How Do Plumbers Unclog Drains? (10 Methods Every Plumber Uses)

Ever had that sinking feeling when water refuses to go down the drain? We’ve all been there. With the unyielding blockage sending post-dinner scraps bopping in sink-water, you might wonder, ‘How Do Plumbers Unclog Drains?’

This article reveals 10 methods every plumber uses, the tools involved, cost implications, and DIY possibilities. Prepare for a deep dive into the craft of plumbing!

How do plumbers unclog drains?

Plumbers have several techniques for unclogging drains, depending on the severity and nature of the blockage.

One common method is using a plumbing snake or auger, a long, flexible tool that is inserted into the drain and rotated to break up or dislodge the obstruction.

Another approach is to utilize a high-pressure water jet, which directs a powerful stream of water into the drain to clear away debris and buildup.

Plumbers may also employ chemical drain cleaners to dissolve organic matter or hair clogs, but these are typically used as a last resort due to potential damage to pipes.

In more complex cases, plumbers may need to dismantle and clean sections of the plumbing system or employ advanced technologies like video inspection cameras to locate and resolve the blockage effectively.

10 methods every plumber uses to unclog drains

1. Plumbing snake or auger

A plumbing snake, also known as an auger, is a long, flexible tool that plumbers use to reach deep into drains and break up or dislodge blockages.

It typically consists of a coiled metal cable with a corkscrew-like tip. By inserting the snake into the drain and rotating it, the clog can be loosened or pulled out.

2. High-pressure water jetting

High-pressure water jetting is a powerful method used to clear stubborn clogs from drains.

Plumbers employ a specialized machine that delivers a concentrated stream of water at high pressure into the drain.

The force of the water can dislodge and flush away debris, grease, scale, and even tree roots that may be obstructing the pipe.

3. Chemical drain cleaners

Chemical drain cleaners are formulated to dissolve organic matter, hair clogs, and other debris that cause drain blockages.

They typically contain corrosive substances like sulfuric acid or sodium hydroxide.

However, it’s important to exercise caution when using these cleaners, as they can damage pipes and their fumes can be harmful if inhaled. It’s recommended to follow the instructions carefully and avoid excessive use.

4. Plunger

A plunger is a simple yet effective tool for unclogging drains, especially in toilets and sinks.

It works by creating a vacuum and pressure, which dislodge minor blockages.

To use a plunger, place it over the drain opening, ensuring a tight seal, and vigorously push and pull to create the necessary pressure to clear the clog.

5. Bio-enzymatic cleaners

Bio-enzymatic drain cleaners utilize beneficial bacteria and enzymes that break down organic waste over time.

These cleaners are an eco-friendly alternative to chemical drain cleaners.

The bacteria in the cleaners feed on organic matter and produce enzymes that aid in the decomposition process, gradually reducing clogs and eliminating odors.

6. Plumbing vent inspection

Plumbing vents play a crucial role in maintaining proper drainage by allowing air to enter the plumbing system, facilitating smooth flow, and preventing vacuum or pressure issues.

If the vents become blocked or clogged with debris, it can impede proper drainage. Plumbers can inspect and clear the vents to ensure they are free from obstructions, enabling better drain performance.

7. Hydro-mechanical cleaning

Hydro-mechanical cleaning combines the use of a plumbing snake with high-pressure water jetting.

Plumbers insert the plumbing snake into the drain while simultaneously spraying a high-pressure water jet. The snake helps break up the clog, while the forceful water jet flushes away the debris, thoroughly cleaning the drain.

8. Camera inspection

Video inspection cameras are valuable tools that plumbers use to accurately diagnose drain clogs.

These small, waterproof cameras are inserted into the drain to provide a visual assessment of the pipe’s interior.

By identifying the location and nature of the clog, plumbers can determine the most effective unclogging method, saving time and effort.

9. Disassembling and cleaning pipes

In complex cases where clogs are severe or persistent, plumbers may need to disassemble sections of the plumbing system to access and clean out the blockage.

This method involves removing certain pipe sections, such as traps or cleanouts, to physically remove the clog or using specialized tools for cleaning. Once cleared, the pipes are reassembled, restoring proper drainage.

