Step Away From the Bottle | National Apartment Association

Step Away From the Bottle

A common call for Maintenance comes from a clogged or slow drain. Unfortunately, there are a multitude of commercials telling our residents that such irritants can be easily removed by using a bottle of chemicals. “The commercial says “safe for all plumbing,” so that means it’s OK for us to use it as well, right?” residents think.


First of all, every service request that involves standing water in a sink, tub or toilet should be treated as if the substance in the bottom is dangerous. Many chemical drain openers do not have an identifying odor or color to warn us of impending danger so we must act accordingly. This means that Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is required for every clog or slow drain notice received from a resident. At the very least, you should use gloves and goggles.

In a previous post I wrote about a snag tool—the best solution I’ve found to stop slow or clogged drains. A major brand of drain opener is actually now including a version of this tool with their chemical. 

Other tools can help to defeat these clogs, and, with a little training, can be used to safely and inexpensively get the water running with gravity again. 

The first is a plunger. With a little knowledge, most of our residents can use this safely and cleanly to free an obstruction in the toilet without help from maintenance. But did you know that the plunger can work in a sink as well? In a toilet, the plunger is used to push the obstruction down the pipe. For the tool to perform well in a sink, the opposite action is used. This means that instead of trying to force the offending material further down the pipe, the plunger is actually used to attempt to pull it back toward the drain opening. 

Here’s how:

With a little standing water covering the drain (this can be done with as little as ½ inch of water)…

  • Place the bell of the plunger over the drain
  • Block the overflow opening, if present, in a vanity sink or bathtub (Duct tape works great!)
  • Slowly push down on the handle while lifting up on the edge of the bell to allow the trapped air to escape
  • Once the plunger is depressed completely, allow for the bell to rest flat against the floor, around the drain
  • Swiftly pull the handle upwards. This creates a suction that will pull the debris backwards, often dislodging the obstruction and then allowing water to carry it out of the way.
  • This works particularly well in a garbage disposal where the resident has clogged the pipe with pasta, rice or potatoes

If this trick doesn’t work, do not despair! There is another tool that most communities have on hand that can make short work of this issue—the toilet auger (commonly called a Toilet Snake).

The toilet auger is a device that has a hand crank attached to a 3 ft. to 4 ft. cable that is run through a pipe that has a handle on one end and a curve at the other. (My favorite model has a button at the bottom of the crank that, when pressed, releases three more feet of cable hidden in the handle.) On the open end of the cable is a fitting that looks like a corkscrew. By removing the trap under the sink, the end of the corkscrew will fit nicely into the pipe, allowing for quick removal of any debris. 

If the problem is a bathtub, the technician can gain access to the pipe through the drain overflow cover.