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Solved in minutes: DIY fixes for the most common plumbing problems

Plumbing has been around for a long time, and it’s become pretty dependable at this point. Dependable, though, doesn’t mean infallible — sometimes debris lodges itself just right, leaving you with a blockage or – worse yet – an overflow.

That…is never good news. But what *is* good news is the fact that, in most cases, these kinds of day-to-day plumbing problems can be solved with everyday tools and a little bit of elbow grease.

Blocked Sink

With a blocked sink, you have a few options for clearing them. We’ll start with a couple of less invasive approaches before guiding you through one that’ll make you feel like you’ve earned your plumbing stripes.

Soak it with an eco-friendly natural cleaner

For milder clogs, you can use a homemade green cleaning mixture made from two ingredients that you probably already have in your home: vinegar and baking soda.

It’ll take some time to work, but – together – they create an acidic combination that can soak into and dissolve drainage clogs, letting water move freely through the pipes again. You want the mixture to remain concentrated, so – if there’s still water in the sink from the clog, use a bucket to empty it out in another sink or drain.

All done? Good – grab a pair of kitchen gloves, and measure out 1 cup of baking soda and another 1 cup of vinegar. Pour the baking soda down the sink, then immediately pour the vinegar in right after. If you hear the sound of fizzing and bubbling, that’s good — it means the mixture is reacting.

Now it’s time to wait. Cover the drain with a cloth and – if there’s the chance of someone using the sink by accident – put up a sign letting people know it’s out of order. Let the vinegar and baking soda mixture soak into the clog overnight.

The next day (or at least after several hours have passed), pour boiling water down the sink to rinse away the mixture and flush out whatever’s been clogging the sink. If the water flows away smoothly, you’ll know that the clog has been successfully removed!

Use a plunger

If you’ve used a plunger to clear a toilet blockage before, then you probably have some idea of how it works (and if you haven’t, we’ve explained it in detail further below). That same water pressure action can also be used to push through sink clogs.

(For sanitary reasons, you probably shouldn’t use your toilet plunger on your kitchen or bathroom sink. If it’s a specialized toilet plunger – recognizable by it having a part that extends down below the widest point of the cup – it won’t work as effectively on a sink anyway.)

You’ll need water in the sink to plunge it effectively; at minimum, the water should extend above the highest point of the cup. If there’s some already from the blockage, it’s okay to use it. If not, you should add about half a sink’s worth of warm, soapy water. Some places suggest adding boiling water, but – because the water can splash up and potentially scald you – we don’t recommend that.

Immerse the plunger cup below the water line and position it so that it’s centered over the entrance to the drain. Make sure the plunger cup is firmly sealed against the bottom of the sink, then gradually apply pressure downwards, making sure to maintain the seal.

You should see and feel water pushing down into the drain – if you see a large amount of water being pushed out of the bottom edges of the plunger cup and swirling the water in the sink, you haven’t created a good seal yet.

Continue pressing downward until you notice the water in the sink flowing away at a normal rate again.

Remove and unblock the pipes

If neither the cleaning solution nor the plunger worked to clear your sink, there could be a mass of grease, hair, or other debris lodged deeper in the pipes.

The solution? Remove the pipes and clear that clog manually. As fixes go, it’s a bit more challenging, but it’s definitely still DIY-able.

Start by looking under your kitchen sink. You should see a short, curvy pipe that leads from the sink into the wall. That’s the one you’ll want to remove.

Next, beneath your sink, place a towel or something to absorb any water that may leak out as you’re removing the pipes. After that, go ahead and remove the pipe; if it’s a metal pipe, you can use a wrench to help unscrew it; for a plastic pipe, it’s best to remove it by hand to avoid cracking the plastic with excessive force.

Once the pipe has been removed, inspect the removed piece – as well as the remaining attached pipe fixtures for blockages. If you see blockages in the still-attached fixtures, you can use a sturdy twisted wire brush to pull out the stuck material.

If the blockage is located in the removed piece of pipe, take it to another sink or bathtub and pour boiling water through it to try and remove any internal blockages.
Once you can no longer see any signs of a blockage, securely reattach the piece of pipe, then run a small amount of water through it to make sure there are no leaks and that it’s been properly reconnected.

If you removed the blockage and the water now flows smoothly, you’re all done. If everything’s back in place but you still notice slow drainage, however, then it’s most likely that the clog is located deeper within your plumbing system – in that case, you’ll need to call a plumber for professional support.