10. Preventive maintenance

Plumbers often emphasize the importance of preventive maintenance to avoid drain clogs.

Regular drain cleaning services can prevent buildup and blockages before they cause issues. Plumbers use specialized equipment, such as rotary cable machines or hydro jetters, to remove accumulated debris, grease, and scale from the pipes.

By scheduling periodic maintenance, homeowners can ensure the smooth operation of their drains and minimize the risk of clogs in the future.

What’s the first thing plumbers use to unclog a drain?

The first tool plumbers often use to unclog a drain is a plunger.

Plungers are simple yet effective devices that create suction and pressure to dislodge minor blockages.

They are commonly used in toilets, sinks, and shower drains.

By placing the plunger over the drain opening and vigorously pushing and pulling, the plumber can create the necessary pressure to break up and remove the clog.

Plungers are readily available and easy to use, making them the go-to initial tool for many drain unclogging situations.

What tools do plumbers use to unclog drains?

  • Plumbing snake or auger: A plumbing snake, also known as an auger, is a long, flexible tool consisting of a coiled metal cable with a corkscrew-like tip. It is inserted into the drain and rotated to break up or dislodge blockages.
  • High-pressure water jetting machine: Plumbers employ high-pressure water jetting machines that deliver a concentrated stream of water at high pressure into the drain. This powerful jet of water can effectively clear stubborn clogs and flush away debris, grease, scale, and even tree roots.
  • Plunger: Plungers are basic yet effective tools used for unclogging drains, particularly in toilets, sinks, and shower drains. They create a vacuum and pressure to dislodge minor blockages by pushing and pulling vigorously.
  • Video inspection cameras: Plumbers use video inspection cameras to visually inspect the interior of drains and pipes. These small, waterproof cameras provide real-time footage, helping plumbers identify the location and nature of the clog and enabling them to choose the most appropriate method for unclogging.
  • Chemical Drain Cleaners: Chemical drain cleaners contain powerful substances that dissolve organic matter, hair clogs, and other debris. While they are generally used as a last resort due to potential pipe damage, plumbers may utilize them when other methods have failed.
  • Hydro-mechanical cleaning tools: Hydro-mechanical cleaning tools combine the use of a plumbing snake and high-pressure water. They are designed to break up clogs while simultaneously spraying water to flush away the debris.
  • Drain augers: Drain augers are specialized tools similar to plumbing snakes but designed for specific types of drains. For example, there are toilet augers specifically designed for clearing clogs in toilets.
  • Pipe wrenches: Plumbers may use pipe wrenches to disassemble sections of the plumbing system, such as traps or cleanouts, to physically remove blockages or access the pipes for cleaning.
  • Pipe cutters: In some cases, plumbers may need to cut out a section of pipe to remove a severe blockage or replace damaged pipes. Pipe cutters allow them to make precise cuts without damaging the surrounding plumbing.
  • Sewer rods: Sewer rods are sturdy rods with attachments like brushes or blades used for clearing blockages in larger sewer lines. They are effective for pushing through stubborn obstructions and breaking them apart.

How exactly does a plumber use boiling water to unclog a drain?

Using boiling water is a simple yet effective method that plumbers often employ to unclog drains.

The process involves pouring a large amount of boiling water directly into the drain.

The hot water helps break down grease, oil, and soap scum that may be causing the blockage.

The heat also expands the pipe, potentially dislodging minor obstructions and allowing water to flow more freely.

This method is typically suitable for relatively small and simple clogs, and caution should be exercised to avoid damaging pipes or fixtures that may be sensitive to extreme temperatures.

Is it safe to use vinegar and baking soda to unclog a drain?

Using a combination of vinegar and baking soda can be a safe and natural method to help unclog drains, particularly for minor blockages.

The chemical reaction that occurs when vinegar and baking soda are mixed produces carbon dioxide gas, which can create pressure and help dislodge debris.

To use this technique, pour a cup of baking soda and a cup of vinegar into the drain.

Allow the mixture to sit for a while, ideally for several hours or overnight, and then flush the drain with hot water.

