How to Unclog a Kitchen Sink — And Keep It Unblocked

A blocked kitchen sink always seems to happen when you’re on the way out the door. Discover how to unclog a kitchen sink and keep it unblocked with our top tips, tried and tested by someone who recently had to do this very thing.

Until a month ago, I defied the advice of plumbers and electricians and went to sleep with my dishwasher running. As our house (and our dishwasher, drains and sinks) is only 12 months’ old, I believed it wasn’t even an option to get a clogged drain so soon — but boy was I wrong!

Long story short, I awoke to a weird gurgling noise and my double-kitchen sinks half-full and quickly filling with water. I stopped the dishwasher and the water didn’t drain. For some reason, I thought running the tap would help, but it didn’t. So, I turned off the water under the sink and went back to bed, thinking I’d Google how to unclog a kitchen sink the next day. And I did…

However, it took me multiple searches and pages of Google searches to find out how. So, I created this article with everything you need, including how to unclog a kitchen sink and keep it unblocked that worked for me.

Why is my kitchen sink not draining?

The way you unblock your kitchen sink will depend on what’s clogging it. So, you need to try and work out why it’s not draining.

8 Most Common Reasons for a Blocked Drain

1. Grease, oil or fat buildup.

When cooking a big pan of bacon or other greasy food, it can be tempting to pour the leftover oil, fats or grease down the sink. However, these substances can harden quite quickly (like they do in your pan), causing a layer to form in your pipes. Over time, this layer can build to be quite thick.

With my own blocked kitchen sink, I noticed the water had an oily layer to it, so I suspect this was the case for mine. While I always follow the advice of disposing of oils and fats by pouring them into a jar or can, I do tend to rinse out the pans. I now know to wipe out any oily pans with recyclable paper towels before washing.

2. Food scraps.

Like greasy substances, food scraps can get stuck and clog up your drains. Even those small little grains of rice or the odd pea or corn kernel slipping through the drain is enough to build up overtime; especially water-absorbing foods.

To stop food scraps accidentally ending up in and clogging your kitchen sink, always leave a drain strainer in when your sink isn’t plugged.

3. Foreign objects, like fruit stickers.

As a kid, I had a habit of rolling up the stickers on apples and slipping them down the drain. It turns out if my mum didn’t have a regular drain-cleaning routine, my habit could have cost my parents a lot of money.

Anything other than water and the cleaning substances, like dish soap, should not be put down the sink. Like greases and food scraps, these objects can build up, or just get stuck in general. You’d be surprised how many ice-cream sticks are down most people’s drains!

4. Tree roots.

Pipes are the perfect environment for tree roots to grow. Unfortunately, this means if there are roots taking a liking to your pipes, you can end up with a clogged kitchen sink, toilet, laundry, etc. 

How do you know if tree roots are the cause of your drain problems? A common sign to look out for is frequently experiencing overflowing toilets or sinks with no reason. The best way to tell is to call your local drain specialist as they have all the equipment to detect tree roots in drains and remove them. 

5. Soap and chemical buildup.

Soap and detergent buildup can be a problem for dishwashers or washing machines, but can be a problem with kitchen sinks too. If you’re using your kitchen sink to soak clothing in powder detergents or cleaners, or are washing things with paint down the sink, it can cause problems.

To prevent detergent build up in your dishwasher, washing machine and even sinks, use only the recommended amount of product for its specific purpose.

6. Clogged dishwasher.

If your kitchen setup is like mine, your dishwasher is under the bench, right next to the kitchen sink. The drainage and access pipes connect, so when there is a blockage in the dishwasher, it can fill the kitchen sink with water or backwash. 

One of the most common causes of dishwasher problems is the wrapping on dishwasher tablets. Double check the package to ensure you’re safe to put the tablet in whole. You also want to check the amount of detergent to add, whether you’re using a tablet, powder or liquid. Using too much can cause build-up.

The debris basket in your dishwasher also needs to be checked and cleaned at least once a week. It’s normally located towards the front-bottom of your dishwasher underneath the spray arms. Every dishwasher is different, so check your manual for instructions of how to remove and clean.

7. Bad pipe installation.

Broken or badly installed pipes can cause many problems, one of the least obvious being creating blockages. Debris going down the drain can catch on rough edges or cracks, with more debris building up on the way past.

If you’re having frequent blockage problems, it’s worth calling in a plumber to check it out.

