If you’re constantly cleaning your sink and it still smells weird, the problem may be deeper. It’s possible your bathroom drain is clogged with matted hair, soap scum, old toothpaste, and other forms of bathroom residue. If you don’t fix this, dirty water will eventually back up the sink.
The longer the blockage goes untreated, the more it will cost to repair. So it’s important to deep-clean your bathroom sink regularly. Don’t wait for that mess of stagnant water. As soon as you realize your sink isn’t draining effectively, start exploring the source of the problem.
How to clean bathroom sink drain
1. Manual Cleaning
Your bathroom sink always slows before it stops. You’ll probably notice it when you run the tap. Even before it becomes a full-blown blockage, the water will seem to ‘drag’. Maybe you’re washing your hands, brushing your teeth, or filling the sink to wash your face.
In the process, you discover the water is taking its sweet time to exit the sink. At first, the drain is just slow. Maybe it takes a minute or two to disappear down the drain. If you don’t resolve the problem, the water stops moving altogether. It may even start to smell.
Begin with a quick fix. Use a long stick or an unfurled metal hanger. Preferably one with a rubberized or plasticized tip. This is important because the sharp metal could scratch your plastic pipes, causing leaks, cracks, holes, and potentially making the problem worse.
You could wrap a rag at the tip of the wire or stick. Carefully lower your tool down the sink and wiggle it to dislodge any dirt. Some of the dirt may go further down and exit the sink. Other bits may stick to your unclogging tool as you pull it out. Run the faucet to see if the clog is gone.
2. Drainage Snakes
If your make-shift drain-cleaning tool doesn’t work, you may need a pre-constructed tool. Drain snakes are affordable and easily available. Get one that’s designed for a bathroom sink. It may be shorter, but it will also have a narrower tip. That tip fits more easily into your bathroom sink.
If the gaps in your sink are too small, you can pry off the sink-hole cover. This widens your access point. It also makes it easier to see what you’re doing. Shine a flashlight down the bathroom sink drain. You can also use the light from your smartphone to get a better view.
Look at the items clogging your sink, and pull them out. Use a gloved hand, a plastic bag, or crank the drain snake to remove the blockage. The blockage may look large and messy. In that case, place a bucket under your bathroom sink and carefully unscrew your sink trap.
This releases anything stuck in the S-curve or U-trap of your sink. With the trap open, you can push the drain snake through the hole and dislodge any debris. You can also peep into the horizontal section of your trap and see whether anything else is stuck in there.
3. Rinse the Sink
The best time to rinse out the muck is after you’ve loosened or extracted the dirt using a stick, wire, or drain snake. But some homeowners prefer to begin with this step. Scoop out any water that’s sitting in the sink, leaving it as dry as possible. Now pour boiling water down the sink.
The hot water will melt any greasy blockages. Sometimes, the pressure of the water can remove dirt as well. Pour at least two batches of hot water – first with the trap shut and again with the trap open. You can do a final rinse after you screw the trap cover back into place.
Plain hot water isn’t always sufficient, so you can supplement it with vinegar and baking soda. In that case, start with hot water, wait five minutes, sprinkle baking soda, wait for more minutes, then chase it with vinegar. A final hot water rinse should leave your sink clean and clear.
4. Use a Plunger
Every house should have one. Ideally, buy a separate one for each sink. You don’t want to use your bathroom plunger in the kitchen. And you definitely don’t want to stick your toilet plunger in the sink. (Toilet plungers often have a larger flange to help them grip the toilet trap better.)
Before plunging the sink, make sure the cup of the plunger is covered with water. If the water level is too low, the plunger won’t achieve enough suction to clear the clog. So if the sink has no water in it, run the faucet for a few seconds to accumulate water, then position the plunger.
Place it over the bathroom sink drain, covering the holes completely. Then use firm, rhythmic movements to push down the plunger cup. Pump three to five times in a row then pull the plunger away and check if the water level is receding. Repeat this cycle several times.
Once the drain is clear of dirty water, pour hot water down the sink to remove any residue. Then refill the sink with clean cold water and if it doesn’t drain, repeat the plunging process. For common clogs, this will solve the problem. But larger blockages will need additional steps.
5. Clean the Drain Guard
Not all drain guards are removable. If it is, take it out once a week and clean it thoroughly. We’re talking about the whole drain cover mechanism, including the drain cover, sink plug, and spillover pieces. If they’re dishwasher-safe, toss them in there – but take the dishes out first!
And be sure to thoroughly clean the dishwasher after. You don’t want your bathroom gunk getting on your kitchenware. Some homeowners may prefer to clean the drain covers in their washing machines rather than their dishwashers. But washing machines aren’t as thorough.
To clean the drain mechanism manually, you can use an old toothbrush or a child’s hairbrush. You want soft, small bristles that can get rid of residue without damaging the metals, plastics, or rubbers on your drain covers. Use dishwashing liquid or a vinegar-baking-soda mixture.
