DIY Plumbing: 6 Common Bathroom Plumbing Jobs You Can Tackle Yourself

Showerhead declogged via Matriarchy Build

Carly Carey is a new mother and a third-year plumbing apprentice in Minneapolis—she’s about two years from taking the state test to become a licensed master plumber. It was during the pandemic that Carly, a middle school English teacher, decided to switch tracks. She now loves using her communication skills to demystify plumbing practices for the rest of us.

As a member of Matriarchy Build, Carly is in good company: an all-women team of pros in the building trades, the online platform offers consultations by Zoom that teach people to tackle basic house projects themselves: read about the group and its offerings in Remodeling 101: Advice from Skilled Tradeswomen.

Tired of steep plumbers’ bills, we asked Matriarchy Builder co-founder Lacey Soslow: are there common bathroom plumbing jobs we can tackle ourselves? She teamed us up with Carly, who responded that there’s no need to call at plumber, at least not at the get go, when faced with these six common challenges. Here’s her advice.

Michaela Scherrer spa bath Pasadena. Matthew Williams for Remodelista photo.
Above: To unclog sinks Carly recommends getting to know your p-trap, the often curved under-sink piping. Designer Michaela Scherrer’s tiny spa bath, shown here, in Pasadena, CA, has a minimalist sink with a straight p-trap. Photograph by Matthew Williams for Remodelista: A Manual for the Considered Home.

1. Unclog a Bathroom Sink

If you notice your sink is slow to drain, a straightforward way to unclog it is to remove the p-trap—the under sink piping that runs into the wall —and clean it out. To do this you’ll need a bucket, rags, and possibly a pair of pliers if the piping is metal. Place the bucket under the p-trap to catch the water that’s in it, and unthread the nut that connects the pieces. Using the rags, thoroughly clean out these parts, then reassemble the p-trap and run water to make sure nothing’s leaking.

Pro Tip: If the p-trap is old and made of metal, it might be difficult to remove, and might not be able to be put back together, so proceed with caution. If there’s no blockage in the under sink piping, the blockage is further down the line ad you’ll need a basic handheld plumbing snake (available at any hardware store) to remove it. Use caution if your fixture is old: a snake can puncture old and corroded pipes.

More Details: Here’s a Bob Vila article on how to snake a drain.

Sink aerator via Matriarchy Build
Above: A removed sink aerator ready for cleaning. Photograph by Lacey Soslow/ Matriarchy Build.

2. Replace a Sink Aerator

Have you had a sudden drop of water pressure from a sink? A clogged aerator might be the culprit. An aerator, comprised of numerous screens that are threaded to a faucet, adds air and saves water by regulating the flow from your faucet. Cleaning an aerator (or introducing a new one) is an easy way to make your bathroom greener.

Some aerators are recessed and need a specific aerator key to be removed. This key should have come with your faucet when you purchased it (and often gets taped to the cabinet or supply lines that connect to the fixture). Aerator keys are also sold at hardware stores. Some aerators can be unscrewed by hand, others require a crescent wrench or pliers to unthread. Once removed, rinse the aerator to remove the debris. You can also soak it in white vinegar and clean with a toothbrush or Q-tip, then reinstall. If a black rubber washer was removed, fit it back in place—it creates a seal to prevent dripping.

Pro Tip: Put a thin rag around the faucet to protect it from the crescent wrench. If a cleaned aerator doesn’t improve the water pressure, there’s an issue in the fixture or the waterlines, and you likely need a plumber.

More Details: Go to Matriarchy Build’s How to Clean a Faucet Aerator for Carly’s step-by-step instructions and video.

Brass rain shower via Matriarchy Build
Above: When the water pressure starts to slow, consider giving your showerhead a quick cleaning. It’s easy. Photograph by Lacey Soslow/Matriarchy Build.
Showerhead declogging in vinegar via Matriarchy BuildI
Above: Screw off the showerhead and soak it in a bowl of white vinegar. Photograph by Lacey Soslow/Matriarchy Build.
Showerhead declogged via Matriarchy Build
Above: Vinegar removes mineral deposits and opens up the water holes. Lacey found this antiqued brass showerhead on a discount site. “Here it is (or one like it); it’s been fantastic.” Photograph by Lacey Soslow/Matriarchy Build.