8. Hair.

Hair is a common blockage in bathroom drains, but not often thought of in the kitchen. However, with the average human losing 50 to 100 hairs a day, they have to end up somewhere, and the kitchen sink may be one.

A drain strainer can help prevent any hair from going down the drain, while a hair dissolver can help if you do end up with a hair blockage.

6 Top Ways to Unclog a Kitchen Sink

These 5 ways of unclogging your kitchen sink are in the order of least to most extreme. Try and go through this order to help prevent damage to your pipes wherever possible.

1. Pour boiling water down the drain.

Pouring boiling water down your drain (carefully) can help break up and dissolve any weaker blockages, like a minor grease build-up. However, ensure your pipes are suitable for this as some types of pipes can be damaged by the heat, creating an even bigger problem.

If you’re frequently having to use this method of unblocking your drains, you may have a bigger problem at-hand. When I tried this trick, the boiling water allowed the build-up of water in the sink to drain, but it built back up again when I ran the tap again. So, it was onto step 2.

2. Plunge with a sink plunger.

Did you know there are different types of plungers for different purposes? I didn’t before the clogged sink mishap. The different shapes of plungers allow for better suction on different sized pipes and drains, like a larger toilet bend or the smaller kitchen drain.

Sink plungers tend to be smaller with quite a flat suction cup. They’re also quite cheap, with sink plungers starting from around $5. The one I bought was around $8 from the grocery store, but was a bit flimsy, so keep this in mind.

For my sink problem, we ended up using a combination of plunging and step 4, which seemed to work a treat. So, it may be worthwhile combining steps, if they’re not working.

3. Create a baking-soda-and-white-vinegar volcano.

Remember the science-class volcanoes in school? Turns out it can answer our problem of how to unclog a kitchen sink — in some cases.

The combination of sodium bicarbonate and the acid in the vinegar essentially create bubbles, which is said to help break apart certain clogs in the drains. However, according to some sources, it’s the hot water that dissolves the blockage, not the soda-vinegar solution.

So, why are we including it if it doesn’t work? The sources seem to suggest baking soda and vinegar don’t work for fat, oil and grease (FOG) blockages, but don’t seem to mention a mild food build-up. Some report this method working for this, so it’s worth trying before you jump to a harsh chemical.

To clear your drain with bicarb and vinegar:

  1. Start with an empty sink.
  2. Carefully pour boiling water down the drain.
  3. Sprinkle one cup of baking soda down your drain.
  4. Combine a cup of warm water and a cup of white vinegar, also pouring this down the drain.
  5. Quickly blog your drain with a plug.
  6. Leave the solution to sit for at least half an hour.

4. Use a drain-blockage dissolver.

So, you’ve tried hot water, a plunger and a volcano in your drain and your drain is still clogged. It’s time to take serious action with a drain cleaner specifically made to dissolve blockages. 

Warning: Do not mix chemicals. Certain combinations can be hazardous and potentially life-threatening. Even if you’ve used one drain cleaner or solution, ensure you’ve flushed out the pipes thoroughly before trying another — or, leave it to the professionals to be safe.

These days, you can buy heavy-duty drain cleaner from everyday grocery stores, but you’ll find a wider variety at your local hardware store. If you know what the blockage is, you can find a dissolver specific to the substance, like hair or grease.

Follow the instructions on the specific drain cleaner, and make sure the room is well ventilated. This is the method I ended up having to do, along with plunging, and it fixed the problem after about 10-minutes and almost an entire bottle of drain cleaner, which probably isn’t the smartest idea.

5. Take apart your U-bend.

Alright, so you’ve poured everything you can think to put down a drain, and it’s still backed up. If you have the tools to do so and the time to take care, you can take apart your U-bend under the sink and physically remove the blockage. However, if the blockage is further down in your pipes, you won’t be able to do this.

Before you touch anything, take a photo of the pipe setup from every angle to help you with reassembly, if you need it. You will also need to turn your water off at the main and have a bucket under the pipe to catch any stored water in the pipe.

6. When nothing works, call a plumber.

Sometimes the blockage is too bad and you will need to call a plumber. Drain specialists will have ‘snakes’ to clear clogs in kitchen drains deeper than you can access. If they suspect tree roots or another problem may be the cause, they may use a drain camera to find where the blockage is and the extent of the problem.

The price of calling a plumbing to unclog a kitchen drain depends on where you live, time of day, day of the week and the plumber. However, for the average weekday, expect anywhere from $100 to $200 for a basic blockage. For more complex issues or out of hours callouts to an emergency plumber, you may be looking at anywhere from $300 or more. 

