How to fix a clogged bathroom sink – and keep it draining freely

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Fixing a clogged sink is an essential task to keep your bathroom functional.

Nothing can ruin the impact of beautiful bathroom ideas quite like a slow-draining sink. It can sometimes seem like a mystery why the bathroom sink often drains at a snail’s pace. It’s not like grease or rice sliding down like the kitchen sink, which is usually the culprit when it comes to unblocking a sink. How many hours of our lives have we lost staring at toothpaste-like water flowing down the drain at a rate of 1mm per minute?

Just like unblocking a toilet, not acting at the first sign of trouble can only lead to more problems, leading to a complete clog and rendering your sink unusable. The main cause of the clog is usually a build-up of soap scum, limescale and a few hairs. Over time, it will line your drain pipe, begin to decompose, and give off unpleasant odors. If your sink has reached a critical level of clogging, we asked the experts about the most effective ways to fix a clogged sink.

Get the knowledge you need to stay clog free without paying a professional.

White washbasin with a round mirror and a blue door

(Image credit: Future PLC / James French)

How to fix a clogged sink – step by step

1. Remove the cymbal plug

If you don’t have a traditional connector on a chain, there’s likely a metal plug covering your connector hole that bounces up and down. These are usually unscrewed or simply lifted out. Otherwise, you’ll need a flathead screwdriver to pry it off.

2. Use a tool to pull out the clog

If the clog or debris is high enough in the drain, you can simply pull it out with a flattened wire hanger. That’s where a drain weasel comes in handy — a long, tightly coiled length of wire with a gripping tool on the end that you operate by depressing a plunger on the handle, available on Amazon (opens in new tab). It will rip out that strand of hair with no effort.

Blue bathroom with sink and houseplant

(Image credit: Future PLC / Chris Snook)

3. Or try a plunger

If the clog is out of reach, dive in. The trick is to create a vacuum with the piston’s rubber cap.

Simone at Homeserve (opens in new tab) advises: “Make sure you use a flat-bottomed plunger so you can seal your drain hole really well. Block the overflow hole with a damp cloth and half fill your basin with hot water so that it forms a seal around the drain hole. Position the plunger directly over the drain. Start pumping the plunger up and down quickly. Do this vigorously several times.’

Concrete sink with white tiles and gold faucets

(Image credit: Future PLC)

4. Flush through your plumbing

Pour a jug or two of boiling water into the basin plug to wipe away any remaining residue. Cleaning with white vinegar can help with this task. Adding a scoop of baking soda and a cup of white vinegar will remove any remaining residue. Rinse with plenty of hot water.

Cleaning solution in a glass bowl

(Image credit: Mark Scott)

5. Keep the drain clear

Finally, to prevent the trauma of a clogged, smelly sink from happening again, regularly apply bicarb and white vinegar with a hot water rinse. Ideally weekly but also monthly will help keep the residue in the pipes under control.

How do you clean a slow draining sink?

The best approach is to use a natural remedy to clear a partial blockage. Give a spoonful of baking soda followed by a cup of white vinegar to break up the clog. Simone Robinson, one of Homeserves (opens in new tab) Plumbing and heating professional, has a great tip: “Covering the drain with a rag will prevent the mixture from gushing out of the basin and will ensure the mixture does its job.”

Leave it on for a few hours before pouring hot water in a kettle. You could use a corrosive drain cleaner, but these can cause more problems than they solve. Simone says: “Harsher chemicals can corrode older pipes and cause serious damage that can lead to costly repairs. They also pollute the environment to the detriment of wildlife and their habitats.”

If you use one, choose a commercial one that contains enzymes instead of harsh chemicals.

Pink bathroom tiles with sink

(Image credit: Future PLC / Alasdair Mcintosh)

How do you unclog a sink that doesn’t drain at all?

“You need to check the siphon under the sink,” says Rob Bennett, Technical Service Manager at Pimlico Group (opens in new tab). “It’s shaped like a U-bend.”

To do this, you need to unscrew the two plugs (they look like giant plastic nuts). Water will spill, so have a bucket and towels handy. If you have a pedestal style pool, you’ll have to do this a little more by feel than by eye, as the trap will be obscured and you’ll have to slide your hand in the gap between the back of the pedestal and the wall.

Wearing rubber gloves, scoop all the dirt out of the trap and give it a good clean before reconnecting (be careful not to over-tighten the connectors – the plastic could tear). If the trap isn’t clogged, the problem is further down the drain. This is certainly the case when the bath, shower or other basin drains slowly. In this case, you need a professional with special equipment.

Why is a bathroom sink clogged?

Soap scum, hair, and sometimes objects accidentally dropped down the drain. Rob Bennett of Pimlico Group reveals: “It’s a collection of decomposing debris known as biofilm.”

Remember that it is always better to avoid constipation in the first place. So flush through the sink and plumbing regularly when you clean it.

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