Dropping stuff down the drain sucks. It’s usually a freak accident that happens in an instant while you’re not paying attention. You’re washing your hands and thinking about lunchtime, and down goes your wedding ring. You feel stupid and frustrated and powerless and ashamed all at once.
It’s a bad feeling, and it’s even worse if you don’t know what to do next. We’ve found that a lot of homeowners, even handy ones, have no idea how to deal with retrieving an item they accidently dropped down a drain. A lot of people even assume that thing is just gone forever! That’s not true. Here’s what you’ve got to do if something falls down your bathroom sink’s drain, step by step.
1. Turn the water off
Do this as soon after dropping something down the drain as possible. The longer the water is flowing, the better the chance that whatever fell down your drain gets flushed out into the main sewer line. At that point you really won’t be able to get it back. You’ll also be digging around in your sink’s pipes later on, so the water will have to be off for that, too. Make sure the water is off before proceeding to any of the steps below.
2. Clear out the space beneath the sink
You’re going to be working under there, so you’ll need space to move around.
3. Put a bucket under the sink’s piping
You’ve turned the water off (right?!), but sometimes it takes awhile for all the water to drain from pipes. The P-trap pipes you’ll be removing also tend to collect sludge, so you’ll want a place for that stuff to go that isn’t all over you. Gross.
4. Locate the P-Trap
The P-trap is a section of piping usually located directly under the sink. It’s called the P-trap because it kind of looks like the letter ‘P’. It usually looks like this:
Or like this:
Your P-trap will usually be made of either PVC piping or steel. Look for PVC piping if the trap isn’t visible, and steel if it is. The P-trap is made up of two 90 degree joints (one that connects directly to the underside of the sink basin, and one that connects to the sewer line), as well as a ‘U’ shaped overflow pipe. This overflow pipe contains a water seal system which allows water to enter the pipe from the sink but doesn’t let it go back to the sink once it’s there. This process prevents sewer gas from escaping out the sink’s drain and into the house.
5. Remove the drain plug
Before we can empty out the overflow pipe, we have to remove the drain plug. Here’s how to do that:
A: First, close the plug in the sink completely by pulling up on the plunger behind the faucet that opens and closes the plug.
B: Then, you’ll need to find the horizontal pivot arm that connects to the plug. You’ll find it connected to the upper 90 degree angle joint (“90 degree angle joint 1” in the diagram above), on its back side. There will be a metal rod extending from the upper half of this segment of the p-trap up and through one of the holes in a flat piece of metal you should see extending from the base of the sink.
C: The shorter end of the metal pivot rod connected to the sink and the p-trap should be held against the p-trap by a retaining nut. Unscrew this nut by turning it in a counterclockwise direction. You may need pliers for this step. Make sure you don’t lose the retaining nut!
D: There will also be a clip which connects the retaining rod to the sink plunger. This clip allows the plunger to dictate whether the drain plug is open or closed. When you press down on the plunger, the rod lifts the plug, and when you pull up, the rod lowers it. You should be able to detach this clip by hand, so that the plunger is no longer connected to the metal retaining rod.
E: Once you’ve completely unscrewed the retaining nut and disconnected the plunger, pull the metal retaining rod straight back, away from the p-trap. This should release the drain plug. Make sure you have your bucket positioned to catch any excess water that will fall out of your drain.
F: Reach up into the sink and pull the drain plug straight out of the drain hole.
6. Use a pliers, magnet or similar grasping tool to retrieve your item
Now that the drain plug has been removed, you might be able to go into the drain directly to get back your lost item. Reach in with some kind of grasping tool and feel around to see if you can get at your item. Don’t be surprised if you run into some hair or slime. If your item is metallic and not gold or silver, you might be able to get it to come to you by using a magnet.
If you manage to retrieve your item at this point, all you have to do is reinstall the drain plug and make sure it’s functioning correctly. The plug should be snugly in the drain hole when closed and should rise enough to let water through when it’s open. Don’t forget to re-attach the plunger clip too!
If you can’t manage to find your lost item at this point, don’t despair! If it isn’t in the drain, that probably means it was flushed into the p-trap’s overflow pipe itself. To retrieve it, we’ll have to remove and clean out the p-trap’s overflow pipe. Don’t reinstall the drain plug yet! Instead, follow these steps:
7. Put on rubber gloves and a face mask
This next part is going to get a little grimey.
8. Loosen the slip nuts
Unscrew the two slip nuts connecting the overflow pipe to both the 90 degree joints. Remember that these slip nuts are the only thing holding the overflow pipe on. Make sure your bucket is ready to catch the filth that may overflow when the pipe is tipped. Most slip nuts can be removed by hand, especially if they’re made of PVC. Some slip nuts will have to be removed with a pliers. Be careful not to overwork the slip nuts or you could strip or damage them. Try to loosen the slip nuts with the pliers just enough so they can be turned by hand.
9. Remove and dump the overflow pipe
Here’s where those gloves come in handy. Turn the overflow pipe out and dump its contents into your bucket. Don’t be surprised if there’s a lot of gross stuff in here. The overflow pipe tends to collect that stuff; that’s part of its job. Consider having cleaning tools with you for this step, so you can clean and scrub out the overflow pipe before replacing it. Check the contents you dumped. Your missing item should be amongst them! If it’s not, check to see if it’s stuck in wet hair or some other kind of gunk inside in overflow pipe. We know, it’s gross.
10. Wash out and re-install the overflow pipe
After you’ve drained your overflow pipe completely, wash and rinse it thoroughly in a different sink. This will help keep your sink from clogging up in the future. After you’ve cleaned it, replace the overflow pipe. Make sure it’s positioned correctly and that the slip nuts are tight. Remember to hook up the plunger to the metal retaining rod, screw the rod back onto the p-trap with the retaining nut, and put the plug back into the drain hole.
Once everything’s been re-installed, turn your water back on. Run the sink and check for leaks coming from the p-trap or drain hole. If everything looks good, you’re all done! Double-check that nothing nasty from the p-trap fell out around your sink or bathroom, and then… we strongly recommend you wash your hands.
If you followed all these steps and you still can’t find your item, or if your p-trap doesn’t have slip nuts, give us a call. We have a few professional tricks-of-the-trade we can try to get your stuff back, and while we’re at it we can clean and maintain your sink!