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Staring Into The Abyss: Do-It-Yourself Drain Cleaning

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You may be considering cleaning your own stopped or slow sink drain to save a couple dollars, and while this may not take a lot of skill or specialized equipment, it can be an extremely unpleasant task.

The farther that you must go into your drain line to remove the offending blockage, the more odious (and odorous) the task. However, if you remain undaunted and wish to slink into the slimy mire of your drain line, you should expect to encounter the following conditions.

The first line of your drain's defense: the sink trap

The sink trap provides a buffer zone from your sink to the more inaccessible sections of your drain line. It is simple in both design and performance. Shaped like the letter "J," the sink trap keeps clogging agents from falling in a direct line from your sink and into the drain system.

Because of its shape, the sink trap retains water, which both acts as a further buffer against clogging agents and keeps dangerous sewer gases from entering the home. Of course, this most useful quality can also cause the trap itself to become clogged.

Luckily, it is simple to remove, but the first stage in a malodorous journey into your drain line.

Cleaning the sink trap

You will need an adjustable wrench, a roll of teflon tape (thin plastic ribbon for sealing pipe threads), a bucket or pail, and at least a tolerance for smelly discolored water.

To remove the trap, use the wrench to loosen the top compression nut and the bottom threaded nut that hold the trap in place. You must hold the trap upright as you remove the nuts, because the sludge and water will spill out if it is tilted.

Place the trap into the bucket or pail, and clean it out at another sink (with the drain closed) or with a garden hose. If a sludge buildup is the problem, you may need to force it out. A bottle brush or something similar would be perfect to get it completely clean.

To restore the trap, wrap a few layers of teflon tape around the threaded male connection at the bottom of the trap, then restore the upper and lower nuts. 

What if the drain line is clogged beyond the sink trap?

You will need to use a drain auger to remove a clog beyond the sink trap. This involves twisting and pushing a thin round metal cable into your drain line. The cable has an auger tip, which resembles a tightly coiled spring with a pointed tip that snags a clogging agent as it bores through it.

To access the drain line, you will need to remove the sink trap and enter the line where it connects to the bottom of the sink trap. You will insert the auger tip into the pipe and twist the cable as you feed it further along the drain line.

When you encounter resistance, you must push and twist with greater force in an attempt to snag the clogging agent. You will then retract the cable, and hopefully the offending material.

If you thought that the dirty water in the sink trap was repulsive, you may not want to venture into the drain line. The inner walls of the pipes are coated with raw sewage, a smelly black material that stains and taints everything it touches.

The cable and auger tip will be covered with it as they are retracted, so if you intend to snake your drain, wear heavy gloves and cover the floor to protect it from contamination.

Better yet, call a plumbing company like Cleary Plumbing. They can do it quickly and efficiently, and you won't be feeling contaminated for the foreseeable future.