Considering all the stuff we put down our kitchen sink—food scraps, expired milk, leftovers-turned-science-experiments—having it all come back up because of a clogged drain is unpleasant, to say the least. Kitchen sink drain cleaning is a common need among home owners.
We’ve all seen the classic plumbing scene in commercials and TV shows: A plumber lying under the kitchen sink, tools spread out on the kitchen floor around him. So, when your kitchen sink is slow to drain or the drainpipe backs up into the sink, how hard can it be to unclog?
The Anatomy of a Kitchen Sink
For all the work they do and as often as we use them, kitchen sinks are simple devices.
Faucet. The faucet is where water comes out and is made up of a spout, gaskets, flanges, aerators, washers, and screws. If you’re replacing your kitchen faucet, follow these instructions (link to page).
Controls. This is how you turn the water on and off. Single levers rotate to different water temperatures. Dual levers separate hot from cold.
Basin. This is the sink that holds water. Water escapes from the basin through the drain at the bottom of the basin. You have either a single or a double basin sink in your kitchen.
Drain. The drain allows water from the faucet to escape from the sink basin and is connected to your P-trap and plumbing connection inside the walls.
Trap. This is a P-shaped pipe made up of two parts under your sink that allows waste and water to escape. The curve or bend in the pipe prevents sewer gasses from entering your home.
Drain Hoses. Your kitchen sink probably has two drain hoses. One attached to an air gap (if you have a dishwasher) to prevent back-siphoning and the other attached to your garbage disposal (if you have one) or to the sink tailpiece.
Cleanout. The cleanout is a pipe fitting positioned next to the P-trap that provides you with a way to clear clogs and remove gunk and debris.
Shut-off Valve. Also called a stop, these valves are typically oval-shaped handles attached to a flexible metal line near the sink to help you control the flow of water. Turning off the valve allows you to cut off the supply of water to the sink without turning the water off in the entire house.
Garbage Disposal. The garbage disposal (if you have one) is attached to your P-trap and grinds down food to help prevent clogs when carrying it away from your sink.
Strainer. The strainer connects to your drainpipe and filters debris out of your system.
Tailpiece. Also called a sink or drain tailpiece, this section of pipe connects to the drain fitting and carries water away from the sink.
Water Supply Lines. Water supply lines attach to your sink’s faucet controls to bring hot and cold water to the sink.
Strainer. A sink strainer is a basket that fits over your sink’s drain to collect food waste that you don’t want in your garbage disposal. If you don’t have a garbage disposal, the strainer is especially important for avoiding clogged drains.
Spray Head. This is a removable fixture attached to your water supply lines via a spray hose for easier cleaning. You can use the faucet or the spray head, but using one will stop the water flow from the other so that they can’t be used at the same time.
Stopper. A kitchen sink stopper fits over your sink’s drain to stop water and food waste from washing into your garbage disposal or drain.
What Causes Drain Clogs in Your Kitchen Sink?
The bad news: Clogged sinks are quite common. Here are a few of the most common culprits:
Grease, Oil, or Fat
If you’ve ever heard that bacon is bad for your health, you know why it’s also bad for your drains! When you cook bacon, the grease puddles up in the skillet in liquid form, but when it cools, grease turns into a solid, so if any of that liquid grease goes down your sink drain, it’ll harden and build up there, causing your pipes to clog (your arteries are like drainpipes—grease hardens there, too!). Pour hot grease into an empty glass jar or metal coffee can and throw it in the trash once it cools. Or let the grease solidify in the skillet and then scrap it into the trash can before washing the pan.
Pasta noodles, rice, beans, and potatoes are all foods that expand and turn pasty when exposed to water. That paste-like substance is bad news for your kitchen’s drainpipes. Much the same way, coffee grounds get heavier when they’re exposed to water, making it difficult for your disposal to, well, dispose of them properly.
If you have more than one clogged or slow-moving drain in your home, you might very well have a damaged pipe deeper in your sewer line. Tree roots infiltrating the pipe or natural ground movement can cause pipes to crack or break.
While clogged kitchen drains are a common occurrence, there is some good news: They don’t always require the help of a professional plumber.
Your first instinct in the event of a slow drain or a clog may be to reach for the drain cleaner, but we strongly recommend against it because of the harmful chemicals. If you do decide to use a store-bought cleaner, be sure to put on rubber gloves and protective eye wear first. Never store cleaners like these where children can reach them, and always let your plumber know if you’ve poured cleaning products down a drain before they begin service.
Here are a few simple DIY fixes that can help you clear up a clogged drain. Keep in mind that just one of these is likely not going to do the trick on its own but doing more than one––and especially all of them––will increase your odds of unclogging your sink.
DIY Fix #1: Check Your Garbage Disposal
Most modern kitchens are equipped with a garbage disposal to capture food waste and grind it into tiny particles that can easily flow through your kitchen’s drainpipes. However, not every type of food—or even every liquid—is meant for this appliance. That’s because some items are more likely to cling to the inside of the disposal or jam up and create a clogged drain.
