How to unclog a sink drain successfully, with or without a plunger

Learn how to unclog a sink drain successfully to shift day-to-day blockages in your shower or kitchen sink quickly. Try the classic plunger or Drano method, while natural alternatives like salt, vinegar and even baking soda can give great results also

A kitchen sink in a modern kitchen
(Image credit: photovs / Getty)

Every household should know how to unclog a sink drain properly. Whether months of cooking and dishwashing have taken their toll on your kitchen sink, or your bathroom sink keeps getting clogged with hair, there are plenty of natural solutions to this common problem. And you don't even need a plunger (though it helps if you have one). 

Even the best kitchen sink can become clogged, but before you call out a plumber, try a few of these simple hacks. 

How to unclog a sink without a plunger

There are a variety of ways to successfully unclog a sink drain without using a plunger. From natural methods to using stronger commercial cleaning products and pure elbow grease, these are a few failsafe ways to try out at home.

1. Use soda crystals

Soda crystals (available from Amazon) are great for all kinds of cleaning jobs – from smelly washing machines to drains. But they can also be used for unclogging a  blocked sink drain. Simply dissolve half a pack in boiling water, pour it down the drain and wait for the blockage to clear. Mix with vinegar instead of water if you need a stronger solution. Repeat if necessary.

2. Use a sink unblocking product

If your sink is lazy, with water taking a while to go down the drain, and especially if you're dealing with a bathroom sink that has likely accumulated soap scum and/or hair clogs, use a dedicated drain unblocking product such as Drano. A sink unblocking product will chemically dissolve the hair. It's not the most environmentally-friendly option, but sometimes it is the only solution that will work. 

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

This is the most time-consuming and labor-intensive option, but it may be the only thing that will work. Unless you've done this before... Take pictures along the way, so that you don't forget how to put it back together. 

Have a bucket ready and old towels on the floor, too. We'd also open a window as the U-bend can whiff a bit. Give the pipe a thorough clean, using rags and a bottle brush or old toothbrush to really get at any stubborn bits. 

Reconnect the U-bend, ensuring the seals are tight. 

4. Unclog a sink with 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 grease 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. Using a snake is also a great method if you want to know how to unclog a toilet, too.

5. Unclog a sink naturally using baking soda and vinegar

Cleaning with vinegar and/or baking soda is a stronger solution than simply using salt and water. Plus, it should work on tougher blockages also. 

A slow draining sink is a smelly one at that. But, you can fix it naturally. Melissa Maker of Clean My Space advises: 'If your sink drains slowly—or if you have noticed a little funk wafting up from it—you may have some buildup that you need to flush out. Take about a cup of baking soda and dump it in the drain, and let it sit for an hour. Boil about 3 cups of white vinegar in a kettle (you actually descale your kettle at the same time!), then pour it down your sink. And your sink won’t stink anymore’.

6. Use a saline solution to dislodge a stubborn blockage

Now, if you don't have a plunger, or it's not working and you have standing water, you may be dealing with a more stubborn, compressed blockage that will consist of grease and food (your own little fatberg, 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.

7. Use a plunger

Sometimes using a plunger is the only way. This method works best when the problem is to do with bits of food or gunk stuck in the pipe.

  1. Remove debris: Take out the plug and clean the plughole by pulling out any obvious debris.
  2. Seal the plughole and overflow: With the plug still out, fill the sink with enough water to cover the plughole. Block up the sink's overflow with an old cloth.
  3. Prepping the plunger: Ensure the water you've run into the sink covers the plunger once you've placed it over the drain hole: this will ensure that the plunger is properly sealed in. 
  4. Using the plunger: Next, use a gentle pumping action to physically dislodge the blockage. 

orange toilet plunger

(Image credit: Getty Images)

How to stop your kitchen or bathroom sinks getting clogged up in the first place?

Prevention is always better than cure, right? And sink drain blockages can be avoided by:

  • Getting a sink strainer; this is a cheap and simple solution to stop small bits of food going down your sink. Just make sure you clean it too.
  • Avoiding 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. Take note even in a bathroom as some soaps and any products that contain oil can leave built-up gunk.
  • Learn how to clean a stainless steel sink regularly: Use the salt solution and boiling water method about once a month. It's good for keeping your pipes clean, and for hygiene. 

How to unclog a garbage disposal

(Image credit: Kitchenaid)

How do you dissolve a sink buildup?

Don't fancy messing about with plumber's snakes and plungers? There are lots of products that will dissolve (and resolve) most blockages within minutes, and if that doesn't work, then you know you have to call the plumber. Always look at the back of the product to make sure it is designed to tackle blockages and not simply deodorize and mantina clean drains.

Why is my kitchen sink constantly blocked?

If you've done all of the above and then a week later your sink is blocked again, you may be dealing with a bigger problem – and it's usually caused by grease build-up. Jake Romano, the manager of John The Plumber, goes as far as to say that 'when a kitchen sink is always blocking up, I'd be happy to bet money that you have quite a bit of grease and gunk in the drains.' 

And why is grease so often responsible for blocked drains? Well, 'grease is a tricky one because it doesn't really clean out all that easily. If you use Drano, Drano will burn a hole through it. If you snake it, the snake will drill a hole through it. But, shortly after using it again, the hole will fill in and you'll be back where you were.'

The solution? Call the plumber. Seriously. Romano reassures homeowners that 'many plumbers and drain cleaning services offer Hydro Jetting. Hydro jets are powerful pressure washers with a long, flexible hose that can be pushed through your drain system. It's designed in such a way that it can move around bends in your pipes, and it can blast away years' worth of gunk in seconds.'

Why is my shower drain always blocked?

If you need to unclog a shower drain or bathroom sink in particular, the culprit is most likely hair. Romano confirms: 'It's almost always hair.' To prevent hair clogs in your shower, 'use a hair strainer. Brush your hair before going into the shower. And, when you have a clogged shower, use one of those plastic clog removers.' Even picking up a super cheap hair strainer from Amazon can help.

Then, learn how to clean a bathroom sink regularly – don't let it get to the stage where it's blocked and you'll have far fewer issues. 

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These next-level shower drain de-clogging tools are worth grabbing for your cleaning cupboard. 

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A must for natural cleaning around the kitchen and beyond.

Drain = sorted.

Anna is a professional writer with many years of experience. She has a passion for contemporary home decor and gardening. She covers a range of topics, from practical advice to interior and garden design.