While this approach may work for certain clogs, it is important to note that it might not be effective for more severe blockages.

Also, it is not recommended for drains with certain materials or plumbing systems, such as those with fragile or old pipes, as the combination of vinegar and baking soda can create excess pressure.

How effective is a drain cleaner for unclogging drains?

Drain cleaners can be effective for unclogging drains, depending on the type of clog and the specific cleaner used.

Chemical drain cleaners, which typically contain powerful substances like sulfuric acid or sodium hydroxide, work by dissolving organic matter, hair, and other debris that cause blockages.

They can be particularly effective for hair clogs and small, soft obstructions.

However, their effectiveness may vary depending on the severity and composition of the clog.

Avoid overuse, as excessive or improper application of drain cleaners can potentially damage pipes and plumbing fixtures.

In cases of more stubborn or complex clogs, it is advisable to consult a professional plumber who can assess the situation and determine the most appropriate and safe method for unclogging the drain.

Can you use a snake to DIY unclog a drain?

Using a plumbing snake or auger is a common DIY method for unclogging drains.

Plumbing snakes are readily available at hardware stores and can be used to tackle minor to moderate blockages.

To use a snake, you insert the coiled cable into the drain and rotate it while applying gentle pressure.

The snake’s corkscrew-like tip helps break up or snag the clog, allowing you to pull it out or push it further into the pipe.

While using a snake can be effective, it’s essential to exercise caution to avoid damaging the pipes.

If you encounter significant resistance or are unsure about the proper technique, it’s advisable to seek the assistance of a professional plumber.

What are the pros and cons of using a drain auger?

EffectivenessLimited reach
VersatilitySkill and technique are required.
Cost-effectivePotential pipe damage
 Limited DIY scope

The table provides a concise overview of the pros and cons of using a drain auger, highlighting its effectiveness and versatility while acknowledging limitations such as limited reach, the need for skill and technique, potential pipe damage, and its suitability for DIY use.


  • Effectiveness: Drain augers are generally effective in breaking up and removing clogs. The corkscrew-like tip can grab onto debris or penetrate through the blockage, helping to clear the drain.
  • Versatility: Drain augers come in various sizes and types, making them suitable for different drain sizes and types of clogs. There are augers specifically designed for toilets, sinks, and tubs, providing versatility in unclogging various fixtures.
  • Cost-effective: Purchasing a drain auger for DIY use can be cost-effective compared to hiring a professional plumber for minor to moderate drain clogs. It allows you to tackle the issue on your own and potentially save money.


  • Limited reach: While drain augers can reach a decent length, they may not be suitable for deep clogs or blockages located far within the plumbing system. In such cases, professional plumbers with specialized equipment may be needed.
  • Skill and technique: Operating a drain auger requires some skill and technique to effectively navigate the cable through the drain without causing damage. Inexperienced users may find it challenging to use the auger correctly, potentially leading to ineffective results or further complications.
  • Potential pipe damage: If not used with care, drain augers can potentially damage pipes. Applying excessive force or using the wrong type of auger for the specific drain can cause scratches, cracks, or even pipe breakage. It’s crucial to follow instructions and exercise caution when using a drain auger.
  • Limited DIY scope: While drain augers can be useful for DIY unclogging attempts, they may not be suitable for severe or complex blockages. In such cases, professional plumbers with advanced tools and expertise may be necessary to address the issue effectively.

What chemicals do plumbers use to unclog drains?

Plumbers use various chemicals to unclog drains, depending on the type of blockage and the severity of the clog.

Some common chemicals used by plumbers include sulfuric acid, sodium hydroxide (lye), and acidic or alkaline drain cleaners.

These chemicals are formulated to dissolve organic matter, hair, grease, and other debris that cause blockages in drains.

However, the use of chemical drain cleaners should be approached with caution, as they can be harmful to the environment, pipes, and the user if not handled properly.

How does a plumber inspect a drain for blockages?

Plumbers use various methods to inspect drains for blockages.

One common technique is utilizing video inspection cameras, which are small, waterproof cameras attached to flexible cables.

