Cleaning Your Basement Drain: A Guide For Protecting Your Home

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Many homeowners have to deal with some type of repair to their property from time to time. One of the most difficult issues to deal with is a broken or clogged basement drain.

With 98% of basements in the U.S. experiencing some form of emergency when it comes to water damage, the odds of you encountering a problem with your basement drain are far from slim.

When you find mold, moisture, or, worst of all, dealing with a flood in your basement, it can be a frustrating and challenging experience.

Now, before you start thinking about how costly repairing your basement may be (we’re talking an average of $315 for a plumbing repair!), there are some things you can do yourself to avoid an expensive plumber repair.

Through the use of a few tools and some patience, you can clear a clogged basement drain on your own with a few simple tools and instructions. And trust me, the feeling of accomplishment after fixing it yourself? Priceless.

We’ve done extensive research to find the best steps for cleaning your basement drain. Below is our guide to cleaning your drain and protecting your home.

How You Can Do Basement Drain Cleaning 

With a few tools and a handful of instructions, you can clean your basement drain without a professional. 

That means you won’t have to look for a quality plumber, book an appointment, and deal with all the hassle associated with paying someone to fix your drain.

The most important thing is how much you can save. According to Angie’s List, the average cost of a plumber ranges between $180 to $491. 

By doing the drain repair yourself, you can achieve similar results at a fraction of the cost.

How Does Your Basement Drain Work

Basement drains come in a number of types and styles. Below are a few examples of some of the more common basement drains out there.

Types of Basement Drains:

  • Floor Drain: This is the most common type of drain. It collects water and sends it to your septic system.
  • Shower and Laundry Drain: Shower and laundry drains in basements are separate from other drain systems and are made for wastewater. 
  • Sump Pump Drain: Finally, the sump pump drain is the type that stops your basement from getting flooded.

The Difference Between PVC and Metal Drains

  • Metal: Older homes often have cast iron or galvanized steel drains.
  • PVC: Newer homes typically use PVC drains, which are more resistant to corrosion and clogs.

By understanding the type and material of your drain, you’ll understand the right cleaning methods and tools to use.

When Does Your Drain Need Repair

Your drain will usually give you some telltale signs when it’s time for a cleaning. The following are some examples of your drain needing repair: 

  • Slow Drainage: Water is no longer draining properly from your system. 
  • Foul Odors: A bad smell is coming from your drain that is caused by something trapped and clogged inside.
  • Gurgling Sounds: Strange gurgling and bubbling sounds come out from your drain. 
  • Visible Debris: If you see any dirt hair or other things building up in your drain and reduces your water flow.
  • Water Backups: Water starts to back up in your basement and begins flooding.

Tools You Need For Drain Cleaning

In order to fix your drain from a difficult clog, you’ll need the following tools:

  • Rubber Gloves: Keeps your hands protected from chemicals and grime.
  • Bucket: Helps push away debris down into the drain.
  • Plunger: Can be used for dislodging or loosening up clogs.
  • Drain Snake: Also known as a plumber’s snake, this cable reaches deep into the drain to break up stubborn clogs.
  • Wet/Dry Vac: This can help suck out water and debris from the drain.
  • Cleaning Solutions: A chemical you can pour down your drain to remove a clog that isn’t going away through other means.

How To Stay Safe When Cleaning Your Basement Drain

Before you start wrangling with your drain, let’s talk safety.

  • Ventilation: Make sure the area is well-ventilated, especially if you’re using a commercial drain cleaner.
  • Eye Protection: Place something to protect your eyes when using any chemical solutions.

8 Steps For Cleaning Your Basement Drain

The following is a simple, step-by-step guide on how to clean your basement drain: 

Step 1: Expose Your Drain

The first thing you have to do is expose your drain. This is done by removing the screw cover or snapping it out of place. 

Keep in mind that you should be safe by wearing your eye protection, especially if you’re dealing with a particularly nasty clog. 

Also, if your drain cover is rusty, you can use penetrating oil to loosen the screws and bolts.

