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5 Steps to Fix Clogged Pipes & Drains in Your Rentals

John Fedro
5 min read
5 Steps to Fix Clogged Pipes & Drains in Your Rentals

Oftentimes clogged pipes and slow drains can be over dramatized in our minds as bigger problems than they truly are. With a little bit of diagnosing, many clogged or slow drains can be fixed quickly without the cost of a plumber. Whenever working with plumbing, make sure to follow instructions and only proceed forward with the scope of work you feel comfortable performing.

Disclaimer: Although it may not be your first thought, wearing eye protection is always recommended with most home improvements. Drains may hold corrosive and caustic chemicals that can permanently damage your skin and eyes if not protected.

5 Steps to Fix Clogged Pipes & Drains in Your Rentals

Step 1: Prevent problems.

Stop drainage problems before they ever begin. Think of your property’s pipes like the arteries in your body; respect them and be careful about what you put down your drains. The biggest enemies of a drain are:

  1. Cooking grease
  2. Hair
  3. Soap scum
  4. Coffee grounds

Most clogs and slow drains can be prevented. Use a drain screen or drain great to catch hair in sinks and tubs.

Regular Cleaning (Home Remedy): Pour half a cup of table salt and half a cup baking soda into the affected drain. Next, add a half a cup vinegar and let stand for 90 seconds. Follow up by pouring a gallon or more of boiling water down the drain. Repeat monthly as needed.


Step 2A: Fix your clogged or slow draining toilet.

Children’s toys, excessive toilet paper, plant roots, etc. can all find their way into your home’s pipes. A toilet plunger is the first line of defense for clogged or slow draining pipes. Plungers work by creating enough negative pressure in the pipe to suction up a clog or at least loosen it enough to flow down your pipes correctly.

  1. Turn off the water to the toilet. This water valve can usually be found behind the toilet attached to the wall.
  2. Cover the toilet’s drain hole with the plunger. Make sure the plunger head is covered with standing water. If no water is in the bowl, add some to cover the head of plunger.
  3. Push down on the plunger and then up without breaking the suction seal. Repeat this process up and down until the clog is free and the water drains out of the toilet bowl smoothly.
  4. Flush the toilet to confirm the leak has been removed.
  5. After a handful of minutes if the plunger does not help, a drain-snake or drain auger may be needed.

Related: 5 Tips for Assessing an HVAC System When Buying a Home
Pro Tip: Plungers come in different sizes and shapes. Certain plungers are designed for toilets, and other plungers are made to contour to the shape of sinks. While both plungers may prove effective, for best results, make sure you are using the correct plunger for the job.

Step 2B: Fix your clogged or slow draining sink.

Thanks to most sinks having built-in drain stoppers, sink clogs are less common than toilet clogs. However, sink drains can slow down overtime due to the 4 main causes of clogs listed above. When aiming to unclog your sink, follow the instructions below.

  1. Remove the drain stopper, usually by turning it until loose and pulling it straight out. Some older drain stops may have an extra screw needing to be removed prior to pulling out.
  2. Plug up the overflow hole towards the front of the sink to keep water from entering while working.
  3. Make sure there is enough water to cover the plunger head and begin. Push down on the plunger and then up without breaking the suction seal. Repeat this process up and down until the clog is free. After a few minutes, if this does not work, a drain-snake or drain auger may be needed.
  4. Run the hot water for a few minutes to confirm clog is gone.

Step 3: Clean your sink’s P-trap.

A sink’s P-trap is the curved piece of pipe that you see beneath any sink in your investment properties. This part of the pipe is shaped with a U-type bend to help catch heavier objects that may accidentally fall down the sink, such as rings and other valuables. This makes a sink’s P-trap a great location for hair, grease, and debris to pile up into a clog. Follow the steps below to check if your sink’s P-trap is clogged.

  1. Place a bucket directly under your sink’s P-trap prior to disassembling.
  2. A sink’s P-trap is a small piece of piping that will typically connect the sinks drain-tailpiece to the waste pipe going into the wall and out of the home. Using pliers, remove the coupling nuts that attach the trap between these two pieces of pipe.
  3. Once removed, look through the P-trap pipe. Is it clean or clogged?

Clean: If the P-trap is clean, then the clog was not originating from this point and is deeper in the pipes. Continue to step 4 where we will be snaking the pipe to free the clog.

Clogged: This is likely the main reason for your clog or slow water drainage. Clean the interior of this pipe with a plumbing snake, bendable wire, or bottle brush. Inspect the pipe that leads into the wall for additional clogs, grease, and debris. After re-attaching the P-trap pipe, run hot water down the drain to ensure no clogs remain. If a clog remains, please continue to step 4 where we will be snaking the pipe to free the clog.


Related: How I Bought a Fixer-Upper Fourplex for $1 Down: A BRRRR Case Study

Step 4: Snake your drain.

Plumbing snakes work the opposite way of a plunger. Instead of suctioning a clog up words towards you, we will be pushing the clog from behind to continue it flowing down the drain. Please follow the written directions on your plumbing snake or auger as listed. Additionally, use the guidelines below to help.

  1. Remove the drain stopper if applicable.
  2. Make sure the diameter of the snake’s head/tip will fit easily down the drain.
  3. Push the head/tip of the snake into the drain opening and turn the handle on the auger.
  4. Continue manually pushing more and more of the snake into the drain until you feel a resistance.
  5. Rotate the snake’s handle rapidly until you feel the blockage free and you can continue pushing the snake further.
  6. Periodically pour water down the drain to see if the clog has broken free.
  7. If the clog is a solid object then the auger head may entangle in the object. Pull the snake out of the drain to see if the clog attached and comes with the head of the snake. Run hot water down the drain for a few minutes to ensure drain is unclogged.

Step 5: Contact a plumber.

Search around online and ask trusted friends to recommend a plumber they have used and are happy with. Additionally, your local real estate clubs, along with this website, can be great resources to find reputable plumbers and handymen/handywomen locally.

Short-Cut: Liquid Clog Remover

If it works, it works. Follow the directions on the bottle.

Disclaimer: Liquid clog removers should not be used in toilets. Many of these liquid clog removers contain caustic chemicals that will damage the porcelain and/or other materials in your toilet.

Chronic Clogging

If you are experiencing regular clogging and slow drains, the problem may not be with clogged pipes, but rather the slope of the waste pipes leaving the home. Wastewater and waste-solids are carried out with the help of water and gravity. If the waste pipes leaving the home do not have a steep enough slope/grade, the water may be standing still in the pipes and causing frequent backups. Raising or lowering different ends of the main waste pipe out of the home can help encourage water to flow downwards and away from the home.

In conclusion, it is fun learning about home repair and sometimes figuring out things for ourselves. This article does not talk about cracked pipes, broken water heaters, sump pumps, low water pressure, and many more common plumbing issues. For these problems, please check around the Internet for solutions, check out the Forums on this website, and/or simply call a friendly plumber in the area to begin building a relationship. Either way, plumbing issues are a natural and expected part of owning property. If renting or holding property, expect and account for these minor issues periodically.

Any questions about how to unclog your pipes and drains?

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Note By BiggerPockets: These are opinions written by the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions of BiggerPockets.