How to Clear a Clogged RV Drain

Clogged drains are a headache that frequently plague RVs, with oil, hair, and food often building up inside pipes. When grease or debris blocks the drain, water gradually slows to a trickle rather than flowing freely down the pipes.

Clearing a stubborn clog is important for restoring proper drainage and preventing messy overflows or foul odors inside your RV home. The good news is that with a few household products and tools on hand, you can likely tackle this issue yourself. In this article I’ll walk through the steps, from dislodging simple jams using a plunger to breaking up more stubborn backups with chemical cleaners or a drain snake.

Following these tips, you’ll get your RV drain freely flowing again so your family can go back to enjoying the open road. Read on to learn the details of effectively clearing out a clogged pipeline.

How to Clear a Clogged RV Drain

Things you Need to Know About Clogged Drains in an RV

Clogged drains are an inevitable annoyance for most RVs. Before taking steps to clear a blocked pipeline, it helps to understand why clogs happen in the first place. 

Common Causes of Clogged Drains

Grease, hair, food particles, and soap scum tend to accumulate inside drain pipes, sticking to the walls over time. As more debris builds up, it restricts water flow, leading to frustrating clogs.

Food Particles: It’s easy for small bits of food waste to go down the sink, collecting in joints and elbows along the pipe. Greasy, starchy foods are especially problematic.

Grease and Oil: Grease, oil and fats poured down the drain congeal into thick gunk along the pipe walls. Food scraps often carry additional grease as well.

Hair: Showers and bathroom sinks catch loose hair, which gets pulled down the drain. Strands then tangle and bind together within the tight pipelines.

Soap Scum: Soapy residues leave sticky buildup that grabs onto other passing debris. Calcium and minerals in hard water also leave scale deposits over time.

Signs You Have a Clogged Drain

Recognizing the symptoms of a clog early makes clearing it easier before major blockages form. 

Water Draining Slowly: Sluggish bubble bath or sink water that takes forever to void signals issues below. Particles are beginning to obstruct flow.

Gurgling Sounds: Agitated gurgling noises point to narrow, debris-filled passages slowing the movement of water. Air bubbles get trapped behind multiplying obstructions.   

Bad Odors: When debris accumulates and stagnant water festers, distressing sulfurous stenches may arise, signaling severely restricted pipes.

Water Overflowing: Finally, water draining so slowly that it backs up and spills out of basins alerts to major blockages throughout the line.

Preparing to Unclog the RV Drain

Before starting the process of clearing a clogged RV drain, it’s essential to gather the necessary tools and materials. Equipping yourself with the right items ensures a smooth and effective drain-clearing experience.

Necessary Tools for Clearing RV Drains

In order to address different types of clogs, you’ll need a set of essential tools:

1. Plunger:  A plunger is a versatile tool that creates pressure to dislodge and break up minor clogs. It’s particularly useful for sink and shower drains.

2. Plumbing Snake: A plumbing snake, also known as an auger, is a flexible and elongated tool designed to reach deeper into the drain pipes. It’s effective for removing more stubborn clogs.

3. Pipe Wrench: A pipe wrench is essential for securing and turning pipes, allowing you to disassemble certain sections of the plumbing system for better access to clogs.

4. Bucket: Having a bucket on hand is practical for collecting water and debris that may emerge during the drain-clearing process, preventing any mess.

5. Gloves: Protect skin from caustic drain chemicals. Thick work gloves also help grip drain tools.

6. Safety Goggles: Shield eyes from splashing cleaners or debris when forcing the clog.

Eco-friendly Drain Cleaning Solutions

In addition to tools, environmentally friendly drain cleaning solutions can be effective alternatives to harsh chemicals. These solutions are safe for your RV’s plumbing system and the environment.

1. Baking Soda and Vinegar: A mixture of baking soda and vinegar creates a foaming reaction that can help break down organic material causing the clog. It’s a natural and non-toxic solution.

2. Enzyme-based Cleaners: Enzyme-based cleaners contain beneficial bacteria that digest organic matter, effectively clearing clogs without using harsh chemicals.

3. Hot Water: Pouring hot water down the drain can be a simple yet effective method, especially for grease-related clogs. It helps to melt and flush away fatty deposits.

Now that you’re equipped with the right tools and eco-friendly solutions, let’s move on to the step-by-step process of clearing a clogged RV drain.

Park on a Level Surface

Stabilizes RV for Safely Working Underneath: Attempting to clear piping while off-kilter on uneven ground risks injury. Parking on flat terrain keeps the RV steady for lying beneath safely with drain access. It also prevents lidded chemicals from spilling.

Step-by-Step Drain Clearing Process

Clearing a clogged drain involves methodically working through several potential solutions until normal water flow is restored. Always start safely with basic methods before attempting more intensive unclogging procedures.

Preparing the area

Step-1. Ensure safety and proper ventilation

Put on protective gear like gloves and goggles. Open windows or turn on fans for ventilation when using harsh chemical cleaners. Clear ample space to work around plumbing fixtures.

Step-2. Gather necessary tools and materials

Assemble a plunger, drain snake, baking soda, vinegar, buckets, and any other needed supplies in the immediate workspace before starting.

Trying a Plunger First

Step-1. Create a tight seal with plunger over drain

Firmly press the plunger cup over the drain opening to form an airtight suction seal. 

Step-2. Cover overflow opening

Temporarily block the overflow drain opening in the basin with a wet rag to force suction through the main clog below.

