Slow-moving or stopped-up drains are common in bathroom sinks, but luckily the fix is usually simple and takes only about 15 minutes.  The problem is usually caused by hair, gummy soap scum or hygiene products that get caught on the stopper or pivot rod, and build up, creating a blockage that clogs the drain.  Many people rely on toxic chemical solutions as a quick fix, but there are plenty of other non-corrosive and healthier methods that will often solve this problem.

How to Clean a Bathroom Sink Drain Using Natural Solvents

1. Materials Needed

Instead of relying on drain cleaner products, which are often corrosive and can cause allergic reactions and respiratory problems, you can use household items you likely already have.  You will need rags, baking soda, vinegar, lemon and boiling water. 

2. Measure Out Your Ingredients

Take ¼ cup of baking soda, 1 cup of white vinegar, and 1 large pot of water to boil.  Have a rag or sink stopper handy.

3. Pour the Baking Soda into the Drain

Make sure that most of the baking soda falls directly into the drain rather than around it in the sink.

4. Pour in the Cup of Vinegar

You may hear a fizzing noise or see bubbles come up due to the chemical reaction.  This is completely normal and should mean that the chemicals are breaking down the blockage in your sink.

5. Plug the Drain with a Rag or the Sink Stopper

Doing so will stop the bubbles from rising up and will keep the chemical reaction concentrated on the clog.

6. Wait Fifteen Minutes

This will allow the baking soda and vinegar reaction to fully work.  While waiting, you should heat up the pot of water to the boiling point.

7.Pour in the Pot of Boiling Water

This step will push down the baking soda, vinegar, and blockage.  Watch as you pour in the water to see if the sink is draining any faster.  If it is, but still not at its normal speed, there may still be a bit of a blockage.  Try repeating the process once more if this is the case.

Note that prior to pouring in the boiling water, you can also squeeze the juice of a lemon, particularly if you notice an unpleasant odor coming from the sink.  Bathroom sinks are often clogged by bits of hair which can eventually rot and smell bad.  This extra step will neutralize the odor and also further help break down the blockage.

How to Clean a Bathroom Sink Drain Removing the Clog using a Plunger

Tools and materials needed: For this method, you only need a flashlight, a plunger (you can buy a smaller one specifically made for sinks at any hardware store, but a clean toilet plunger works just as well), and a clothes hanger/length of electrical wire.

Remove the Sink Stopper

This step is crucial, otherwise, you will just be plunging the stopper up and down rather than forcing up the clog.  To get at the clog, try lifting out the stopper.  Tug on it to see if it’ll come out.  If so, remove it.  Sometimes it’ll come right out.  If not, use your hands to pull the sink stopper up as far as it will go out of the drain; then you may be able to remove it by unscrewing it.  Turn it counter-clockwise and continue unscrewing until it comes out.  If this doesn’t work, the stopper may be held in by a pivot rod.  Release the stopper by removing the pivot rod nut and pulling out the pivot rod (underneath the sink – see photo below).  If you can’t loosen the nut by hand, use pliers.  With the pivot rod pulled out, you’ll be able to lift out the stopper.

Turn the Faucet On

You want to fill the sink with some water but just enough to cover the drain.  An inch or so of water should be just fine.

Create a Suction Seal

Place the plunger directly over the drain and press down until you feel the rubber bottom tighten into a seal.  You may have to stand on a chair to make sure you are positioned properly directly over the sink.


Using the handle of the plunger, plunge vigorously up and down about 10-20 times.  Make sure that the plunger is tightly sealed around the drain, creating suction so that the plunger is actually forcing the blockage through.

Remove the Plunger and Check for the Blockage

Shine a flashlight down into the drain to check for the blockage.  If you can see it and can reach with your fingers, pull it out.

If Using a Plunger Does Not Work

Attempt to physically remove the clog.  Try bending a wire into a tight hook (a light-duty clothes hanger or short length of electrical wire will do) and fish out the hair and gummy soap scum.  Then replace the stopper.  If you didn’t have to remove the pivot rod to remove the stopper, you can just drop the stopper back down into the drain.  And if you unscrewed stopper for removal, push down on the back plunger to the closed drain position and then screw the stopper back into the threaded portion of the now exposed part of the rod in the drain.  If you had to remove the pivot rod, first drop the stopper into the drain.  Then line up the pivot rod with the slot in the stopper and reinsert it.  Finally, hand-tighten the pivot rod nut.

Run Hot Water Down the Drain

This will help clear out any remaining soap scum and to check that the clog is gone.  Check around the pivot rod nut to make sure it’s not leaking.  If you see drips, tighten the pivot rod nut slightly with a pair of pliers.  Do not over tighten!

How to Clean a Bathroom Sink Drain: Snaking the Pipes

Tools and materials needed: a bucket, screwdriver or wrench ( a pair of channel locks), and a plumber’s snake (also called a drain snake).  If you do not have a plumber’s snake, you can improvise by using your previously created light-duty, straightened wire clothes hanger with the tight hook end.

Place the Bucket Underneath your Sink

You want to position the bucket underneath the “P-trap”; that is, the curved part of the pipe that leads directly from the drain.

Check to See what is Holding your P-Trap Together

Some are held together with screws, in which case you will need a screwdriver, while others have slip nuts on both ends of the pipe, in which case you will need the pair of channel locks/wrench.

Remove the P-Trap

Do this slowly and make sure the bucket is still positioned directly beneath you.  Standing water inside of the P-trap may spill out and you will want the bucket to catch it.  Whether the P-trap is made with screws or slip nuts, you will turn in a counterclockwise fashion to loosen the parts and remove them along with the P-trap.  Be sure to keep the screws or nuts close for putting the P-trap back into place. 

Find the Clog

First, check the P-trap.  If you can see the blockage, use your fingers, coat hanger, or the plumber’s snake to force it out.  Build up typically occurs in the P-trap.  If there is no visible clog in the trap, it’s possible that the clog is in the pipe that goes into your wall.  In this case, you will definitely need a plumber’s snake; it is not recommended that you substitute the wire hanger for this.  Insert the plumber’s snake into the opening of the pipe that leads into the wall until it meets resistance (which is likely the blockage).  Then tighten the nut at the base of the snake and begin twisting the snake. You can also use an in and out motion, similar to plunging, with the snake in order to dislodge the clog.  Once you no longer feel any resistance at the other end, pull out the snake.

Reattach the P-Trap

Use either the screwdriver or wrench and turn the screws or nuts clockwise to tighten them.  However, do not tighten them too much or you could crack the plastic pipe.  However, make sure you have replaced the screws or bolts tight enough so that water doesn’t leak. 

Turn on the Faucet

The water should drain at its normal speed if the clog has been effectively removed.

Deeper clogs in the drain pipe going into the wall are taken care of differently, and it depends more on the tools that you have available.  If  you are going to go ahead on your own and take the drain apart – use two wrenches;

how to clean a bathroom sink drain

Professional plumber repairing a bathroom sink drain using pipe-wrenches

Do You Need More Help?

If you are not able to clear the clog on your own, Proudfoot Plumbing Heating & Air would be glad to help.  Please give us a call at 1-412-461-2198, or simply contact us and we’ll be glad to make recommendations for you on a solution for your bathroom sink drain line clog.

For further information:

Family Handyman WikiHow

Image Credits – Adobe Stock

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