When your kitchen or bathroom fixtures are plugged, or when foul odors come out of their drains, the most likely culprit is a clogged or dirty P-trap. Cleaning a P-trap is easy, but the task could seem tedious if you’re not an expert. You needn’t worry, though. This guide will teach you how to clean the P-trap like a pro.
How To Clean a P-Trap (4 Steps)
While cleaning a P-trap is easy, the procedure can differ from one P-trap to another. The plumbing traps under the sinks are generally the easiest to clean. Toilet, shower, or tub P-traps are not removable, but there are ways to clean them effortlessly. Here’s how.
Tools & Materials Needed
- Flexible wire brush
- Toilet auger
- Plumbing Snake
- Baking soda
- White vinegar
Clean P-Trap Under The Sink
1. Prepare the work area
One of the most important things to do when cleaning a P-trap under a sink is to clean out the work area. Remove all items stored in the cabinet under your sink.
When cleaning a P-trap under the bathroom sink, you’ll notice the trap connected directly to the tailpiece.
When cleaning a P-trap under the kitchen sink, check if it is connected to the tailpiece or the garbage disposal. Double or triple kitchen sinks are generally served by a sole P-trap, so look under the fixture to locate it.
2. Remove the P-trap
Place an empty bucket under the trap and turn off the water supply to the sink – while you can remove the P-trap even without turning off the water, doing so will help you avoid accidents.
Use a pair of pliers to loosen the coupling nut connecting the P-trap to the tailpiece. Once the nut is loose, continue turning by hand until it comes off.
Place the trap gently into the bucket, then remove the other coupling nut connecting the trap to the pipe coming from the wall. Plug the wall pipe with a rag to prevent sewer gases from leaking into your house.
3. Clean the P-trap
Tip the trap into the bucket to remove the water in it. Then, proceed to remove all the grime and debris with a flexible wire brush.
Cleaning the trap with a brush is generally enough to remove any clogs. However, if you live in an area with hard water, you can also soak the P-trap in a bucket filled with a white vinegar solution (1:1 vinegar to water ratio) for about half an hour to remove any mineral deposits.
Rinse with clean water.
4. Reinstall the P-trap
Remove the rag to unplug the wall pipe and connect the P-trap to the pipe. Fasten the coupling nut by hand, but don’t tighten it yet.
Connect the other coupling nut to the sink’s tailpiece and fasten it by hand. You can now tighten both nuts by hand.
Turn on the water and let it run for a minute or two. Check for leaks and fasten the nuts some more if necessary.
Clean Shower or Tub P-Trap
1. Clean with baking soda and white vinegar
While you can remove sink P-traps each time you need to clean them, removing a shower or tub trap may not be feasible.
If the fixtures are partially plugged (water is draining slower), you may be able to clean the trap with baking soda and white vinegar.
Pour half a cup of baking soda into the shower or tub drain, then pour half a cup of white vinegar. Cover with the tub or shower stopper and wait for about half an hour.
Remove the stopper and rinse the drain with hot water. Plug the drain with the stopper again and let the shower tray fill with water – if you have a tub, let it fill with some water. Remove the stopper and watch how fast the water drains to check if you’ve solved the issue.
2. Remove clogs with an auger
If the shower or tub P-trap is fully clogged or the baking soda and vinegar solution hasn’t solved the problem, you can snake the drain with a plumbing auger.
To do that, you’ll have to remove the shower grate. Push the auger cable into the drain slowly. You’ll be able to feel it when it meets the clog. At this point, start turning the auger to break the clog.
When you think that you’ve broken the clog, turn on the water and let it flow for a minute or two to see if it runs past the cable. If the water backs up in the fixture, you have to keep turning the auger until you remove the blockage.
3. Clean the P-trap with a plunger
Another way to remove stubborn clogs, if you don’t have an auger at hand, is with a plunger.
Remove the shower or tub grate and coat the edge of the plunger cup with petroleum jelly. The petroleum jelly will help you achieve a good seal. Place the plunger over the drain, then run enough water in the shower stall or tub to cover the lip of the plunger cup.
Now, move the plunger handle rapidly up and down to dislodge the clog and force it up. Rinse the drain with hot water when you’re done.
Clean P-Trap On A Toilet
1. Clear the toilet P-trap with a plunger
Similar to a shower or tub P-trap, a toilet’s P-trap cannot be removed. To remove the clog and clean the trap with a plunger, you must have enough water in the bowl to fill the cup and seal the lip around it.
Not all toilet bowls hold so much water. If yours doesn’t, place the plunger in the toilet and push it to seal the trap opening. Flush the toilet to fill the bowl with water. You can now start moving the plunger handle up and down to clean the trap.
If you can’t clear the clog, you can try a chemical cleaner or remove it with a toilet auger.
2. Clean the toilet P-trap with a chemical cleaner
Chemical plungers are corrosive substances that will “eat” their way through the clog and clean the toilet’s trap.
When buying the product, make sure it is formulated for toilets – sink chemical clog removers will not work in the toilet.
