How to unblock a drain

A blocked drain stops waste water from properly draining away from your property. Left unchecked, it can lead damage to your home and garden.

Kim Jones
Kim Jones
Updated 15 December 2021  | 4 mins read

A blocked drain stops waste water from properly draining away from your property. Left unchecked, it can lead to anything from an unhygienic mess to flooding that can cause serious damage to your home and garden.

Home insurance can cover you for drain damage in some instances, depending on the cause of the blockage.

But there’s lots you can do to try to prevent blocked drains happening in the first place.

Read on to find out how you could have a go at unblocking a drain yourself and when to call in the professionals.

Key point

  • In lots of cases, blocked drains are caused by what we flush down the toilet and pour down our sinks - like wet wipes and waste food.
  • Home insurance can cover accidental damage but won’t pay out for drain neglect or misuse.
  • You’re responsible for the upkeep and repair of drains within your boundary.
  • Drains that connect to a neighbour’s drain and the main sewer are the responsibility of the local water supplier

Can I claim for a blocked drain on my home insurance?

Home insurance can pay out for damage caused by a blocked drain - but it will depend on the cause.

For example, if the blockage or damage is caused by tree roots growing into the piping or other accidental damage, then you should be covered.

Gradual damage, corrosion and wear and tear to pipes and drains may not be covered.

And you’re unlikely to be able to make a claim if you’ve blocked the drains because you’ve been flushing baby wipes down the toilet and leftover cooking oil and coffee grounds down the sink day after day.

Am I covered by home insurance if my drain pipes are leaking?

Insurance won’t cover you for a pipe that’s leaking because of a lack of due care and upkeep on your part.

So make regular checks of your pipes and drains to ensure they’re not corroding, brittle or bunged up and arrange for repairs as necessary before problems get worse.

Signs of a blocked drain

  • Water is draining slowly from your sinks, bath and shower.
  • Water levels rise higher than usual when you flush the toilet.
  • There are unpleasant smells coming from your sinks and outside drains. This could be due to trapped, rotting food and rancid fats stuck in the drain for example.
  • Loud gurgling noises as water drains away and dislodges air trapped in the pipes by the blockage.

What drains are you responsible for?

You’re responsible for the maintenance and repair of drains that are inside your home and property boundary.

Where the drain leaves your property boundary, it’s the responsibility of your water supplier. Also, drains that connect to a neighbour’s drain and the main sewer are the water supplier’s responsibility.

If you’re unsure if the blockage is on your property, contact your local water company. If they think the problem lies in their system - or if they’re unsure - they’ll send out an engineer to investigate.

What if my drain collapses?

If you have recurring blockages, even though you’ve thoroughly cleaned and cleared your drains - or if you can detect the smell of sewage or even have back-ups of sewage into your home, then it’s likely you have a collapse somewhere along your drainage piping.

Other signs of a collapsed drain are damp or mould on floors and walls.

Pipes can collapse due to old age, recurrent blockages or tree or plant root intrusion.

A CCTV drain survey - where a camera is inserted into the drain - can confirm exactly what’s causing the collapse.

How can I tell which drains are covered by home insurance?

Any accidental issues that damage drains within your property boundary may be covered by your home insurance.

If you think there’s a blockage in or a collapse of your drain, you can contact your insurer for advice.

If the problem is outside of your property boundary, then your local water company will be responsible for removing blockages and for repair work and you should contact them. They will send out an engineer to investigate.

There are some ways to determine if a blockage is in your pipework, or in your local water company’s.

  • Ask your neighbours if they’re experiencing problems too. If they don’t have similar issues to you, then the blockage is likely to be in your own pipework.
  • If your upstairs sinks are draining slowly, but downstairs sinks are draining normally, this would indicate that the blockage is in your internal pipes.

How to unblock a drain

A blockage can happen in your internal or external drains. In many cases, you can clear the blockage yourself.

Unblocking a sink yourself.

Usually, a combination of soap scum and stray hairs is the cause of a clogged sink drain in the bathroom. In the kitchen, trapped food waste and fat could be to blame.

  • To clear the blockage, first remove scum, hair and food waste from around the plughole area.
  • Then, try using a plunger to clear the blockage.
  • If that doesn’t work, use a specialist sink unblocker product. You could also try Soda Crystals - mix them with hot water, pour down the drain and leave for 30 minutes. Then flush through with hot water.
  • If the blockage persists, you’ll need to remove and clear out the u-bend - the first bend in the pipe under the plug-hole. It’s a messy, smelly job, so make sure you have gloves and towels to hand.
  • Place a bucket under the bend and start unscrewing the pipe. Let the water in the pipe drain into the bucket. When it stops dripping, finish unscrewing the pipe and remove it.
  • Clear out the bend and clean it with warm water and disinfectant before reconnecting it.
  • If that method hasn’t solved the blockage, you’ll need to call out a plumber.

Unblocking a drain yourself

If you’re sure the responsibility for unblocking the drain is yours (as opposed to that of your local water company) and it’s a minor problem and safe to do, here’s how to have a go at fixing the problem yourself.

  • Take off the drain cover and find the blockage.
  • Wearing gloves and a face mask, remove as much of the blockage as you can reach.
  • Insert a drain rod and, with pressure, apply a clockwise twist and plunge action to remove the rest of the blockage. When the action becomes easier, it’s a sign that the blockage is clearing.
  • Use a pressure hose to clean and blast away any of the blockage that’s left.
  • If it’s still blocked, you’ll need to call for professional help from a plumber.

Getting a professional or water company to clear a drain

  • If you’d rather not have a go at unblocking a drain yourself, then you’ll need to call in a professional plumber. If the drain is the responsibility of your local water company, they can send in professional help to sort the issue.
  • If the blockage can’t be seen, a plumber may do a CCTV drain survey - where a camera is inserted into the drain - to locate where the blockage is located.

How to report a blocked drain

If you see a public drain overflowing - for example on a road outside your home - you should report it to your local council’s highway drainage department. You can find out how to contact them on the website.

How can I prevent a blocked drain?

Most household blockages happen because of what we flush down our toilets and pour down our sinks.

Leftover food, cooking oils and fats can solidify in pipes and clog them. Wet wipes and sanitary towels flushed down the loo are also common culprits that clog up our pipes and prevent waste water from swiftly exiting our homes.

  • Leave food, cooking oil and fats to cool, then put them in the bin.
  • Avoid wet wipes. Even ones that say they’re ‘flushable’ block drains. If you do use them, dispose of them in the bin.
  • Wrap sanitary items like towels and tampons in toilet paper and put them in the bin. Do the same with condoms and never flush a nappy down the toilet either.
  • Don’t pour things like leftover paint, cement, plaster or engine oil down sinks.

Clean out the u-bend, or sink trap, under interior sinks regularly and use a pressure hose to clean and blast outside drains of debris every few months too.

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