Slow or Stopped Galley Drain

By Carolyn Shearlock © 2011 • all rights reserved

5 ways to clear a slow or stopped drain on a boat -- without any dangerous chemicals.

Living on a boat, you’re not going to use Drano on a slow galley sink drain — or one that’s totally stopped.  So what do you try?

I’m assuming here that the sink drain has worked well in the past, so it’s not an “engineering” problem like too small a drain hose or location problem.  Those are issues way beyond the scope of this article!

Dave and I always believe in trying the simplest fixes first:

  1. Seacock. Assuming that the seacock for the drain is in the bottom of a locker, it’s possible that something fell against it and partially closed it.  Unlikely, yes, but possible.  And you’d feel really silly if you hadn’t checked the seacock first — it’ll only take a minute or so.  With most valves, when the handle is in line with the hose, it’s fully open.  And while you’re at it, work the seacock some — it’s a good maintenance precaution so it doesn’t freeze in one position, and maybe the blockage was right in the valve and this will dislodge it.
  2. Plunger. If you have a plunger on board, try it first.  Note that a plunger won’t work unless the basin is full of water — air will just compress and you won’t create any pressure to dislodge a blockage.
  3. Hot Water. Grease and soap are the most likely culprits for a slow drain.  Hot water will dissolve either one.  Boil a teakettle full of water, and pour it down all at once — don’t trickle it in.  You should see improvement after one pan, although it may take two or three to fully restore the flow.  If it doesn’t, you’ll have to try the next step.
  4. “Drain Cleaner.” You don’t want to use any harsh chemicals both for the sake of your drain hose and for the environment.  But you can use a couple of everyday items and simple chemistry to create a safe foaming drain cleaner.  Pour 1/2 cup or more of baking soda down the drain, then add 1 cup of vinegar — cider vinegar works best as it has the highest acidic content.  It’s a simple, mild acid-base combination that will foam and expand and work its way through a lot of clogs.  For even better results, if you have a drain plug or stopper (even a rag is better than nothing), immediately put it in the drain hole and hold it in place so that the soda and vinegar mix expands down the hose and not just up into the sink.  Let it sit 10 to 15 minutes, then pour another pan of hot water down. UPDATE: Read about a great drain cleaner that’s environmentally friendly for use on boats:  Super Digest-It and Marine Digest-It for head and holding tank problems.
  5. Thru-Hull. If the above hasn’t cleared the problem, the next step is to clear the thru-hull.  And that means going overboard with a mask, snorkel and large screwdriver (and any other dive gear that might be appropriate for the conditions).  I like to wear a pair of old jersey gloves to protect my hands, too.  Basically, you need to carefully stick the screwdriver into the thru-hull and scrape out any barnacles or other things that may be lodged in there.  After grease and soap, this is the most likely cause of problems.
  6. Hose. When all else fails, you’re going to have to remove the hose, check for blockages and if you can’t remove them, replace the hoses.  Be sure to close the seacock before beginning the work!  A wire coat hanger or piece of 1/4″ dowel can work wonders for clearing blockages.

A friend recently told us about another way to clear a nasty drain without chemicals.  It’s called a Zip-It and it’s basically a 17″ wand with little teeth on it.  Stick it down the drain and pull it out, and it grabs all the nasties and pulls them out too.  Officially, it’s “disposable” but can usually be used a couple of times before being too bent up.  I got one and have used it a few times, particularly on cockpit drains, and it works great.

While I titled this article as being solutions to a slow or stopped galley drain as this site deals with galley issues, the reality is that the same techniques work on the head and shower drains as well.

Here’s hoping that you never have to use this information, and that if you do, the problem is quickly solved!

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Comments

  1. Oh my goodness, thanks for this posting! We’ve had a sink drain problem for months now and I found your site while Googling solutions. I’ve done the hot water, and now I”m on the soda and vinegar. Fingers crossed!
    Tasha

  2. Baking soda, vinegar and then pour boiling water in the drain..that will most clogs…may need to repeat one more time

  3. The Zip It is a great idea for the boat, plastic: won’t rust into nothing and should not damage the hose! Thanks, again! Love your site and all the ideas.

  4. The Zip It is a great idea for the boat, plastic: won’t rust into nothing and should not damage the hose! Thanks, again! Love your site and all the ideas.

  5. Great stuff and I always try the vinegar and baking soda trick first, but we did find a product that worked wonders on a sink drain that just would not budge. It’s from a brand called Unique Natural Products and it WORKED. We now use it once every month or so – just close the seacocks and put a little down all of your drains and it will keep them draining like a charm. We wrote about their product here: http://www.mondovacilando.com/a-slippery-slope/ and no, we are not sponsored by them (yet). I just love their products because they are all natural and they work just as well if not better than some chemical laden products on the market.

  6. Hi, Yes indeed a nasty subject. However, on board we try to avoid clogging sinks, by wiping the dishes and pans etc with a paper towel to get the grease and bits and pieces out first… (then and if possible, we wash with sea water and rinse with fresh). If the sink does get clogged, the trusty rubber plunger does the trick always.. So far no need for chemicals. Actualy we did that once in the heads… Muriatic acid seemed to be the answer to the problem.. it turned out it wasnt, and instead the ceramic bowl seems to be much easier to get stained after having flushed with this stuff.. (i wouldnt recomend the use of this type of acid). Thanks for posting all those handy things. Best rgds
    Pieter
    SV Onda Boa
    http://www.sailingoceanofdreams.blogspot.com

  7. Very timely link to this in your weekly newsletter…one of our toilets had been backing up, and the baking soda/vinegar seems to have cleared it right up! I always think about vinegar but totally forget baking soda!

  8. Boiling water now!!

  9. I usually use a beer coozy as a plunger. Just cover the hole and push down into the drain – it usually works and I always have a coozy close by on my boat!

  10. Be careful with the plunger that it isn’t used on things that have valves like a joker valve… Ie your toilet… Or you’re creating more problems than you solve.

  11. I found this eco friendly stuff

  12. Thanks for the compliment and for letting others know!

  13. Donna Chiappini says:

    Don’t laugh but we used our dinghy foot air pump to blow out our clog once. It worked wonders.

  14. We have a sink sieve in the galley sink and always use it (now!). A plum pit went down the drain when we were removing the sieve to clean it and the pit plugged up the drain resulting in us having to dismantle all the hose.

  15. Russ Fink says:

    We used a flexible hose which fit inside the drain hose to clear organic growth inside a slow sink drain in the head. It worked wonderfully.

  16. Sink/drain strainer, sink sieve, whatever you want to call it… get one to stop all large particulate matter from going down the drain.
    Dishes and scraps go into a bag for disposal at sea outside 3 miles or land disposal.
    Grease goes into glass jars for re-use or land disposal. Never down the drain!

    Avoidance is easier than replacing the plumbing.

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