5 Ways to Unclog a Drain with Standing Water


Unclogging a drain with standing water can be a frustrating but manageable task. Here’s a summary of effective ways to unclog a drain when you have standing water:

  1. Plunger:
    • Method: Begin by using a cup or bucket to remove as much standing water as possible.
    • Use: Apply a plunger (preferably a cup or sink plunger) over the drain opening, ensuring a tight seal. Push and pull the plunger vigorously to create suction and dislodge the clog.
    • Outcome: The plunger can often break up and push the obstruction down the drain. Repeat the process if necessary.
  2. Boiling Water:
    • Method: Boil a pot of water and allow it to cool slightly (to avoid damaging PVC pipes). Pour the hot water directly down the drain in a steady stream.
    • Use: The heat can dissolve and soften grease and soap scum clogs, allowing them to be flushed away with the water.
    • Outcome: This method is particularly effective for minor clogs caused by organic matter.
  3. Baking Soda and Vinegar:
    • Method: Pour half a cup of baking soda followed by a cup of vinegar down the drain. Cover the drain and let it sit for 15-20 minutes.
    • Use: The chemical reaction between the baking soda and vinegar can break down clogs.
    • Outcome: Follow with hot water to flush away the debris.
  4. Zip-It Tool or Drain Snake:
    • Method: Insert a Zip-It tool or drain snake into the drain and push it down until you feel resistance. Rotate or move it back and forth to hook onto the clog.
    • Use: These tools can physically pull out hair, soap scum, or other blockages.
    • Outcome: Remove the tool, along with the clog, and discard the debris.
  5. Chemical Drain Cleaners (with caution):
    • Method: Follow the manufacturer’s instructions when using chemical drain cleaners.
    • Use: These products contain strong chemicals that can dissolve clogs, but use them sparingly and with care to avoid damaging pipes.
    • Outcome: Chemical drain cleaners can effectively clear some clogs, but they may not work for all types of blockages.
  6. Call a Professional Plumber:
    • Method: If the above methods fail or if you’re dealing with a severe or recurrent clog, it’s advisable to contact a professional plumber.
    • Use: Plumbers have the expertise and specialized equipment to handle stubborn or complex drain issues.
    • Outcome: A professional plumber can diagnose and resolve the problem effectively and safely.

Clearing a clogged drain with standing water is actually easier than you think. The following are the steps to follow to unclog a drain with standing water naturally:

1. Drain the Water

The first thing to do when you have a clogged drain with standing water is to drain the wastewater. It is very hard to unclog a fixture already full of water.

Grab a cup and start scooping the water and pouring it in a bucket. It is always nice to have gloves on especially if you are unclogging a toilet with standing water.

If it is the bathtub or bathroom sink that is clogged, you can easily scoop and pour the water inside the toilet bowl.

One thing to remember is that if you want to plunge the drain, you should not drain out all the way. To plunge properly, you need to have some water in the clogged fixture. Ideally, the plunger cup should be submerged in the water.

2. Plunge the Drain


A drain plunger is a simple yet very effective tool for unclogging drains. You however need to know how to use a plunger for you to clear the drain.

The first step in plunging a drain is by selecting the correct type of plunger. There are 3 main types of plungers; cup plungers, flange plungers and accordion plungers.

A cup plunger, also known as a flat-bottomed or sink plunger is the common plunge with a flat-bottomed rubber cup. It is designed to clear clogs in sinks, bathtubs and shower drains.

Flange plungers and accordion plungers are the plungers specifically made to clear clogs from a toilet drain. I prefer using the flange plunger since it is made of a rubber cup and flap unlike the hard plastic in accordion plungers that can scratch the bowl.

As I had mentioned, the second thing you need to do is to make sure that the fixture you need to unclog has sufficient water to completely submerge the plunger cup. The water is needed to prevent air from entering inside the cup during plunging.

Another thing to remember is that bathtubs and sinks have an overflow drain. The overflow drains are connected to the main drain line.

As such, you should first plug off the overflow drains before starting to plunge. You can use another plunger to plug off the overflow drain or even use a rag or duct tape.

Failing to plug off the overflow drain means that the pressure generated by the plunger would escape through the overflow instead of pushing down the clog. Needless to say, your chance of unclogging the drain will be pretty low.

The next step is to immerse the plunger inside the fixture and place the cup nicely over the drain opening. Insert the plunger in such a way that air will not get inside the cup but instead the space should be full of water.

Air inside the plunger cup acts as a shocker absorber, which again limits your chances of unclogging the drain.

To plunge effectively, start off by plunging gently. That will prevent wastewater from splashing on you. Also, you need to hold the handle perpendicular to the drain opening. Tilting the handle reduces the impact of the thrust.

Plunge aggressively for a few minutes without lifting off the plunger. Lift the plunger and check if the water in the fixture will drain out fast. If not, plunge some more.

3. Snake the Drain


A drain snake, also known as a plumber’s snake is a flexible cable with a hooked spring-like head and a cranking handle. It is used to break down the clog or even pull it out of the drain pipe.

When snaking a bathtub, it is better to snake it through the overflow drain. Remove the overflow drain cover and if you have a trip-lever tub stopper pull it out as well.

