Why do my bathroom sinks clog so often?
December 28, 2017 5:20 PM   Subscribe

The sinks in my upstairs bathrooms (two bathrooms, three sinks) clog all the freaking time. Is there something I should be doing differently?

The house is about 15 years old, and for the first 10 years the people living here did no maintenance. The sinks all clog at about the same rate, and the only thing that helps is Drano (usually store brand, because it's cheaper). I've tried using baking soda, hot water, etc. but that usually just amuses the clog. I'll use the Drano and the sink will be fine for a week or two, then start slowing down again.

Every now and then I get brave and deal with the stuff on the pop-up plug. I don't do that often because it's highly unpleasant.

Is there a bigger clog... somewhere? Is this something a plumber needs to help with? Is there a super Drano that will blast the pipes clear better than the normal stuff without destroying my house?
posted by The corpse in the library to Home & Garden (24 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: We've got two bathroom sinks that get a little slow (at about the same rate) every two months or so. This thing has been a life-changer:

Drain Millipede

It's like a teensy manual roto-rooter for your sink that reaches all the way to the trap. Yeah, it's a bit gross, but it opens it up fully every single time and has eliminated the need to use Drano. Its decidedly less unpleasant if I do it more regularly (before there's a real drainage slowdown) because there's less hair and guck to contend with.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 5:28 PM on December 28, 2017 [7 favorites]

Best answer: If you haven't tried a Zip-It or similar cheap plastic drain cleaner, go spend less than $5 on one and try that. If it does the job, do it again next time your drains start slowing down.

It's not really fun, but it'll do wonders to remove crud that's within a foot or two of the drain opening. If it's something the Zip-It (or generic equivalent) can't reach, then it's time for more serious measures, like a real drain snake (costs more, harder to use) or calling a plumber to find out whether you've got a problem much further down the line than your immediate bathroom drains. If your sewer line's partially blocked, it's probably time to call a plumber.

You should probably stop using the chemical drain cleaners. There's not much they do that the Zip-It won't, and they could damage your pipes. Any idea what your pipes are made of? If not, don't pour that stuff down the drain.
posted by asperity at 5:29 PM on December 28, 2017 [9 favorites]

I think most people deal with the stuff ringing the pop-up plug as it appears -- otherwise some of what's there will get into the drain and cause clogs. You could do that daily, or try a maintenance half cup of bleach down every sink drain once a week. Also, have you snaked any of these drains, to see if there's something stubborn down there?
posted by Iris Gambol at 5:29 PM on December 28, 2017

Response by poster: By the stuff on the pop-up plug, I mean the crud you see only if you unscrew it and remove it.

I've never snaked it or zipped it or what have you.
posted by The corpse in the library at 5:33 PM on December 28, 2017

Best answer: It'll be less gross if you get some nice long, sturdy, waterproof cleaning gloves, I swear. You may well end up yanking wads of hair-crud out of the drain, so it's best to be prepared. If that's not something you're up for, call the plumber.

If you have short hair and another person in the household has long hair, this problem might not be your job to deal with. Hand them the Zip-It, or consider your haircut options. (In my household, shower drain cleaning responsibility flipped when our relative hair length did. It's only fair.)
posted by asperity at 5:37 PM on December 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Have you tried taking apart the trap under the sink and checking for blockages? It's disgusting, but easy. Wear rubber gloves and put a pan underneath to catch the sludge.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 5:38 PM on December 28, 2017 [8 favorites]

Best answer: Do the zip, and go all the way around especially if you have that sort of cross-hatch stopper construction. When you just pull the thing out, you often leave more hair and gunk stuck to the pipe walls.

After that, you can use boiling water to soften any gunk and then an air plunger to push away anything sludgy in the trap.

It is extremely unpleasant. Wear dish gloves while you zip, and promise yourself a treat when it's over and you feel up to it. But if you do this one big clean and then do a quick zip once a quarter (shower drains too, if applicable) you will deal with very few clogs and it will not be so horrific each time.
posted by Lyn Never at 5:39 PM on December 28, 2017 [2 favorites]

This is what I use in my apartment with old plumbing. The drains are oddly angled which makes it hard to get any sort of snake to work. It is a miracle product.
posted by missriss89 at 6:02 PM on December 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Definitely zip-it. It’s gross, but it’s simple. If that doesn’t solve it, the problem may be further down. But it will probably take care of it for you. And yeah, don’t use chemical drain cleaners. They’re hard on your pipes, and if they don’t fix the clog, you now have a mix of water and caustic chemicals to deal with.
posted by FencingGal at 6:14 PM on December 28, 2017 [3 favorites]

Best answer: nthing the Zip-It as well as using it in conjunction with some very hot water. They also make small purpose designed sink plungers that can also help.
posted by mmascolino at 6:20 PM on December 28, 2017

I found a little metal mesh circle, the pushes down in the middle to cover the sink drain. I thought it worth a try, and it catches all the hair, all of it. Doesn't take anything to invert it over the trash can less than once a week. Also I discovered with bathroom sink drains, if you want to plunger then, you have to also cover the vent holes that are near the front upper edge of the sink. Look for some holes in the porcelain, you have to cover them to get enough suction to clear drains. Those little mesh circles work well. If you have an up and down plug, just take it out, and put it somewhere. I can't imagine using the bathroom sink as a wash basin you fill with water.
posted by Oyéah at 6:25 PM on December 28, 2017 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Yes to the Zip-It. Brace yourself. It's horrible.
posted by HotToddy at 7:42 PM on December 28, 2017 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Nthing the zip-it, and associated warnings. I was pretty much convinced the first time i used it i pulled up a dead rat. A large, dead, wet, hairy rat. At least thats what it looked like. I've also found that a good old-fashioned appropriately-sized plunger can at least loosen up some of the gunk. Works well my tub, anyway - not sure about the sink, but can't hurt to try and plungers are cheap.
posted by cgg at 9:42 PM on December 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I had this issue until recently. After deciding that my Drano budget was expanding at an (entirely affordable but) alarming rate, I started with the zip-it, and got a little somewhere, but it wasn't doing the job.

