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Coping with plumbing problems in the kitchen - blocked sinks and drains

Updated on July 14, 2013

Clogged kitchen sink

This hub is not about how to fix plumbing problems but how to cope with them until you can afford to get a plumber in. Of course, it is about what to try when a kitchen sink is blocked or leaking but it is also about what to do if you still cannot come up with a solution. It is a look at what you can try when you want to fix a clogged kitchen sink.

For most of this year so far, I have been living with plumbing problems in the kitchen and bathroom of this apartment. Now you could say, well why not tell the landlord or landlady? That is a good question and the recommended solution under normal circumstances but when you are in rent arrears it is a different matter. Whoever you are renting from is hardly likely to want to spend their money on repairs for a clogged sink when they don't have the income they expect coming in. I don't have the sort of pay I was getting coming my way any more too and that is how I ended up in this mess.

However, necessity is the Mother of Invention it is said, and confronted with plumbing problems I have not been able to solve I have had to find ways of coping with a minor domestic disaster.

Unblocking a kitchen sink and waste pipe

Plumbing solutions to try for a blocked kitchen sink

I have had two problems with the kitchen sink here. The drainpipe was blocked and also the U-bend was leaking.

Now it can be fairly simple to unblock a U-bend trap. These traps often get clogged with hair, food fragments and other muck that gets stuck there. The usual answer is to put something underneath to catch any spills and to unscrew the fixture, clean out anything you find blocking it and screw it all back together again. This works fine if the blockage is immediately under the sink in the trap there.

Unfortunately in my case it wasn't. The blockage was further along the drainage pipe that went under a kitchen unit and into the wall. Now there are various methods to try to clear a blocked drainpipe.

You can try using a plunger. You can have a go at pouring baking soda or bicarbonate of soda followed by vinegar and then boiling water down the sink, you can try tipping salt down there followed by more boiling water, you can try straight vinegar, but if all these methods fail then there are commercial chemical drain-cleaners and caustic soda available from the hardware store.

Something else that should be attempted first though is to get a drain auger or drain-snake. These tools are flexible and can be pushed down the pipe in the hope of pushing through the blockage or hooking into it and pulling it out. There are expensive electric power-driven augers too but I certainly couldn't afford one of them.

I bought two basic drain augers, which are handy tools for unclogging a kitchen or bathroom sink, and had a go with them but unfortunately the blockage was out of reach and still the pipe would not drain.

I tried all the methods I knew of unblocking the pipe apart from caustic soda or drain cleaners and they all failed. Making matters worse, the U-bend would leak whatever liquid was in it and make a mess all over the floor in the cupboard space it is in. This, of course was no good because the force of gravity would mean that if it wasn't cleaned up then it would make its way through the floor into the apartment below. That gave me something else to worry about.

An additional worry is that the chemical cleaners such as Mr Muscle and caustic soda can burn you if you get them on your skin and they give off toxic gas as they go to work. This means you have to be very careful not to get these substances on you, to stand well clear when they are put down the pipe, and to make sure you clean up any spillage safely.

I must admit I was somewhat scared of taking this drastic step because I knew that if it failed the the burning liquid could end up leaking all over the floor. Because of that I gave up on that as a solution.

I decided at one point that maybe if I bought a new U-bend trap that would at least solve the leak problem but it didn't. The part immediately under the sink has nothing to hold it there properly I discovered and the drainpipe appears to be just cut lengths of plastic piping more or less shoved into place and held with plumbing repair tape. It was a very primitive and ramshackle affair, a problem waiting to happen and now it had done so!

Kitchen sink U-bend trap

Leaking pipe
Leaking pipe

Blocked drain poll

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How to cope with a blocked sink?

I ended up having to give up and decided that if I couldn't use the kitchen sink I could still wash the dishes and cutlery in the bathroom. That was my temporary solution. I did the washing up in the bathroom. It's the same principle really and what is important is whether you can clean your pots, pans, cups and dishes, not what drainpipe the dirty water goes down.

After a while I got used to this and if I had guests staying I simply said that I was sorry about the kitchen sink being a disaster area but not to use it and to do all washing up in the bathroom. My friends are used to my eccentricities anyway so I suppose they just accepted this as the latest.

The months went by and every now and again I thought I would try it just in case it was miraculously fixed somehow. Usually I found I was hoping in vain but to make sure now water leaked all over the floor under the sink I rigged up a means of holding it all in place. I knew that the bulk of the water would eventually drain because it wasn't totally blocked but it would take ages. In the meantime I had to ensure it didn't leak out.

