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How to Unclog a Sink's P-Trap

The P-trap is that curved pipe that you see beneath any sink in your home. Unfortunately, the trap’s water-trapping ability extends to hair, grease, debris, and soap scum. This makes a P-trap the number-one location of clogs in the sewer system. If the P-trap becomes only slightly clogged, then you experience slow drainage in the fixture.

Oh, you say the toilet is the place where all the clogs occur at your house? The toilet has the largest P-trap of any fixture in the home. Had to pull any toys out of yours lately?

If you experience slow draining in your fixture, try cleaning the P-trap to avoid a full-blown blockage. Before beginning, remove everything from under the sink so that you have ample room to work. Then follow these steps:

  1. Position a plastic bucket directly under the P-trap.

  2. Using pliers, remove the two coupling nuts that attach the trap to the sink tailpiece and to the adjacent wall fitting.

    If these nuts won’t budge, or if they simply fall apart when you try to move them, it’s time to purchase a replacement trap.

  3. Clean the interior of the trap with a straightened wire coat hanger or a large nylon bottle brush.

    Make sure that all the parts are completely clean inside and out. A piece of debris lodged between a drain washer and the drainpipe can cause a leak.

    Use the cleaning as an opportunity to inspect all the washers — they should be soft and supple. If they aren’t soft, you need to replace them.

  4. If you discover that the trap is clean and clear (and not the reason for the clog or slow draining), then insert a small retractable drain snake directly into the pipe in the wall.

    Work the snake in and out while rotating the handle clockwise.

  5. Reassemble the trap.

    Make sure that each washer is properly seated. Twisting can be a real problem. Don’t over-tighten the connections. At first, the coupling nuts should be no more than hand-tight. If a leak persists, continue to tighten a little at a time until the leak disappears. If increased tightening doesn’t do the trick, chances are, the washers are dirty, twisted, or defective. Try again!

If cleaning doesn’t solve your P-trap problems, call a plumber or sewer-and-drain specialist who has the expertise and proper tools to get things flowing freely.

If all the drains in the home are running slowly, the main sewer line may be the problem. Skip all these steps and go straight to the plumber.

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