bits. PS. This is a pretty smelly job.

6. How to prevent your kitchen sink from getting blocked

Prevention is always better than cure, and kitchen sink blockages can be avoided:

  • Get a sink strainer; this is a cheap and simple solution to stop small bits of food going down your sink;
  • Avoid pouring oil or fat down the sink; oil and fat don't mix with water, so if you pour cooking oils down your sink regularly, they will begin to build up over time;
  • Clean your sink as maintenance; use the saline solution and boiling water method about once a month. It's good for keeping your pipes clean, and for hygiene. 

What to do with a blocked bathroom sink

By far the biggest culprit when it comes to bathroom sink blockages is hair. Of course, if you physically see hair clogging the plug hole, then physically removing it will help. If you can't see it, though, it's stuck somewhere further down, which calls for a sink unblocking product that will chemically dissolve the hair. It's not the most environmentally-friendly option, but sometimes it is the only solution that will work. 

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