Step 2: Find The Cog In Your Drain

Once you’ve opened the drain, the next step is to identify what’s causing the clog. If you find any hairballs, clumps of debris, or other obstructions, it’s time to take them out. 

Tools You Can Use To Remove Clogs:

  • Your bare hands: For larger, easy-to-grab items, nothing beats using your hands to remove them.
  • Tongs: These come in handy for grabbing hard-to-reach debris. Choose a pair with a good grip to avoid dropping something in the clog.
  • Needle-nose pliers: These are perfect for those stubborn strands of hair that cling for dear life. Just remember, gentle tugs are the key here to avoid any mishaps.
  • Wire hanger: You can create your own DIY drain cleaning tool by straightening a wire hanger and bending one end into a small hook. This can help snag debris that’s out of reach.

Tips On Removing Basement Drain Clogs:

  • Start with the surface: Clear away any obvious debris you can easily reach.
  • Work your way down: If you can see the clog, try to loosen it with your tools. Be gentle but firm, and don’t be afraid to wiggle and twist.
  • Be methodical: Don’t just poke around randomly. Try to work your way around the circumference of the drain, clearing debris as you go.
  • Look out for surprises: Keep an eye out for valuable items you may want to keep as they can sometimes fall into the drain and get caught up in the clog.

Step 3: Get A Drain Snake

If the clog is difficult to remove, consider using your drain snake, also known as an auger or plumber’s snake. These are flexible metal cables designed to sink deep into the pipes and break up even the most stubborn blockages.

Gearing Up with the Right Snake:

Drain snakes come in a variety of types and sizes. Before getting started, consider the different types of snakes and choose one that is best for removing your particular type of clog. 

  • Top snakes: These are typically 25 feet long and perfect for most household clogs.
  • Mini-rooters: These smaller, motorized snakes are great for tighter spaces or if you need a little extra power.
  • Toilet augers: These are made for toilets specifically with their bend at the end to go around the toilet trap. 

You can always do some research beforehand, by talking to someone at the hardware store or researching online to get a better idea of what drain snake works best. 

Using A Drain Snake In Your Basement

  1. Feed It In Slowly: Insert the end of the snake into the drain opening.
  2. Twist The Handle Gently: As you feed the snake in, gently twist the handle. This helps the metal cable navigate bends and turns in the pipe as you search for the clog.
  3. Continue Until You Feel Resistance: You might feel some resistance as the snake encounters the clog. Keep pushing and twisting until you feel the resistance give way.
  4. Break It Up: Once you’ve reached the clog, continue to twist and maneuver the snake to break it up. You may need to push and pull the snake a few times to completely remove the blockage.
  5. Retract and Inspect: Slowly pull the snake back out of the drain, keeping an eye out for any debris that might come out with it. If the snake comes out clean, you’ve most likely removed the clog.
  6. Rinse and Repeat: If the drain is still slow, repeat the process a few times. Sometimes it takes a few uses of the snake to completely repair the drain.

Troubleshooting Tips:

  • Don’t Force It: If you encounter a lot of resistance, don’t force the snake. You could damage your pipes. Instead, try retracting the snake slightly and then pushing forward again.
  • Clear the Snake: As you pull the snake back out, wipe it clean with a rag or old towel. This will prevent debris from falling back into the drain.
  • Check for Progress: After each attempt, run some water down the drain to see if it’s flowing more freely.

Step 4: Use A Plunger To Loosen The Clog

If the clog isn’t moving, take out your plunger to remove the clog. This bathroom tool can work effectively as a way to dislodge difficult-to-remove blockages. But before you start, make sure you have the right plunger for the task.

Choosing The Right Plunger:

Not all plungers are created equal. For this job, you’ll want a flange plunger. It’s the one with the extra rubber flap that folds out from the bottom. This flap helps create a better seal around the drain opening, which is essential for generating maximum suction.

Using Your PLunger Effectively:

To make the most effective use of your plunger, make sure you set things up correctly to get the most suction and increase the odds of you removing the clog.