3. Clean a Showerhead

Mineral buildup often plugs the tiny holes in a showerhead. For increased water pressure, use white vinegar as a showerhead cleaner: remove the showerhead (most screw off by hand), place it in a bowl of vinegar for at least 30 minutes, rinse, and reinstall the showerhead. Simple as that.

Pro Tip: If you don’t want to remove the showerhead, pour white vinegar into a plastic bag and put the bag around the showerhead secured with a twist tie.

Park Slope townhouse bathroom designed by Branca & Co. Nicole Franzen photo.
Above: A Brooklyn townhouse bathroom with rain shower designed by Branca & Co. Photograph by Nicole Franzen from Monochrome Luxe in Park Slope.

4. Replace a Showerhead

In addition to the aesthetic benefits, a new showerhead can deliver better water pressure (while also conserving water by using less than your old one). To change your showerhead, you’ll need an adjustable crescent wrench and some plumber’s tape. First, remove the old showerhead by twisting it counterclockwise—if needed, use wrench to loosen. Next, clean the old plumber’s tape off the shower arm. Wrap new plumber’s tape around the threads of the shower arm and tighten on the new showerhead. Turn on the water to make sure there’s no leaking from the threads of the shower arm. If there is, further tighten the showerhead.

Pro Tip: Wrap a thin rag around the showerhead before loosening or tightening to protect it from scratches from the wrench.

More Details: Go to Matriarchy Build’s How to Change a Showerhead.

Brooklyn bathroom by Fernlund and Logan. Matthew Williams photo for Remodelista
Above: A Fernlund + Logan shower from Nordic Beauty: A Brooklyn Townhouse Reinvented with Style—and Restraint. Photography Matthew Williams photo for Remodelista: A Manual for the Considered Home.

5. Unclog a Shower Drain

As with sinks, if you find water pooling on the floor of your shower, you have a blockage in your drain pipes. First, try to unclog the drain with a barbed snake drain cleaner (these are plastic and about 30 inches long with barbs to aid in cleaning). Thread this through the drain of the tub/shower and pull out to remove hair and buildup. If the drain still isn’t clear, the blockage is further down the line.

Using a handheld snake will allow you to go deeper: insert the snake in the drain and feed the snake down. Crank the snake slowly and when you feel resistance you may have hit the blockage. Pull out the snake and the blockage along with it. You may need to do this a few times to fully get out all of the hair and other problem stuff. Run the water to see if the drain is cleared.

Pro Tip: If you’re unable to clear a drain with a barbed or classic snake, your blockage may be a more serious matter and you should call a drain cleaner or plumber.

Above: A toilet flapper is the black rubber element in the center of the tank Photograph by Lacey Soslow/Matriarchy-Build

6. Replace a Toilet Flapper

Is your toilet constantly running? A faulty flapper is likely the issue. The flapper is the rubber piece that lifts out of the way when the toilet is flushed before moving back in place. When the flapper fails to create a seal, water runs into the tank. To replace a flapper, turn off the water to your toilet, then flush the toilet to empty the tank. Next, remove the flapper and source a replacement flapper from the hardware store. To install the new one, attach the chain to the handle rod and the plastic tabs to the overflow tube.

Pro Tip: Bring your old flapper to the hardware store so you get the correct one. And make sure the chain to the flapper is the same length as the original. If the chain is too long it can get stuck under the flapper and cause a toilet to run.

More Details: Here’s a Matriarchy Build video of Carly replacing a toilet flapper and a Tutorial on Toilet Types.

A Good Thing to Know for a lot of Plumbing Jobs: How to turn off your water main—here’s how.

Carly Carey plumber at Matriarchy Build
Above: You can book an online consultation with Carly at Matriarchy Build. As for the high cost of hiring a plumber, she says: “Running a plumbing company is expensive: trucks, parts, salary for the plumber and appreciation, insurance, gas, tools, it all adds up.” Follow Carly @theplumbher.

Here are three online sources for plumbing supplies recommended by Matriarchy Build:

N.B.: This post is an update; it was first published on Remodelista in February 2024.

You need to login or register to view and manage your bookmarks.

No more results!

Haven't found what you are looking for? Try seaching!