How to unblock a drain

A blocked drain is always a hassle and dealing with a blockage can seem complicated if you don't know what you're doing.

So we've put together some tips to help you learn how to unblock a drain and get your plumbing and drainage system running smoothly again.

Take a look at the following article and find out how to:

  1. Identify a blocked drain.
  2. Clear a blocked drain.
  3. Prevent future blockages.
  4. Understand your responsibility for unblocking public and private drains.

Identifying a blocked drain

Find out the initial steps you’ll need to take if you experience a blocked drain.

  1. Identify what's wrong
    If the water in your toilet or bath isn't draining away properly, this is likely to be the result of a blocked drain. If your toilet is completely blocked, check out our article on how to unblock a toilet.
  2. Stop using the drain
    It may seem obvious, but don't empty any more water into the drain! This will only make the problem worse and more difficult to resolve.
  3. Safety first
    Before tackling the blockage, make sure you stay safe by wearing full protective clothing (this includes gloves, goggles and overalls). And always remember to remove and wash your protective clothing after you’ve finished work.

How to unblock a drain

Before you begin, make sure you have a set of drain rods, which can be hired or purchased at most DIY stores. Once you've put on your protective clothing, follow the steps below.

  1. Remove the cover
    Firstly lift the inspection cover on the drain. If the cover is rusted shut, use a screwdriver to scrape away the rust and then prise the cover off. If your drain cover has a handle, tie some string or wire to it, then pull the cover open.
  2. Clear the obstruction
    Use a rod with a plunger attachment to dislodge the blockage – this may take several minutes of twisting and turning. Alternatively, try using a standard kitchen mop handle although this is unlikely to be as flexible as a purpose-made drain rod.
  3. Flush with water
    Once you've dislodged the blockage, flush the drain thoroughly with water to remove any remaining debris.

Preventing future blockages

Unblocking a drain can be a difficult process which is best avoided. So here are a few tips for preventing future drain blockages.

  • Monitor your drains
    By checking your drains regularly, you should be able to catch the start of any minor blockages before they get worse.
  • Dispose of waste correctly
    Remember to dispose of rubbish in the correct manner. Never flush away items such as face wipes, nappies or cotton wool, as these are likely to block your drains.
  • Keep your drains clear of plants
    If possible, try to keep drains clear of flowers and plants. If your garden's particularly leafy, try fitting drain guards to help prevent plant matter from falling in and causing blockages.
  • Rinse before loading your dishwasher
    Always rinse plates and cutlery before loading your dishwasher. Any excess food will end up in your drains and could build up to cause a blockage.

Responsibilities for drains and sewers

Find out your responsibilities as a homeowner or occupier and who to contact if you experience a problem with a public drain or sewer.

  • Drains
    Homeowners and occupiers are generally responsible for their property's drains, up to the property boundary. Your home insurance may cover you for some drainage problems.
  • Sewers
    Public and private sewers are the responsibility of waste and sewerage companies – not private homeowners or occupiers. You should contact your water company if you encounter a problem.
  • Reporting a blocked drain
    If a neighbour's drain is overflowing and the water has leaked into your home, contact your local council who'll advise you on what action to take.

Find out more

For further information, take a look at our range of plumbing help and advice articles which will help you deal with a range of plumbing leaks, bursts and blockages.

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