For this method to be effective, you must also have only a little water in the bowl. Sometimes, you may have to remove some of the water manually.
Follow the instructions on the package to dissolve the clog. Pour at least half a gallon of hot water down the toilet drain when you’re done, then flush to remove all traces of chemicals and fill the toilet with clean water.
3. Clean the toilet P-trap with an auger
Another way to clean a P-trap in a toilet is with a toilet auger. A toilet auger works like any other plumbing auger, and you can follow the instructions above to remove the clog.
Clean P-Trap On A Washing Machine
Washing machine P-traps are similar to the ones under sinks but are generally smaller. To clean them, unplug the washer and turn off the water supply.
Follow the same steps you would follow in cleaning a sink P-trap to clean the P-trap on your washing machine or dishwasher if the dishwasher is not connected to the kitchen sink drain.
Why Clean a P Trap?
The main reason to clean the P-trap is to clear it from clogs, but you may also want to clean it if it emits foul odors.
Why Does My P Trap Smell?
There are four common reasons your P-trap smells:
Plumbing traps use a water seal to keep sewer gases (and bad odors) out of your home. If the trap is dry, the gases can flow right into your house and cause foul smells.
The P-trap can get dry due to evaporation if you haven’t used the fixture for a while. This often happens in second homes or guest bathrooms. Bad connections or a damaged trap that leaks can also lead to the dry trap syndrome.
Leaks can often go undetected if the cabinet under the sink is cluttered or in the case of shower or tub traps that are hidden under the fixture.
Sewer Line Issues
If the smelly issue is not isolated to one drain, a damaged or broken sewer line is the most likely culprit. You should hire a licensed plumber to investigate the problem.
Plumbing vents are pipes that lead sewer gases out of your house, usually through the roof. If the vent pipes are clogged or damaged, they could trap the fumes into your house, which could result in the drains smelling bad. A licensed plumber should investigate and fix the issue.
Damaged/Improper Use of Garbage Disposal
If the source of bad smell is the kitchen sink drain, make sure you’re using the garbage disposal correctly and that the apparatus works properly.
As a rule of thumb, you should avoid washing food down the drain on purpose. Dispose of leftovers properly, either in the bin or in a compost pile. While garbage disposals can deal with rogue bits of food, they can’t handle large quantities and will eventually clog the P-trap.
A damaged garbage disposal unit could also fail to shred food pieces, clogging the trap.
How Often Do You Need To Clean P-Trap?
You should clean the P-trap with a chemical plunger or an auger when you have drainage issues. To prevent clogging, you should also clean the trap with a baking soda and white vinegar solution about once a month.
Baking soda and white vinegar will also sanitize the tailpiece and P-trap, preventing viruses and bacteria from spreading into your home.
Cleaning P Trap Without Removing It
Removing the P-trap is not always possible, but there are ways to clean it without removing or replacing it.
The easiest way to clean a P-trap without removing it is with a plumbing auger, followed by a solution of baking soda or vinegar. You should only use chemical drain cleaners if the clog is particularly stubborn, as these corrosive substances can damage the pipes if used frequently.
Perhaps the hardest to clean is the toilet P-trap. However, the methods above should help you achieve your purpose.
3 Signs You Need A New P-Trap
If cleaning the P-trap didn’t solve the clogging issue, or if the trap keeps clogging over and over again, the problem could be an excess mineral build-up. While you could use various chemicals to remove it, the task is often tedious. In most cases, buying a new trap and replacing the old one is not only faster but also cheaper.
PVC P-traps don’t corrode, but they don’t look good as metal pipes. If your drain pipes are exposed, and you have a metal P-trap, any signs of corrosion mean that it’s time to buy a replacement.
Strong Sewer Odor
Another sign of a faulty P-trap is a strong sewer odor that doesn’t go away after cleaning the drain lines. If the smells persist after replacing the trap, you should call in a plumber.
P Trap Cleaning Tools Available
1) Pypthon Drain Cleaning Tool
This cleaning tool is an innovative plunger-auger hybrid with an included garbage bag. It is an excellent choice for cleaning sinks, tubs, and shower drains.
2) P Trap Brush
The P-trap brush is a flexible wire brush similar to bottle brushes. Some models have a retractable handle that allows for easier maneuvering.
3) Air Gap Cleaning Tools
Similar to the P-trap brush, Air Gap cleaning tools are thin brushes you can use to break stubborn clogs.
4) EZ Trap Cleaner
While not specifically designed for P-traps, this type of brush works just like a P-trap brush. It is a good replacement when you look for a quick fix and can’t find a specific plumbing trap brush at your local home improvement store.
5) Drain Unblocker Wire
Essentially a plumbing snake, it is an excellent choice for all P-traps, including the toilet traps if you don’t have a toilet auger at hand.
As you’ve noticed, there are various ways to clean a P-trap, based on its location. We hope this guide can help you solve the problem quickly and effortlessly. However, you should always remember that if you’re in doubt, the best solution is to hire a plumber.