So I moved all my crap out of the cabinet and did two things-- I removed the P-trap and cleaned out what I could inside it and in every direction I could find (mostly some dirt but mostly slime-mold which was barely impeding flow), and then removed the pop-up plug, in which in my case meant removing it from where the parts clipped on to the vertical pipe under the sink. Turns out that was the issue; since my pop-up wasn't removable (it is now!) it was badly gunked with dirt, mold, and all reinforced together with lots of beard clippings. Ugh; I can't ever un-see that.

After that, I used zip-it, from above and below, on the high-water-level drain, whatever you call it, that little mouth near the rim of the sink which helps prevent overflow. Turns out there are two pathways in there, and both of them were really fouled with the same gunk as above.

Boiling water and help kill mold and dissolve gunk, but it's nothing like the mechanical disruption of the old toothbrush, Zip-It, or coat hanger applied directly to the gunk pile. Clean, flush, clean, flush, etc.
posted by Sunburnt at 10:52 PM on December 28, 2017 [2 favorites]

If you can’t face the mechanical methods of drain cleaning, get one of the chemical drain cleaners made specifically for hair clogs. You may have to try more than one store to find it.
posted by MexicanYenta at 11:06 PM on December 28, 2017

If you can't face the mechanical methods, hire a plumber, don't rot your pipes out with caustic chemicals used over and over again.

It's possible you actually have a venting issue that is exacerbating the problem. This is more likely to be the case if they are literally slowing down at the same time but don't share any piping with each other before meeting up with the main drain out of the bathroom. If there was a clog that far down you'd notice issues with shower/tub or toilet drainage also.

Most likely it's just crap building up around the stopper as others have suggested. It's almost a certainty if people are rinsing hair down the sink and/or a bunch of oily skin care products. Beard stubble especially seems to accumulate quickly somehow.
posted by wierdo at 11:41 PM on December 28, 2017 [2 favorites]

Best answer: A. Any idea what your pipes are made of?
In a 15-year-old US house they are almost certainly PVC, which is pretty impervious to chemical cleaners. They are not impervious to really aggressive mechanical force; it's possible to break them, although it takes some serious effort.

B. Not all sink traps have clean-out plugs. They all should, but some don't. If you've got one, use it. Put a bucket or something under it before you remove the plug. There's a fair amount of liquid in there.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:14 AM on December 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

Hair and... Some kind of product - probably sunscreen, which I can barely get off my face half the time - clogged the drain at my old place. 2nd getting a little mesh circle thing like Oyéah described, for hair (findable at dollar stores, at least in my area), that helped. (Also, being much more careful about cleanup when I cut my hair at home.) For sunscreen, instead of just washing it off with basically face detergent, I started removing it with cotton pads + oil followed by a wet washcloth. (I assume the washing machine can handle sunscreen detritus more efficiently than the sink can.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 6:42 AM on December 29, 2017

We have this problem, but then, doesn't everybody?

I have always suspected that chemical drain openers can cut a channel through the debris leaving a small opening that soon clogs again.

We had a plumber snake a shower drain some decades ago, and he pulled out a mat of hair and soap from some place well beyond any trap located at the drain. If you can clear the traps and the problem continues, you probably need RotoRooter, or better yet, some cheaper rooter.

I took a (metal) drain apart one time, and could not get it back together so it didn't leak, and had to call a plumber in the end anyway. Plastic drains are mostly glued together, so that particular problem doesn't arise.
posted by SemiSalt at 7:02 AM on December 29, 2017

Best answer: I'm the least handy person around, but I went on YouTube and found a video of someone cleaning the p trap on the exact same sink as mine. It's so gross, but take photos before you unscrew everything, so you can get it back easily, and follow the video. There are literally hundreds of YouTube videos about drains!
That long pipe cleaner thing (I assume a zip it?) that I got for $5 at Bed bath and beyond has kept my drains decent. Get one.
(I'm the long haired one, so it's my responsibility to clean all drains.)
posted by Valancy Rachel at 10:52 AM on December 29, 2017

(Are the non zip-it branded cleaner sticks available on amazon as good as the regular zip its?)
posted by poffin boffin at 12:08 PM on December 29, 2017

Response by poster: You know how you make a new friend and you think they're nice but then you look them up on Facebook and see they're posting racist stuff and you realize how hideous they are underneath the surface? That's how I feel about my house after using a generic zip-it. I might have to move. Thank you.
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:28 PM on December 29, 2017 [11 favorites]

poffin boffin: I used a non-branded thing from amazon. It worked as good as I needed it to, and since it was a 3-pack, I had 0 qualms about banishing the one that did the dirtiest job to the bottom of the trashbag. I should have had it bronzed, but I was disloyal to despite its sacrifice.

I can't compare to a brand-name zip-it, but they appear to be very similar.
posted by Sunburnt at 10:16 PM on December 29, 2017

Zip-it works to remove the problem, but I wanted something to prevent it in our bathtub/shower. We have a Tubshroom that works pretty well to keep my long hair from slowing the pipes down. They make a product for sinks and if you don't like the bright color, they have chrome and nickel versions.
posted by soelo at 4:18 PM on January 1, 2018 [1 favorite]

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