What Should I Do If Something Falls Down the Drain?

Most items that fall down a drain end up caught somewhere in the p-trap, between the fixture and wall. Start by removing the drain plug and using a pliers to search for your item in the drain. If you can’t find it, locate and remove the p-trap’s overflow pipe. 

Next time you drop something down the drain, don’t panic! Getting it back may be surprisingly easy. All you have to do is follow each of these steps:

1. Turn the water off

Do this as soon after dropping something down the drain as possible.Make sure the water is off before proceeding to any of the steps below

2. Clear out the space beneath the fixture

You’ll probably end up working under there, so you’ll need the space to move around.

3. Put a bucket under the fixture’s piping

The P-trap pipes you may have to remove 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 a drain fixture. It’s called the P-trap because it kind of looks like the letter ‘P’. It usually looks like this:

A sink's p-trap.

Or like this:

Labeled diagram of a plumbing fixture's p-trap.

Your P-trap is probably 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. It also contains a ‘U’ shaped overflow pipe. 

The overflow pipe contains a water seal system. This system allows water to enter the pipe from the sink, but doesn’t let it go back to the sink once inside. The water sealing system prevents sewer gas from rising through the sewer and into the house through the drain.

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:

  1. Close the plug in the sink completely by pulling up on the plunger behind the faucet that opens and closes the plug.
  2. Find the horizontal pivot arm connected to the plug. You’ll find it on 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 p-trap up through a hole on the fixture.
  3. The shorter end of the metal rod will be held against the p-trap by a retaining nut. Unscrew this nut by turning it in a counterclockwise direction.
  4. There will also be a clip connecting the retaining rod to the sink plunger. Detach this clip by hand so that the plunger is no longer connected to the metal retaining rod.
  5. After unscrewing the retaining nut and disconnecting the plunger, pull the metal retaining rod straight back. This should release the drain plug. Position your bucket to catch any excess water falling out of the drain.
  6. Pull the drain plug straight out of the drain hole in the fixture.    

6. Use a pliers or similar 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 into the drain with a grasping tool to see if you can retrieve your item. Don’t be surprised if you run into some hair or slime. 

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 fit snugly in the drain hole when closed and rise when it’s open. Don’t forget to re-attach the plunger clip, too! 

If your lost item isn’t in the drain,  it was probably 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 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

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. Hook the plunger to the retaining rod, screw the rod back onto the p-trap, and place the plug back into the drain.

When you’re finished, 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. Then 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. We can even clean your sink while we’re at it!