Q: I’ve got several plumbing repairs to make, and I just don’t have the money to hire a plumber. The water in my bathroom vanity sink drains slower than molasses. Just a year ago it drained really fast. Sometimes my toilet gets clogged, and I think it’s disgusting to use a plunger. Is there another way to unclog a toilet? Lastly, my showerhead used to have a nice spray pattern, but now water doesn’t come out evenly and the pressure is reduced. Is there an easy repair for this?

A: If you have a slow vanity drain, it’s likely that hair and other gunk has created a blockage at the bottom of the drain stopper. It’s a very common problem, and all sorts of tools exist to help you to solve the problem without taking the drain apart. These tools do a so-so job, which is why I believe it’s better to remove the drain stopper and get the drain perfectly clean.

Under and behind the sink you’ll see a weird-looking mechanism that operates the stopper. A horizontal rod is connected to the decorative rod behind the faucet that allows you to lift and drop the stopper. Remove the horizontal rod where it goes into the drainpipe. You’ll need channel-lock pliers or a wrench to rotate the round nut counterclockwise.

Once the nut is loose, the horizontal rod can be pulled out of the pipe through the hole in the bottom of the drain stopper. Remove the stopper, but be prepared for all sorts of hair and gunk that will likely come with it.

One benefit of removing the stopper is you can clean the sidewalls of the drainpipe tailpiece that extends from the sink down to the P trap under the sink. The sidewalls of this narrow pipe get coated with a foul biofilm that can create a horrible smell when you run water in the sink. I use a bottle brush and some liquid dish soap to clean the pipe as water is running in the sink. Put a piece of duct tape over the hole where the horizontal rod came out of the pipe so you don’t get water under the vanity while you clean the pipe.

As for unclogging your toilet, did you know it doesn’t always require a plunger? You just need about 4 gallons of water in a big bucket.


Remember this formula from high school physics class: force = mass x acceleration? Water has lots of mass and weight, and if you pour it quickly, you’re accelerating it. So pour your bucket of water into the bowl as fast as possible, making sure it doesn’t overflow onto the floor. This will force a clog caused by toilet paper and body waste through the toilet in almost all cases.

That pesky showerhead is also easy to fix. Hard-water deposits are almost always to blame for reduced flow and pressure. Each time you take a shower, water drops evaporate on the end of the showerhead, leaving behind a tiny amount of salt. After many showers, these deposits build up and restrict the flow of water through the holes at the end of the showerhead.

If you don’t want to remove the showerhead from the gooseneck pipe that goes into the wall, tie a plastic sandwich bag filled with white vinegar around the showerhead so the end is soaking in the vinegar. Point the showerhead down and use rubber bands to hold the plastic bag in place.

White vinegar does a marvelous job of removing hard-water deposits. Allow the vinegar in the bag to work its magic for as many hours as possible. After soaking, you may want to poke a toothpick into the holes in the showerhead for maximum water flow.

Tim Carter has worked as a home-improvement professional for more than 30 years. To submit a question or to learn more, visit AsktheBuilder.com.