How to Clear, Clean, and Maintain a Floor Drain

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Project At a Glance

Time to complete: 1 hour

Difficulty: Beginner

Cost estimate: $30-$50 for the cost of a drain snake

It's quite common for homes to have a floor drain in the basement, garage, or laundry room — and while these drains do a good job of preventing flooding and standing water, their position on the floor leads to them clogging easily. Every dust bunny, wisp of pet hair, and dirt particle that finds its way to the floor can find its way into the drain and cause a blockage. It's important to address clogs right away and do what you can to prevent them.

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Maintenance and the P-Trap

Floor drains don't require a lot of maintenance, but a little attention now and then can keep your drain open and your P-trap full. Just like the other drains in your home, floor drains possess a curved pipe called a P-trap, which should always have some water left sitting. Its job is to act as a barrier between your home and the sewer pipes, preventing any unpleasant smells or gases from drifting into your home.

To prevent clogs and keep the P-trap full, pour a pot of boiling water down your floor drain at least three or four times a year. If you start to notice a foul smell between hot water flushings, pour some water down the drain right away because your P-trap is probably empty.

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Why Floor Drains are Prone to Clogging

Even with proper maintenance, floor drains can be prone to clogging. The reason is often because floor drains have a less than glamorous life. Floor drains sometimes provide a convenient place to drain washing machines, water softeners, furnaces, and air conditioners. These appliances may drain more than water. Washing machines, for instance, often drain lint along with water, and water softeners expel very salty water.

Lint, salt deposits, and other buildup can all cause clogs, especially in small drains. Although there are exceptions, many floor drains are only about 2 inches wide. This isn't much wider than the drain on your kitchen sink, and you would never intentionally flush large dust bunnies, pet hair, or clothing lint down that drain. If your basement floods, for example, the basement floor drain will need to handle just that type of debris. It's not surprising that sometimes, the dirt gets stuck and causes a clog.

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Things You'll Need

How to Clear a Clogged Floor Drain

Clogs can happen on occasion even with routine floor drain maintenance. When they do, the key to clearing them is to start with easy fixes and work your way up to snaking the drain only if you have to. (Note that just like any other drain in the house, you should refrain from using drain cleaner as this can often cause more harm than help.)

Step 1: Remove What You Can Reach

Your clog could be anywhere in the drain, but you may get lucky and find it right under the drain cover. In this case, you can simply pull it out by hand and fix the drain in a matter of minutes. Wear rubber gloves, though, because nothing pleasant has ever come out of a clogged drain.

  1. Remove the drain cover. Many drain covers have a screw in the center to hold them in place. If yours does, remove the screw before lifting the drain cover.
  2. Put on your rubber gloves and reach down into the drain. Reach in as far as you can and pull out any clogs, clumps, or other debris that you can reach. Small hands make this job easier, so you may want to volunteer the family member with the smallest hands for this job.

Step 2: Use a Plunger and Baking Soda

If you can't reach the clog by hand, there are two more tricks you can try. One is to use a plunger to dislodge the clog, and the other is to try to dissolve it. You can use both techniques together since dissolving even part of the clog may loosen it enough to let the plunger work.

  1. Place the plunger firmly over the drain and push down until the plunger forms a seal around the drain.
  2. Work the plunger up and down rapidly several times. On your lifting strokes, rise the plunger only high enough to regain its shape but not high enough to break the suction seal and pull it off the floor.
  3. Repeat this process several times and do so with enthusiasm. Proper plunging can easily work up a sweat.
  4. Pour some baking soda down the drain followed by an equal amount of vinegar. Allow the vinegar and baking soda to sit in the drain for about 15 minutes.
  5. Flush some water down the drain to clear out the baking soda and vinegar. If the drain is still clogged, try the plunger again.

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Step 3: Snake the Drain

Before you snake your drain, look for a cleanout pipe. Maneuvering a plumbing snake through a drain's P-trap can prove challenging. The cleanout pipe bypasses the trap to make snaking your drain easier. If you have one, it's usually located right next to the main drain pipe.

  1. Remove the cleanout plug (if applicable) with a large, adjustable wrench.
  2. Pull a few inches of drain snake off the reel and feed it into the drain.
  3. Lock the end of the snake and turn the handle clockwise while applying light to moderate pressure to the cable to work the cable down the drain pipe. When you run out of cable, unlock the end of the snake, pull out a few more inches, and turn the handle until the exposed cable is in the drain.
  4. Repeat this process until all of the cable is off the reel and in the drain.
  5. Unlock the snake cable and pull it slowly out of the drain, feeding it back onto the dram as you go. Remove any clumps of dirt and debris from the snake as you push it back into its housing. Hopefully, your clog will appear on the end of your snake. If not, snake the drain two or three more times.
  6. If you still have a clog, it's time to call a plumber. You may be dealing with a more serious problem, like a tree root poking through your plumbing somewhere.

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