The plumber inserts the camera into the drain or pipe and navigates it through the system while viewing the live video feed on a monitor.

This allows them to visually assess the condition of the drain, identify any blockages, and determine the exact location and nature of the problem.

The video inspection also helps the plumber determine the most appropriate method for unclogging the drain, whether it requires using a plumbing snake, high-pressure water jetting, or other specialized equipment.

What’s the debate on using drain chemicals to unclog drains?

The debate on using drain chemicals to unclog drains revolves around several key factors.

On the one hand, proponents argue that chemical drain cleaners can be effective in breaking down and clearing clogs, offering a convenient and relatively inexpensive solution.

They emphasize the convenience of DIY unclogging without the need for professional intervention.

However, opponents express worries about the potential harm that these chemicals may cause.

Chemical drain cleaners can be corrosive and may damage pipes, especially older or fragile plumbing systems.

There are also environmental considerations, as the chemicals can be harmful when released into water systems.

Reliance on chemical solutions may mask underlying issues, and recurring or persistent clogs may require more thorough professional intervention.

As a result, the debate centers on the trade-off between short-term convenience and potential long-term consequences for pipes, health, and the environment.

How much does a plumber charge to unclog a drain?

The cost of hiring a plumber to unclog a drain can vary depending on several factors, such as the location, the severity of the clog, the complexity of the plumbing system, and the plumber’s experience and pricing structure.

The cost can range from $100 to $300 or more.

Simple, straightforward clogs may fall towards the lower end of the range, while more challenging or time-consuming blockages, especially if they require advanced equipment or techniques, may incur higher costs.

How do you completely prevent clogged drains?

  • Regular maintenance: Implement a regular drain maintenance routine by using natural or commercial drain cleaners to prevent buildup. Additionally, consider scheduling professional drain cleaning services periodically to remove any accumulated debris.
  • Use drain screens or strainers: Install drain screens or strainers in sinks, showers, and tubs to catch hair, food particles, and other debris before they enter the drain and cause clogs.
  • Dispose of waste properly: Avoid disposing of substances that can contribute to clogs, such as grease, oil, coffee grounds, and solid food waste. Dispose of these items in the appropriate waste bins or recycling containers.
  • Avoid flushing non-flushable items: Ensure that only toilet paper is flushed down the toilet and avoid flushing non-flushable items like wet wipes, feminine hygiene products, or paper towels, as they can easily cause blockages.
  • Be mindful of hair: In bathroom drains, regularly remove hair from sink stoppers and shower drain covers. This can help prevent hair buildup and subsequent clogs.
  • Hot water flushing: Periodically flush your drains with hot water to help dissolve and clear away any accumulated grease or soap scum.
  • Educate household members: Teach your household members about drain care and proper disposal practices to ensure everyone follows preventative measures consistently.

How do plumbers fix tree root blockages in plumbing?

  • Mechanical augering: Plumbers use a plumbing snake or auger equipped with a cutting head specifically designed to slice through or grind up tree roots. The auger is inserted into the affected pipe, and with rotating movements, it cuts or breaks apart the roots, allowing water to flow freely.
  • Hydro jetting: High-pressure water jetting is an effective method for removing tree roots. Plumbers use specialized equipment that delivers a forceful stream of water into the pipe, scouring away roots and debris. The high-pressure water can cut through roots and clear the blockage, restoring proper flow.
  • Chemical treatments: Plumbers may apply root-killing chemicals to eliminate or slow down the growth of tree roots within the plumbing system. These chemicals are typically applied directly to the affected pipe and work to inhibit root growth over time.
  • Pipe repair or replacement: In severe cases where tree roots have caused significant damage to the plumbing pipes, plumbers may need to perform repairs or even replace sections of the pipe. This involves excavating the affected area and either repairing the damaged portion or installing new pipe segments.
  • Pipe relining: Another option is pipe relining, which involves inserting a flexible liner coated with epoxy resin into the damaged pipe. The liner is then inflated, allowing the resin to adhere to the interior and create a new, seamless pipe within the old one. This technique can help prevent future tree root intrusions and extend the lifespan of the plumbing system.

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Author: Logan

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