Cover overflow opening

Step-3. Plunge vigorously multiple times

Force the plunger straight down and pull back up repeatedly to apply pressure on the clog through the pipes.

Using a Drain Snake

Step-1. Feed the snake down drain and turn handle

Insert the end of the steel coil down the opening and crank the handle to advance it deeper towards the clog.

Step-2. Advance and retract auger to catch debris

Push and twist the snake through the bend to snag debris. Carefully spin and remove any loosened material.

Advance and retract auger to catch debris

Step-3. Remove snake/auger once drain is clear

Thoroughly check water flows freely before taking out the tool. Rinse off any residue.

Using Chemical Drain Cleaners

Step-1. Pour hot water and baking soda down the drain

Heat helps dissolve grease while baking soda alkalizes the pipes. 

Step-2. Follow with vinegar and cover opening

Pour a foaming vinegar solution and seal to maximize chemical reaction time.

Step-3. Let sit for 30 minutes then flush with hot water

Give chemicals time to break up the clog then rinse away debris.

Checking the drain flow

Step-1. Run water to ensure proper drainage

After remedies, verify water voids rapidly without gurgling sounds or backing up.

Step-2. Observe any remaining issues

Confirm basin and tub water continues running smoothly without slowdowns over 10-15 minutes.

Step-3. Repeat process if needed

If water bogs down again, recurrence suggests remnants of the clog remain for more treatment.

Preventing Future Clogs

While tackling current drain issues, also implement ongoing maintenance to avoid repeat blockages down the road.  Taking preventative measures greatly lessens recurrence risk.  

a. Use strainers in sinks: Installing sink strainers or screens prevents larger scraps or hair strands from ever entering pipes in the first place. Catch debris at the source instead of letting it accumulate further below over time. Routinely empty strainer contents into the trash.

b. Limit grease and food waste: Scraping plates or wiping out oily pots before rinsing minimizes fats and solids sending particles towards pipes. Avoid intentionally flushing food, grease or oils in kitchen sinks. Compost scraps whenever possible.

c. Flush with hot water regularly: Making very hot the last water used in bathroom sinks, showers or tubs helps melt existing oily deposits or soap scum accumulating inside drains. Rinsing with hot water should occur weekly if not daily for cleaner pipes.

Be attentive with preventative sink steps for smoother flowing drain systems and fewer bothersome clogs needing intensive resolution! Let me know if you need any part expanded further.

Maintenance Tips

Staying vigilant with drain care keeps flow running smoothly for the long run. Implement proactive habits to maintain clarity and prevent frustrating future clogs.

Tips-1: Wiping sinks dry after use and flushing pipes prevents gradual buildup. Schedule mini cleanings before debris accumulates extensively. Use baking soda and vinegar for routine maintenance.

Tips-2: Caustic products can corrode pipes and complicate future clogs. When possible, rely on gentle cleaners like boiling water, enzyme based ones, or mild acids like vinegar.

Tips-3: Fitting sink, tub, and shower drains with fine mesh screens traps debris before entering the pipes. Routinely clean out accumulated grime from screens.

Tips-4: Scrape plates and empty strainers into trash instead of forcing food particles down the pipes through inefficient rinsing. Limit pouring fats/oils down drains.

Tips-5: Periodically have RV drainage systems inspected and snakes out by qualified plumbers as prevention. Fixing any household leaks promptly to avoid moisture damage encourages mold.

Consistently practicing thorough drain care prevents costly, frustrating backups down the road.

Questions and Solutions

Q1: What if the clog doesn’t clear with a plunger?

A1: Try a drain snake or chemical cleaners next if a plunger doesn’t budge the clog after several attempts. Make sure to create a tight seal over the drain when plunging.

Q2: Is it safe to use commercial drain cleaners in an RV?

A2: Yes, RV pipes can handle drain cleaner chemicals but use extreme caution and proper ventilation when applying. Start with milder homemade baking soda and vinegar solutions first.

Q3: When should I call a professional instead of trying to unclog it myself?

A3: If DIY methods don’t resolve the clogging after 2-3 thorough attempts, or if multiple drains are severely backed up, call a professional plumber experienced with RV systems.

Q4: How can I prevent hair from clogging my RV shower drain? 

A4: Install a hair catcher screen over or inside shower drains to trap strands before entering pipes. Clean built-up hair from the strainer regularly.

Q5: What should I do to avoid putting down RV drains?

A5: Avoid pouring fats/oils or flushing solid food waste down RV sinks – these are prime culprits for stuck pipes!

Q6: Will baking soda and vinegar damage plastic RV pipes?

A6: No, baking soda and vinegar are safe homemade cleaners for RV drain systems made of PVC plastic when flush out promptly after use.

Q7: How often should I maintain RV drain pipes? 

A7: Flush about half a cup of baking soda and vinegar down drains monthly to deodorize and prevent gradual buildup of gunk.

Q8: Why does my RV sink drain slowly even though it is not fully clogged?

A8: Partial obstructions from debris or kitchen grease still impedes water flow and requires cleaning to restore full pressure. Try a plunger first on minor clogs.


Clearing RV drain clogs starts with assembling supplies like plungers, drain snakes, and baking soda solutions to dissolve or manually pull out debris. Implementing preventative maintenance like sink strainers, limiting grease/food waste, and flushing regularly keeps pipes flowing freely in the future. For especially stubborn backups, call a professional plumber to avoid extensive RV system damage or overflows. Following these drain cleaning and prevention tips makes RV living smooth and comfortable.

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