With a bathroom or kitchen sink, you can either remove the P-trap and snake the drain line directly or snake it from the drain opening. You may however need to remove the stopper first.

Snaking the shower drain will definitely need you to first remove the drain cover. Just pop it out using a needle-nose pliers or screwdriver as shown in this post.

Snaking a toilet drain is different. You should use the special snake called a toilet auger. A toilet auger has a bowl guard, which prevents the auger head from scratching the bowl.

  • Just pull the whole cable inside the tube until the auger head is at the bowl guard.
  • Carefully introduce the auger inside the toilet drain opening and starting pushing the cable down the drain.

Snaking a toilet drain and other drains is however the same.

  • Keep pushing the snake down the drain until you encounter resistance. That means the head of the snake is at the clog.
  • Start cranking the handle until you move past the restriction. That means you have broken down the clog.
  • While pulling out a toilet auger, have the bowl guard nicely positioned at the toilet outlet to safely remove the auger head without scratching the bowl.

Snaking a Drain Clogged with Hair

If the clogged drain with standing water is the bathroom sink, shower or bathtub, there is a very high chance that the drain is clogged by hair. Hair combines with shampoo, soap scum and oils to form a clingy ball inside the drain trap.

In that case, unclogging the drain can be very easy. You will only need a drain hair removal tool, also known as a Zip-It tool (Amazon).

This is a plastic snake with hooks on both sides. All you need to do is push it inside the drain, twist it about then pull it out. Repeat that a few times then blast hot water through the drain to flush anything that is still left inside the trap and drain line.

Alternatively, a wire coat hanger will come in handy. Just Straighten it then make a hook on one end. Use the hook end to pull out hair from the drain.


4. Clear the Drain Using Baking Soda and Vinegar

Baking soda and vinegar are actually very effective in unclogging drains naturally. The 2 products are not only safe for your plumbing but they are also eco-friendly and septic-safe.

Baking soda being is an alkali while vinegar is a weak acid and the two will react together in a fizzing reaction and in the process break down the clog.

Although baking soda and vinegar will clear the drain on their own, I also like adding hot water in the mix. What you may not know as well is that boiling water can clear most drain clogs.

Boiling water melts the grease in kitchen sink drains and melts hair balls in bathroom sink, bathtub and shower drains thereby clearing the clog.

  • Drain the clogged fixture completely. If you still have water in the clogged fixture, drain it out. You want the baking soda and vinegar to work directly on the clog.
  • Pour 1 cup of baking soda slowly followed by another cup of vinegar.
  • Wait for about 15 minutes for the clog to be broken down.
  • Meanwhile, start boiling about a gallon or more of water.
  • Dump the hot water in the drain.

Note: Avoid pouring boiling water in a toilet bowl. The water will cause a sudden expansion of the china and hence the bowl will crack.

5. Remove and Clean the P-trap

This method works for both the bathroom sink and kitchen sink. If you therefore have a clogged sink with standing water, this could be the fastest way of unclogging it.

If you look under your sink, you will notice that there is a U-shaped pipe. That is what we call the P-trap or drain trap. Actually tubs, showers and washing machine also have P-traps only that they are not easily accessible.

P-traps hold water at all times preventing sewer gases from entering the house but they also trap solids which would otherwise end up clogging the drain line farther away.

As I had mentioned earlier, whenever you have a clogged drain, most of the time the clog is usually inside the P-trap. By removing and cleaning the P-trap you will have cleared the clog.

This is how to remove and clean a P-trap of a clogged sink drain:

  • If you have stored items under the sink remove them.
  • Place a bucket under the P-trap. That is for draining the water already in the P-trap instead of spilling it on the floor.
  • Disconnect the 2 P-trap connections. Always attempt to use your bare hands before reaching for a wrench.
  • Use a flexible wire brush to clean the P-trap as well as the tail piece and the drain line exiting through the wall.
  • Connect back the P-trap.
  • Turn on the sink faucet and check if the sink is draining as fast as it should. Also check if the P-trap is leaking (happens when it’s not aligned or properly tightened).

And basically that is how to unclog a drain with standing water naturally.

Can You Pour Drain Cleaner Instead?

Chemical drain cleaners like Drano will surely unclog most drain clogs but I do not recommend using them. Check out the reasons for that in this post.

To be specific, Drano is marketed as being capable of penetrating through the standing water and clearing the clog. I am however not sure about other drain cleaners.

While I am not in disagreement with Drano, it does not always work. And no drain cleaner works 100% of the time anyway. Some clogs just won’t budge. As a matter of fact, Drano can make some clogs even worse.

So, what happens when you pour Drano in a clogged drain with standing water and it fails to work? You will be left with a drain full of toxic wastewater.

There is a reason plumber always ask if you had tried using chemical drain cleaners whenever you call them to fix a clogged drain. You will need to look for a way of draining the wastewater safely and there is always a risk that it will splash and burn your skin.

So the answer is NO. You should not pour Drano or any other chemical drain cleaner in a clogged drain with standing water. In fact, you should avoid using chemical drain cleaners as much as possible.

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