Overflowing Toilet

Uh-oh. You flush the toilet, watch the water swirl, stall — and then continue rising. As it edges closer to the lip of the bowl you wish and hope that the blockage will give way until…

…splash. You officially have an overflowing toilet.

Fortunately, fixing either situation is usually pretty straightforward. Grab a pair of disposable or rubber gloves, and follow the steps below!

Turn off the water supply to your toilet

In most toilets, the water supply line is attached below the water tank or just beside the rear of the toilet base. This line has a valve, and you can turn the water supply off by turning the valve clockwise.

Can’t find the supply line?

Take off the tank cover, and raise the float cups high enough to stop the water from running. This will solve the immediate problem of toilet overflow, however, only if it has been caused by a toilet clog. If lifting the float cups doesn’t work, and you can’t find a supply line with a valve near the toilet, you’ll need to turn off the water to the entire home.

Remove excess water

Now that there isn’t more water being added to the area, the next step is to clean up the water that’s already present.

To trap and remove the water that’s already overflowed, use a mop, rags, or paper towels. If there’s excess water in the toilet bowl that isn’t flowing away at all, you can use a small bucket to empty it into another working toilet or bathroom drain (but not the sink – it’s best to keep toilet water separate from that area).

Finally, mop or scrub down the area so any harmful bacteria from the toilet isn’t given a chance to grow or get tracked around your house.

Overflow – solved. Now you can use the steps in the following section to deal with the blockage.

Clogged Toilet

Use a (different) plunger

For this step, you’ll need a plunger. Most homes already have one, but – if not – you’ll need to pick one up at your local hardware store. If you’re doing that, look for plungers that have a flange or nozzle that extends below the widest point of the plunger – those are specifically designed for clearing toilet clogs.

First, make sure that there’s a moderate amount of water in the toilet bowl. A plunger uses water pressure to push clogged material through the plumbing system, so having enough water to create the necessary pressure is essential.

Each time you push down on the plunger, you’ll be pushing more water through the system, so – unless you prefer to refill the toilet bowl each time – it’s better to have a few “plunges”-worth of water in the bowl instead. Just make sure there isn’t so much water that it’s at risk of overflowing when you immerse the plunger into the bowl.

Once you’ve immersed the plunger cup in the water, place it right at the center of the hole of the toilet bowl and begin by exerting slow pressure towards the bottom. Don’t slam down on the handle to depress the plunger cup. That’s likely to break the cup’s seal with the bottom and sides of the toilet bowl, and without a good seal, all you’ll be doing is circulating water in the bowl (and probably making a mess in the process).

Instead, gradually increase your pace and pressure through the downward pushing motion. This will focus the flow of water downward into the drainage pipes, helping to apply pressure to the clog and – if all goes according to plan – push it out of the way.

If the plunger fails

Occasionally, a blockage is too severe for a plunger to resolve. A toilet auger can dislodge and remove all other objects that are clogging your toilet and can’t seem to be dislodged using a plunger.

Unlike a plunger, most households don’t have an auger ready to go for these kinds of situations, but you can inexpensively pick one up at most hardware stores.

Using an auger is straightforward. You need to place the tube side of the auger deep into the toilet hole and exert slow pressure and turn it to remove the clog.

A note about checking for successful blockage removal

Don’t check whether you’ve removed the blockage by flushing the toilet. If the blockage is still there, you could end up with an overflowing toilet bowl.

Instead, use the manual bucket flush method instead. You can do this by plunging all the water away (so that you don’t cause an overflow if the manual flush fails), then fill a bucket with an amount of water roughly equivalent to three quarters of the capacity of your toilet bowl.

Pick up the bucket, and from about a foot above the height of the toilet bowl, pour the water in, aiming for the bottom part of the toilet where water drains away. (Here’s a great video rundown of the manual flushing technique.)

If the blockage has been cleared, the water will flow away as if you’ve flushed using the handle. If it swirls around without flowing through, it’s probably still blocked. Either way, you won’t have to deal with the mess of a toilet that overflowed.

No luck with these DIY methods?

Even with proper technique and great effort, some plumbing problems call for professional support.

If you’ve started a DIY fix and feel like you need someone to help you finish the job, or if you’d just rather leave things to a qualified plumber to start with, our experts are ready to help.

Just give us a call or message us online to start with a free, no-obligation quote. Once you tell what you’re having trouble with, we’ll be able to give you an estimate of how long it’ll take to fix and how much it’ll cost.

Get in touch with us by calling (604) 879-1415 or sending us a message online!


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