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Developing Your Drain Cleaning Skills: Clearing Traps

Keeping your drains clean will help you maintain your home’s plumbing overall to avoid stressful plumbing problems. The drains in your home utilize a specially-designed section of pipe called a trap. These traps are U-, S-, or J-shaped bends that prevent sewer gases from escaping into your home. However, due to their shape, traps often accumulate material such as hair, soap scum, and other debris that can slow down your drains’ function and cause clogs. Knowing how to clear out these traps on your own can help you address stubborn clogs in your plumbing without the need for additional assistance from a plumber.

Finding the Trap

All plumbing fixtures that drain wastewater from your home are required to utilize a plumbing trap. The traps connected to your sinks are usually the easiest to access. First, check underneath your sink to find the trap—it’s a characteristic bend at the lowest point in the plumbing pipe leading away from your drain, so you can’t miss it. Double sinks are only required to use one trap, so you may need to check below both sinks or look at the point where the drains connect to find the trap.

Clearing the Trap

If necessary, clear out the area around the trap for easier access (and to avoid getting wastewater on anything you might be storing under your sink). Next, place a large bowl or bucket directly underneath the trap. When you loosen and remove the trap from the drainpipe, any water still trapped in the pipe will come with it. Especially if you’ve tried using drain-cleaning chemicals in the same drain within the recent past, make sure to wear protective gloves and glasses to prevent chemical splashes that could cause injury.

Hair wrapped around a drain cleaning snakeTo remove the trap from the drainpipe, unscrew the threaded caps that you’ll find at either end of the trap by turning them counterclockwise. In most cases, you won’t need any tools to do this, especially if your drainpipe is made from plastic. If you do need to use a wrench or a pair of pliers, wrap a rag or other piece of cloth around the nut before turning it to avoid damaging the nut while you loosen it. Remove the trap with care; there may be water trapped in the bend, so hold it over your bucket before your dump it out. To clear out a clog or remove a stuck object, you can use a flexible wire brush, pipe cleaner, or length of auger cable. Once you’ve got the trap clear, flush it with water—in a different sink, remember the drain in the one you’re working on isn’t connected—and replace it, tightening the nuts to hold it in place.

Some drain traps have an access port that you can use to clean out the trap without actually removing any length of pipe. To clear these traps, simply remove the cap from the access port and use a flexible brush or length of cable to remove blockages. Although your toilets and tubs have traps as well, these traps are often hidden behind walls or beneath floors. Since you cannot remove them for cleaning, use a hand auger to clear out the trap instead. If you can’t clear your drain even after attempting to clear your trap, contact your Portland plumber for help.

Have you ever cleaned out a drain trap?

  • No—I never knew what the bend in the drain pipe was for!
  • I’ve watched someone else do it, but never done it myself
  • Yes, I’m an experienced drain trap cleaner