“She asked me why, I’m a hairy guy”
From the song ‘Hair’ performed by The Cowsills
Does somebody in your household have lots of hair? Do they spend time during the day beautifying themselves in front of the mirror above the bathroom sink? Is someone you live with looking for the miracle cure for baldness? If you said yes to any of these questions, you’ve undoubtedly incurred a slow draining sink.
When A Plumber’s Job Gets Hairy
The head of the family constantly reminds everyone to pick the hair out of the sink every time they use it, and they may even try, but inevitably some hair makes it to the drain, and eventually starts to clog. There are some different ways to go about alleviating this issue, depending on which stage of the game you start at.
Please don’t try a commercial liquid drain cleaner. These can be harmful to your pipes, and are definitely harmful to a plumber, or do-it-yourselfer, working to unclog the drain after the liquid crap has failed. If you do try a liquid drain cleaner, make sure you tell the plumber when you call on him to unclog the drain. He will appreciate the head’s up as he will take extra precautions to ensure the poisonous chemicals don’t end up in his eyes or mouth.
The drain stopper on your sink may be threaded. If so, you can spin it counter-clockwise until it comes off, and you should be able to get much of the hair out with a device known as a zip snake. These are fairly cheap and readily available at hardware stores and online. It’s just a plastic cord with barbs protruding from it to grab the hair. It will usually have a wide loop handle to make it easier to hold on to. It may even fit under the stopper, if the stopper is not threaded
If the zip snake isn’t able to reach the clog or remove the hair, your next best step is to get under the sink and take apart the trap (the curious ‘U’ shaped pipe like the one in figure 3) and sink stopper assembly. If your trap is PVC, you should be able to loosen the nuts on either end by hand. If it’s chrome, you may need a pair of channel lock pliers. Either way, put a small bucket or pot underneath the trap before you start, to catch any water that comes out. Important note 1: if your bucket starts to get full, don’t reach up and dump it into the sink that you just removed the drain trap from. Important note 1A: you won’t be pleased if you do. You may find the clog right there in the trap and be able to remove the contents by hand, or you may look up the pipe and see the hair gathered around the stopper assembly. If you do, you can remove the stopper assembly by unscrewing the nut on the back side of the sink drain pipe. Remember “righty-tighty, lefty-loosey,” and further remember that you are seeing it backwards. Important note 2: don’t attempt to rinse any of these parts in the sink you just removed them from. Important note 2A: refer to important note 1A.
If the clog is beyond the trap, unclogging it could get tricky. Important note 3: If you’re the squeamish type, you may want to consult a pro. If you know a local guy, you can call him. However, if you’re the brave sort, you can still attempt to persevere. Most hardware stores will have a wide variety of easy-to-manage hand snakes that you can send into the pipe. Some are powered electrically, and some are powered by hand. With either type, you’ll need to follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Important note 4: If you get stuck here, refer to important note 3.
When you’re satisfied that the clog is removed, you’ll need to reinstall the trap and stopper assembly. Make sure your gaskets get reinstalled the correct way (in most cases, hand tightening will do the job) and be sure that the sink stopper operator arm is inserted into the loop on the sink stopper mechanism, so it will go up and down as it should. Also, make sure the operator arm or pivot rod is inserted into and locked onto the handle assembly hanging down from the handle.
Important note 5: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. The less that hair goes into your sink, the less chance of it clogging under your sink.