  • Plug it up: If you have a double sink, block the other drain with a wet rag. This will prevent air from escaping and maximize suction.
  • Add some water: Pour enough water into the drain to cover the bottom of the plunger. This will help create a seal and give the plunger something to push against.
  • Petroleum jelly (optional): For extra suction power, smear a little petroleum jelly around the rim of the plunger. This will help it create a tighter seal.

Now comes the fun part! Place the plunger over the drain opening, making sure the flap is fully extended. Now, push down firmly to create a seal. Once you’ve got a good seal, start plunging vigorously. You’ll want to aim for about 15-20 seconds of solid plunging action.

Listen For Any Strange Sounds:

As you plunge, listen for a gurgling or sucking sound. This is a good sign that the clog is starting to break up. If you hear the sound of water moving, followed by the water draining quickly, you’ve probably broken up and removed the clog.

Repeat The Plunging Process If Needed:

If the drain is still slow, continue plunging a bit more. Empty the sink or tub, refill it with water, and plunge again. Sometimes, it takes a few rounds of plunging to fully clear the blockage.

The Plunger’s Limitations:

While the plunger is a powerful tool, it’s not always best for removing a clog. If you’ve plunged several times and haven’t seen any improvement, it might be time to move on to another method.

Step 5: Using Chemicals To Remove The Clog

If the clog is still not moving, consider a chemical drain cleaner. But keep in mind that these chemicals are very potent. When used incorrectly, a chemical drain cleaner can be harmful to your pipes and your health.

If you decide to go this route, choose a cleaner specifically designed for your type of pipes (metal or PVC) and follow the directions exactly. Try not to use excessive amounts of the drain cleaner either. Because of how powerful they are, you only need a small amount for it to be effective.

Types of Drain Cleaners:

  • Caustic drain cleaners (sodium hydroxide or potassium hydroxide): These are the heavy hitters, designed to dissolve hair and organic matter. Be careful with these as using them can damage your pipes.
  • Bleach: These cleaners help by breaking down organic materials and killing bacteria. They aren’t as strong as other chemical cleaners, but can still damage pipes if used excessively. 
  • Sulfuric or Hydrochloric Acid: Consider these as a last resort when it comes to drain cleaners as they are highly corrosive. 

Using Chemical Drain Cleaners:

If you’ve exhausted all other options and are considering a chemical drain cleaner, here’s what you need to know:

  1. Read the Label: Always read the label carefully before using any chemical drain cleaner. Follow the directions to the letter.
  2. Protect Yourself: Wear gloves and eye protection to avoid direct chemical contact.
  3. Ventilate the Area: Open windows and doors to ensure good ventilation.
  4. Don’t Overdo It: Use only the recommended amount of cleaner. More is not better!
  5. Be Patient: Give the cleaner time to work. Don’t pour more cleaner down the drain if it doesn’t work immediately.
  6. Flush Thoroughly: After the cleaner has had time to work, flush the drain with plenty of hot water.
  7. Never Mix Cleaners: Don’t mix different types of drain cleaners, or any other household chemicals. This can create toxic fumes or even cause unwanted chemical reactions.
  8. Store Safely: Store drain cleaners out of reach of children and pets.
  9. Dispose of Properly: Follow the instructions on the label for safe disposal.

Step 6: Using a Homemade Drain Cleaner

Try a homemade mixture of baking soda and vinegar if chemical cleaners aren’t an option. It’s cheaper, effective, and won’t harm your pipes or the environment. Pour about a cup of baking soda down the drain, followed by a cup of vinegar. Let it fizz and bubble for a while, then chase it down with hot water.

The Recipe for Homemade Drain Cleaner

  1. Pour around a cup of baking soda down the drain. Don’t be shy; give it a good sprinkle to coat the sides of the pipe.
  2. Slowly pour a cup of vinegar down the drain. You’ll hear the sizzle and pop as the two ingredients react. This is nature’s symphony, folks!
  3. Let the mixture sit for at least an hour, or even overnight if you can. This gives the baking soda and vinegar ample time to dissolve the material in the clog.
  4. Boil a large pot of water (the hotter, the better) and slowly pour it down the drain. The hot water will help flush away the loosened debris and leave your drain smelling fresh and clean.