Don’t use bleach, laundry soap, or harsh detergents, since these may corrode the plastic or metal. You can carefully pour hydrogen peroxide, salt, or lemon down the sink though, to get rid of clogs and smells. Whichever cleaning product you settle for, just be sure it’s non-corrosive.
6. Two Hour Treatment
For basic clogs, a quick rinse is sufficient. But if the sink still refuses to drain, you may need to soak it. Use a homemade solution of water mixed with lemon juice, salt, white vinegar, or apple cider vinegar. Start by dumping a cup of baking soda to clean your bathroom sink drain.
The bicarbonate soaks up any smells while breaking down clumps of dirt. Wait five to ten minutes then pour two liters of your chosen solution down the drain. Your two liters should have at least one cup of salt, lemon, or vinegar mixed into the water. Cover and wait an hour.
During this period, your cleaning solution dissolves the dirt and pushes it further down the sink. Now pour two liters of boiling water down the drain to see if the blockage has disintegrated. If it’s not completely gone, pour more baking powder, add the liquid, and wait another hour.
After the second treatment, use a plunger to force down any leftover debris. You can also unscrew the sink trap, but place a bucket underneath to catch the mess. Also, be careful while working with hot water. Extreme heat cleans efficiently, but you don’t want to end up in the ER.
7. Fizzy Foam
When you Google ways to clean a bathroom sink drain, vinegar, and baking soda are among the first suggestions. These articles explain how to first apply baking soda then later add a liquid. But it’s possible to pour both the baking soda and the vinegar at the same time.
It’s a less messy solution, pun intended. And you have to be more careful. Why? Baking soda and vinegar react chemically to fizz and foam. This bubbling action only takes a few minutes. Meaning if you pre-mix the vinegar and baking soda, you have to pour it down the drain immediately. This is because it’s the active fizzing that dislodges dirt and debris.
So if you wait until the fizzing stops before you pour your cleaning agent down the drain, nothing will happen. The mixture will be too dilute to force any dirt away. Be sure to make your mix in a container that won’t be damaged by the chemical response of these two substances.
Some homeowners like to add a little dish soap to the mixture. This may give the sink a pleasant smell, but it’s redundant and counter-productive. Redundant because baking soda is already great at absorbing nasty smells. And counter-productive because the soap has intrinsic bubbles.
Soap bubbles generally last longer than your clog-fixing fizz. So you won’t know how effective the fizzy filtration is. It may just be bubbles from the liquid soap rather than chemical cleaning from the bicarbonate-vinegar mix. And while soap soaks up dirt, it’s not helpful for blockages.
8. Salt and Bake
We’ve mentioned baking soda and salt solutions severally. When you clean your bathroom sink drain using vinegar and baking powder to form a fizzy solution, you should use equal parts of liquid and solid. So if you’re using a cup each, half a cup, or a third cup, balance it out.
The liquid portion can be hot water, white vinegar, cider vinegar, or squeezed lemon juice, but it as to be the same amount as your cleaning powder. Another remedy is to mix equal parts of salt and baking soda. Pour this granular mix into the sink drain then wait fifteen minutes.
With plain baking soda, five minutes are sufficient. But with the added salt, you need an extra ten minutes. Salt is both abrasive and absorbent. But because its particles are larger than the fine particles of bicarbonate, the salt needs more time to dissolve your drain debris.
After fifteen to thirty minutes, pour a liter or two of boiling water down the bathroom drain. It will force down any mess as it soaks up the salt and baking soda. This combination is more effective (and less harmful) than many commercial drain cleaners. Cheaper too.
9. Replace Your Hardware
This may seem drastic, but if your house is older, it’s essential. Such homes have traditional pipes made of metal and plaster. So in addition to the natural accumulation of debris over the years, the pipes themselves could be a problem. Some houses have been lived in for decades!
They get so clogged over the years that there’s barely room for water to pass through. There’s also a build-up of rust, dust, cement, and other contaminants. In such cases, start with a plastic drain snake to identify any ‘hard clogs’ that can’t be broken up with wires or drain cleaners.
Call in a plumber to check the condition of your pipes. The smartest choice is to replace everything with plumbing plastic. It’s a big job, and probably an expensive one. But if your old bathroom sinks are clogging every few weeks, it’s time for a complete overhaul.
The advantage is your plumbers will have to dismantle your entire drainage system. So they can spot and resolve any issues inside the walls, up in the ceiling, or below the floor. This is a deeper drain clean than anything you can achieve at an amateur level. Repaint the walls while you’re at it.
Unclog the Block
The ingredients used to clean bathroom sink drains are simple. You can find most of them in the kitchen cabinet. Try them in different combinations for the best results. Your options include:
- Baking soda followed by hot water or white vinegar.
- Baking soda mixed with white vinegar to form a fizzy paste.
- Salt and baking soda mixed then chased with hot water.
- Home-made tools like uncoiled wire hangers.
- Sufficiently strong sticks with rags at their tips.
- Bathroom tools like plungers and plastic sink drain snakes.
How well does your bathroom sink drain? Show us a short video demo in the comments!