Some items are better disposed of in a garbage can than a garbage disposal. Here is a partial list of items you should neverput into your disposal.
- Pits. Avocado, peach, and other fruit pits are extremely hard. Not only can they not be ground up by your disposal but can damage the blades of your garbage disposal.
- Starches. Starches like beans, noodles, rice, and potatoes are all foods that expand when they’re wet and turn into a sticky paste-like substance. That makes an ideal environment for other food particles to stick to them and create blockages. Toss your starchy food remnants in the trash instead.
- Grease. Many homeowners believe pouring grease down the drain is not a problem because it’s a liquid. But as grease cools, it solidifies, turning into a sticky, solid substance that can trap other elements and cause major clogging in your kitchen drainpipes.
- Oil. Like grease, oil poured down your sink drain can lubricate the blades of your garbage disposal, making them effectively useless. The oil also lubricates any food particles that go into the drain with it, so the disposal is unable to grind it correctly, causing larger chunks, which can lead to a clogged drain.
- Egg shells. Because egg shells are so fragile and crack easily, you might think that they’d be no problem for a garbage disposal to handle. But there are tiny membranes inside egg shells, and those membranes have a tendency to wrap around the blades and stick to the inside components of your disposal.
- Bones. Chicken, steak, and fish bones are too hard for your garbage disposal to handle and can destroy the blades. It’s best to dispose of bones in the trash can.
- Coffee grounds. Because coffee grounds get heavier when wet, they can be difficult for your garbage disposal to grind up completely, leaving heavy grounds stuck to the inside of the disposal and the drain. These grounds can then attract other food particles, creating a mess of gunk that clogs your drain. Dump your coffee grounds where you dump the coffee filter—into the trash.
- Fibrous foods. Fiber is great for you; it’s not so great for your disposal. That’s because the fibers in foods like asparagus, celery, corn husks, and artichokes can wrap around the blades and get stuck, causing possible damage to your garbage disposal and creating blockages in your drain.
Garbage disposals have a lifespan of about 10 years if used and cared for properly. Keep it clean by running fresh, cold water through it frequently and ensuring that none of the items listed above go into your disposal. If you notice a foul odor coming from your garbage disposal, cut a lemon or orange into small pieces and drop them into your disposal along with a few ice cubes. Running the cold water, turn on your disposal to grind up the mixture. Goodbye, smelly drain!
If your disposal isn’t working properly or stops working altogether it’s time to purchase a new one. And while they’re not impossible to install yourself, a professional plumber can install a new garbage disposal for you quickly and correctly. If your disposal isn’t the source of your clogged sink, try these other quick DIY fixes.
DIY Fix #2: Clean the P-Trap
Place a bucket under the trap and remove it with a pipe wrench. Clean the trap and the trap arm before replacing it.
DIY Fix #3: Add Safe Chemicals
Using a cup, bail out as much water from the clogged sink as possible. Then pour one cup of baking soda into the drain opening, followed by one cup of white vinegar. Stopper the sink and wait five minutes. Pour hot water (or boiling water) down the drain.
DIY Fix #4: Take the Plunge
Have some towels handy in case things get soggy. Clamp your dishwasher drain hose if you have one. If you have a double-basin sink, stuff a wet rag into the side that’s clear. Fill the clogged sink halfway with water. With the entire drain hole covered by the plunger and the handle completely vertical, vigorously pump up and down several times. On the last “up,” pop the plunger off the drain to help dislodge the clog. Repeat several times.
If these four methods don’t do the trick, and you’re feeling ambitious, you can try using a cable auger or “drain snake” to clear the clog.
Still Clogged? If you’ve tried all of these DIY methods without success, it’s probably time to call in a professional.
You can help avoid clogged drains in your home by having your pipes regularly maintained. Just like your twice-yearly visit to the dentist or your annual health exam, your home’s pipes and plumbing require regular check-ups to perform at their best. We recommend scheduling a drain cleaning every 12-18 months.
If you’re a resident of St. Louis City or St. Louis County in need of a drain cleaning, you can save $20 with this coupon: https://maplewoodplumbing.com/residential-plumbing/drain-cleaning/
Maplewood Plumbing and Sewer has been unclogging kitchen sink drains in St. Louis City and St. Louis County homes and businesses for more than 35 years. We have an A+ Better Business Bureau rating and are a top-rated HomeAdvisor company, as well as an annual Angie’s List Super Service Award winner. Our family-owned plumbing company prides itself on our solid reputation in the community. Give us a call to schedule your camera inspection and see for yourself why our loyal customers won’t use anyone else!
We offer a one-year warranty on all parts and labor excluding washers.
Give us a call at 314-310-4245 or fill out the contact form here to request a quote.