I turned an old saucepan upside down and put this on top of several layers of newspaper, just in case of accidents, then balanced a rock on top of this that I wedged right under the U-bend trap. The pressure pushing upwards holds it all in place.

One day I tried turning on the water and it ran away OK. Excitedly I boiled some more and tipped that down there just to make sure that any blockage was got rid off and that went down the pipe too.

So I have carried on with my kitchen sink working again. Time was the solution for clearing the blockage, newspaper an inverted pan and a large stone formed a contraption to stop the trap leaking, and the bathroom served as somewhere to wash the dishes in the meantime.

Do-it-yourself and home repairs have never been my area of expertise. I am a writer and musician not a handyman!

Copyright © 2012 Steve Andrews. All Rights Reserved.


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    • Bard of Ely profile image

      Steve Andrews 6 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal

      Thank you for the info for Dorothy!

    • profile image

      Chris Schenck 6 years ago

      Dorothy, I just got the same "PlumbCraft" drain tool, and figured out how to use it. You have to rotate the handle in the direction of the "set" arrow. It will resist you as you try to turn it, but you have to turn it nearly a full circle around until the handle is on the opposite side of the opening where the wire comes out. Hold it in that position while you manually pull the wire out of the container. When you let go of the handle, the wire will lock in place again. After you're done, make sure the wire is fully dry, then wind it back into the container by spinning the handle round-and-round. Not the easiest tool to use! Hope this helped.

    • Bard of Ely profile image

      Steve Andrews 6 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal

      I am the wrong person to ask, Dorothy! I still haven't sorted out my own plumbing disasters here! I hope you find a solution though!

    • profile image

      Dorothy 6 years ago

      My kitchen drain in a double sink which has a disposal on one side, is totally clogged. I have tried plunging and stuff comes up in the opposite sink. I bought a PlumbCraft Sink Drain Auger, but cannot get the the darn think to come out of its container. It has a turn handle with an arrow that says "set". I don't understand this. Please help me!

    • alekhouse profile image

      Nancy Hinchliff 6 years ago from Essex Junction, Vermont

      I think the solution to this problem is to keep your rent payments up to date.

    • Bard of Ely profile image

      Steve Andrews 6 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal

      Thanks, Simey! That's just the kitchen...the bathroom is another disaster area!

    • SimeyC profile image

      Simon Cook 6 years ago from NJ, USA

      Great stuff - or not as the case may be for you! Interesting to read a story about the problem!

    • Bard of Ely profile image

      Steve Andrews 6 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal

      Thanks for your comments, Simone! I assume the clog must have gone because bacteria had decomposed it.

    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 6 years ago from San Francisco

      It's not an ideal situation, I'll give it that, but it sounds like you've at least arrived at a holding point! How interesting that time has eased the sink clog!

      What I know for sure is that you're certainly not the only one who is stuck dealing with bad plumbing. I'm glad you've shared your story- now readers will know they're not so alone!

    • Bard of Ely profile image

      Steve Andrews 6 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal

      Thank you for commenting, Snakeslane, VENZKHVAM and Timmi!

    • profile image

      timmi wally 6 years ago

      you can't be too careful when using caustic soda, or any product that contains it. it is quiet easy to provoke an 'explosive' reaction. suggest to use eye and hand protection, minimum.

    • snakeslane profile image

      Verlie Burroughs 6 years ago from Canada

      Nothing worse than being stuck between a rock and a hard place, good for you Bard of Ely for working with what you've got. I once had a leaky (bathroom) sink and had to use a bucket under it because I couldn't figure out where leak was coming from. I had to adjust my trips away according to how long it would take for the bucket to fill up. Eventually a friend came over to check it out for me and found the leak was caused by a worn out washer in the tap and fixed it in minutes. If he hadn't helped I would probably still have the bucket under the sink! On second thought I may eventually have figured out how to fix it myself, especially after reading this great home plumbing series in Hub Pages.

    • Bard of Ely profile image

      Steve Andrews 6 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal

      Thank you, K9! I am glad you liked my story!

    • K9keystrokes profile image

      India Arnold 6 years ago from Northern, California

      I am so glad you decided to write this! What a difficult situation you are dealing with. I find your primitive, yet cleaver approach to your plumbing problem to be quite brilliant. It is so true what you say, necessity is the mother of all invention! Great story Bard of Ely!



    • Bard of Ely profile image

      Steve Andrews 6 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal

      Thanks for your comments, WhatBigJohnThinks! I just read yours and really liked your story!

    • WhatBigJohnThinks profile image

      WhatBigJohnThinks 6 years ago

      You should read my hub "I Aint No Plumber". believe me, I feel your pain brother.