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Learning About Different Clogs


There are several levels of clogs. The least serious, but annoying nonetheless is the slow drain. This type of clog will allow the water to drain but very slowly. Often it is a build-up of soap scum, hair and other organic matter. Some simple tools like a plunger or drain snake clog remover (an inexpensive plastic device with barbs on its shaft) can be very effective. We recommend an organic product such as BioOne to maintain the drain once it is cleared.

Other devices such as compressed air tools can be very effective. These are made for the professional plumber and can cost several hundred dollars, but I have seen an inexpensive, homeowner friendly device that looks and acts like a pump.

One would place the protective rubber end in the drain opening and is operated with direct manual force. Remember, that when plunging a lavatory drain, you will need to lock the sink overflow opening with a rag or all the plunging power will need to block the sink overflow opening with a rag or all the plumbing power will be dissipated through that opening. The next level clog will not allow any waste water to pass at all.

Often this affects only a single fixture such as a bathtub, shower or lavatory. The best and first device to try is a top snake, a hand-cranked snake which you put down the shower or lavatory drain. For bathtubs, it is most effective to remove the 2 screws holding the overflow assembly, remove the assembly and push the snake down the waste and overflow tube. See YouTube for how-to on this subject. Feed the snake a few inches at a time so as to not kink the cable when you encounter a blockage. A slow, methodical back and forth action works best.


The toilet blockage is a special animal. Toilet plunging is the first and best place to start. This takes VIGOROUS action so hide the toothbrushes and be prepared to protect eyes and other body parts for splash-out. Have lots of rags or old towels on hand for the inevitable clean-up. Probably 75% of toilet clogs can be solved with a good plunger, elbow grease and sheer fortitude.

If you think you’ve cleared it, DO NOT just flush the toilet to test; take off the tank lid and allow a small amount of water through the flush valve by gently lifting the flapper up a little bit at a time. The goal, of course is not to flood your bathroom with nasty waste water. Keep trying until, hopefully you are successful. The next device to try is a closet augur, a hand snake specifically designed to go through the toilet passageway and into the main pipe up to about 6 feet. Using the augur is beyond most homeowner’s capacity, but doable for the adventurous.

This also comes with the caveat that you may scratch the porcelain inside the bowl and leave unsightly marks which may be difficult to remove. However, if you do scratch the interior of the bowl, try Barkeepers Friend Cleanser. Using a “closet augur” is an interesting challenge which only a few are willing to tackle.

The third level of drain clog involves multiple fixtures. It helps to visualize the plumbing system piping to be able to determine where the “stoppage” is located. There are several factors here to consider. Is your home a single level or multiple stories, is the stoppage affecting one bathroom group or every plumbing fixture in the house?

Many homes have an exterior clean-out which will give you some insight as to where the clog may be located. If you can remove the clean-out cover, shine a light down into the drain to see if you have “flow” in certain areas of the house by testing one fixture at a time.

If the house “main” is holding water then the clog is downstream of that which will require a large power snake capable of clearing a 4″ main drain lateral. At this point, my recommendation is to call a professional plumber. You might end up spending the better part of the day frustrated by the effort, the back and forth of renting equipment and calling one anyway the end. I hope this helps.

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