Luckily, you can request a quote from the top plumbers near you on localsearch.com.au!

6 Tips to Prevent Blocked Drains from The Plumbing & Electrical Doctor

Excerpt from 6 Tips to Prevent Blocked Drains. Visit The Plumbing & Electrical Doctor website for the full article.

1. Use a drain strainer.

Small debris is one of the main reasons for having a clogged drain. One way to prevent these from getting inside your drain is by using a drain strainer.

A drain strainer is a stainless steel object you can place on the opening of your drainage. You can buy it at your local hardware stores. This object will help keep small-sized debris from getting inside your drain pipes. You can put it above your sink drain opening so that the food waste will not fall into the drain. 

Also, there are various strainers you can place in your shower. Fallen hair, soap scum, and dirt can cause you to have a blocked shower drain. So, placing a strainer on this location will help prevent that.

By placing this simple and affordable material, you get to lessen the probability of clogging your drains. 

Note: Be sure to clean your strainers after use.

2. Avoid disposing of cooking grease in the kitchen sink.

Some people might think that disposing of used cooking oil in the kitchen sink is not a big deal. This is because cooking grease is not solid, but the thing is, it can still stick to the insides of the pipes. This grease will stay on that surface and build up as time goes by.

So, to solve this, disposing of used cooking oil should be done by placing it in a can or jar. After filling your container, you can throw it out in the trash bin.

3. Run cold water while using the garbage disposal.

We do not advise that you get rid of food scraps via your kitchen sink, but there are times when you can not avoid it. This is why people install garbage disposal units under their sinks.

Garbage disposal is a device that you can place under your kitchen sink. It collects your food scraps and shreds it. With this device, your waste will pass through your drainage easily.

Whenever you use this device, there is an additional step that you can do. And that is running cold water while your garbage disposal is turned on. The running water will carry out the scraps through your drainage system.

And there is one other thing.

Oil grease can also get into your garbage disposal unit. This can damage your unit and lead to more problems. So, you should occasionally pour ice into your sink while using this device. The ice will chill and scrape the grease in the unit.

4. Pour boiling water down the kitchen drains.

Despite being cautious, you might still get some debris down your kitchen sink. This is understandable since there are wastes that are too slippery and small. Still, when these objects fall into your sink, they can accumulate.

So, to lessen the damage of these unwanted bits, pouring a kettle of boiling water will help. Doing this once a week will melt the built-up grease and debris inside your kitchen drain. Be careful and pour the hot water slowly to avoid getting any burns.

5. Never flush non-toilet paper products.

When using the toilet, flushing other objects aside from toilet paper should not be done. You might think that it is fine to flush down sanitary products because they are small. But, sanitary products like pads and tampons have to go in the garbage since these items are made of plastic and cotton. Flushing these things will cause blocked pipes.

Do you want to know what is worse? These products can permanently damage your whole sewer system. As a result, you might have to replace all of your drains.

6. Have regular pipe inspections.

The best way to prevent a blocked drain is by calling professional help to check the status of your drainage. There are drainage issues that are not evident immediately. Recognizing these kinds of problems is easy for professionals.

However, we know that you are deliberating about calling for help because it can cost you a lot. But believe us when we say that it will cost you much more if you get your pipes clogged. So, you should have regular plumbing checkups every 2-3 years.

A licensed blocked drain plumber will check your drain pipes to see if there are problems with it. They will also give you useful and legitimate advice. In line with this, you can book our plumbing and electrical doctors for this kind of service. Our licensed plumbers can help you with checking and clearing any of your drains. We also give upfront pricing so you will not have to worry about any hidden charges.

Realised you do need a plumber for that blocked drain after all? Find your nearest top-rated blocked drain plumber on localsearch.com.au.

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      Sarah Russo

      UX Content Writer

      Sarah Russo is a UX Content Writer at Localsearch with a decade of experience in traditional and digital marketing. She has written for and assisted in the social media and marketing strategies for many different industries, including real estate, medical, health and fitness, trades and beauty. When she isn’t nose deep in data, SEO research or her content strategy, Sarah is a gym junkie, foodie and gamer with a brain full of random facts that come in handy far more often than you would think. As a digital marketing all-rounder and lifestyle specialist, her articles provide insight into marketing, advertising and branding for small businesses on the Localsearch Business Blog, as well as some handy lifestyle tips on the Localsearch Blog.