Bonus Tip: For extra oomph, you can add a few drops of essential oil to the vinegar. Lemon, peppermint, or tea tree oil are all great options for a fresh, clean scent.

Step 7: Repeat The Process

After completing the steps above, test your drain to see if it is working effectively. Turn on the faucet and let the water flow. 

If the water swirls down your drain without any slow down, your drain is working properly and you’ve removed the clog. But if it’s still slow-moving, don’t worry. Sometimes, you’ll find blockages in your system that are particularly stubborn.

What To Do For Stubborn Basement Drain Clogs:

Sometimes, a clog is like a bad houseguest – it just won’t take the hint and leave. If your drain is still giving you the cold shoulder, it’s time to revisit your previous steps.

  • Reuse Your Drain Snake: Give that drain snake another go. Maybe it needs a few more twists and turns to break up the remaining debris.
  • Try The Chemical Solution Again: If you went the natural route, double down on the baking soda and vinegar. Let it sit for a longer period, or try using hotter water for the final flush.
  • Reuse The Plunger: Sometimes, a few extra plunges can dislodge a stubborn clog that’s been loosened by other methods.

Be Careful When Repeating The Process

Don’t spend too many times repeatedly trying to remove a clogged drain, especially with the use of chemicals. If you cannot remove the drain effectively after a few attempts, it may be time to call a professional. 

Step 8: Finally Finishing Cleaning Your Basement Drain

To make sure your basement drain is working without any issues, perform the following steps to clean out any remaining debris. 

Use Hot Water To Drain The Clog

Grab something and fill it with hot water. Try to make it as boiling hot as possible to make sure it will be most effective when pouring it. 

Slowly Pour Boiling Water Down The Drain

Once you’ve gathered the water and it is at a boil, slowly and carefully pour it down your drain. Try to take your time when doing this process. The heat helps melt away residual soap scum and grease while the water forcefully pushes away any remaining debris. 

Listen Closely For Any Sounds

Keep an eye out and listen to make sure your drain is finally clean. If you don’t see any slow down and everything looks and sounds okay, there’s a good chance your drain has been cleaned. 

Give One Last Check

Once you’ve used all the hot water, run your faucet on hot for a few minutes. Observe the water flow. If it is swirling down the drain without any issue, you can stop the cleaning process. There may be some times when it is a little slow. It may take a few more times of pouring hot water down the drain or you can just continue to let the hot water flow for a bit longer to see if it drains away properly. Sometimes, it takes a few extra flushes to fully clear things out.

The Finishing Touches:

Finally, there are some things you can do to help with the final removal process. You can add some vinegar and just a small amount of lemon juice to your drain. This not only deodorizes your drain, but also leaves it smelling clean and fresh.

After finally doing everything needed to clean your drain, make sure to put the drain cover back on and to put away your tools. 

Going High-Tech: Smart Solutions for Drain Maintenance

If you’re looking for a more high-tech approach to drain maintenance, here are some effective tools currently available that can help you monitor your drains and detect leaks early on.

  • Smart Water Leak Sensors: These devices can alert you to leaks or moisture buildup in your basement, helping you prevent water damage before it becomes a major issue.
  • Drain Monitoring Systems: These systems use sensors to track water flow and temperature, alerting you to potential clogs or leaks.
  • Automatic Drain Cleaners: These devices use enzymes or other natural cleaners to prevent clogs from forming.


Remember that you’re capable of cleaning your basement drain with the right knowledge. By following the steps we’ve given you, you can restore your drain to working order without high plumber fees.

Meet Marco, a lifelong tinkerer and DIY enthusiast, developed a passion for plumbing after fixing a leaky faucet in his own home. Years later, he turned that passion into a thriving business, Amarco Plumbing, where he shares his knowledge and expertise with the community.