How To Handle Drain Clogs in Your Apartment

Have you been showering in standing water for the past week and a half? Does your sink fill up with water every time you brush your teeth? That drain clog won’t go away on its own, as much as you’d like it to.

Apartment drain clogs are one of the most common maintenance requests from apartment dwellers. Nobody—and we mean nobody—likes dealing with them. That’s what plumbers are for, right? But plumbers get expensive fast, and probably won’t be able to fix your drain clog for at least a few days.

So pull up your bootstraps (and your sleeves)! Let’s unclog that apartment drain together.

Check Your Lease

Pump the brakes before you dive in. You might not have to do this all by yourself, after all. Your apartment lease will most likely indicate whether your landlord is responsible for taking care of maintenance issues like clogged drains.

If your landlord is responsible, you’ll have to determine whether it’s worth waiting for a plumber to arrive. If your landlord is not responsible, you’ll obviously want to do everything you can to solve the clog yourself before calling the plumber.

If your lease doesn’t specify who’s responsible, try asking your landlord nicely.

7 Ways to Unclog an Apartment Drain

Once you’ve got your lease situation sorted out, it’s time to get down and dirty. Let’s take it step-by-step, from simple to a bit more serious.

1. Deodorize with Baking Soda

Baking soda is a natural deodorizer. If your clogged drain is releasing a diabolical stench, pour about ½ cup of baking soda down the drain until it starts to bubble up. After 10 minutes or so, pour hot (NOT boiling) water down the drain.

2. Use the Wire Hanger Method

Most drain clogs happen because hair, dirt, and debris get caught in the first few feet of a pipe, according to Mr. Rooter Plumbing. It may be possible to physically unclog your drain with objects around your apartment, like a wire coat hanger.

Straighten out the hanger’s body, but keep its hook intact.
Push the hook into your drain and start fishing!
Make sure you’re pulling stuff out, not pushing it further in.
Run hot water over the drain for a few minutes, then repeat as necessary.

3. Plunge It Up

Is there standing water in your drain? A plunger might do the trick. Push down gently on the plunger at first to force all the air out, then go to town with quick and forceful plunges in 20-second increments. The plunger will hopefully agitate the clog and knock something loose. Just be careful not to let anything splash back up! If plunging doesn’t work, move on to step #4.

4. Snake the Drain

A snake drain (also known as a cable auger) costs about $20 at your local hardware store. The process gets messy, but it’s not as scary as it sounds.

Remove your drain cover or overflow plate (for tubs), if necessary.
Feed approximately 30 inches of cable down the drain.
Push forward with some force while turning the hand crank.
When you find resistance, adjust the cable by moving it back and forth.
Retrieve the cable, then run hot water down the drain for several minutes.

Note: For tub drains, feed the snake through the overflow drain. For sink drains, remove the P-trap (the U-shaped section of piping visible underneath your sink) and start the snake from where you removed your P-trap.

5. Pour Biological Enzymes

According to Consumer Reports, unclogging your drain physically (with a wire hanger or drain snake, for example) is preferable to using cleaners. But if you’ve tried steps #1-4 to no avail, biological enzymes could be a safe and straightforward solution. Just one caveat: they take time to feed on the organic matter (like hair, food, etc.) clogging your drain. If time is something you’ve got, try an enzyme. Most enzyme cleaners are available for purchase on Amazon or at your local hardware store.

6. Bring in the Big Guns

Chemical pipe cleaners should be your last resort. They could potentially damage your pipes and your body. But let’s face it: a $10 solution is still better than a $100+ visit from the plumber. If you must, Consumer Reports lists Drain Out as the most effective chemical drain cleaner on the market.

7. Call the Pros

There’s no shame in calling a plumber for your drain clog. It’s part of their job, after all. While hiring a pro might seem like a hefty expense, doing so could help you avoid more serious repair costs down the road and get your security deposit back when you move.

Plumbing problems piling up? Start packing. We can help you find the perfect (clog-free) apartment.