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Kitchen: Repairing Clogged Drains

If the sink drain is clogged there are a couple of possible culprits, and the garbage disposer is first. If you don’t have a disposer or the clog is in the bowl opposite the disposer, go to the next step.

Disposers clog because too much food waste, the wrong type of waste, or other foreign matter creates a clog. If the disposer won’t run because of the clog, check the reset button on the bottom of the disposer, and also the circuit breaker that controls the disposer. If neither breaker has tripped, try to dislodge the clog by using the hex wrench that came with the disposer. Garbage disposer hex wrenchIf you’ve never seen or used it, it may still be attached to the side of the disposer or lost somewhere in the jumble stored under the sink. If you can‘t find it, you may have to purchase one from your local home center. In the bottom of the disposer is an opening for the wrench, insert it and try turning it back and forth to see if you can dislodge the blockage.

Don’t put your hand in the disposer opening; it can get stuck. Instead use a flashlight to see if you can identify the source of the problem. Then, you can use a wooden spoon, kitchen tongs, or long nose pliers to remove the blockage. YOU MUST BE ABSOLUTELY CERTAIN THE POWER IS OFF. IF YOU ARE NOT CERTAIN, TURN OFF THE MAIN BREAKER AND ALL POWER TO THE HOUSE. Disposers are extremely dangerous and can easily remove your fingers, or worse. While it may be possible to clear the obstruction with your hand, it’s too risky. The blades are sharp and you may encounter broken glass or other potentially dangerous materials.

If the disposer isn’t the problem, first try using a plunger. If you don’t own a good one, stop and purchase one before you begin. The cheap one you bought for 99¢ is trash; throw it away.

Kitchen sink trapIf the plunger failed to work, it may be necessary to remove the sink trap. (Have a bucket and rag ready to catch water, especially if the sink is full.) The trap can usually be removed by hand, but if the nuts are too tight, a pair of slip-joint pliers will work. Be careful to avoid damaging the nuts or pipes. If the clog is located in the trap it can generally be cleared by taking the trap outside and running water through it with a hose. If it’s plastic, clearing it should be easy; if metal, it may require replacement. The metal ones rust and leak over time; if yours is metal it probably is a good idea to replace it.

If the clog appears to be beyond the trap you’ll have to use a drain snake to seek out and clear the blockage. Run the snake in and out to dislodge the clog and continue until the pipe seems to be clear.

Once the blockage is cleared, re-assemble the drain and trap, taking care not to over-tighten any of the nuts on the trap. Run hot water through the drain to clear any remaining debris, and develop a routine of doing so about once a week. Adding a cup of white vinegar weekly is also a good preventive measure.


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