Cooking pasta is all fun and games until you get your kitchen sink clogged. Seriously, this happened to me once when I hadn’t strained all the noodles from the water, and they ended up clogging the kitchen sink drain pipe.
That day, I had to spend hours figuring out what exactly happened and how to fix it. If you found yourself in a similar situation, you’re in the right place. I wrote this post so that you (hopefully) don’t need to go through the same experience as I did.
First things first… Does pasta water clog drains?
Pasta water alone won’t clog your drain. But the noodles in the water will. They can get caught up in the blades of your garbage disposal or swell up in your pipes and clog them. To prevent this, strain the noodles before pouring the water down the sink.
Sure, there are worse things than pasta that you can wash off your plate and have clog your kitchen sink drain pipe. Yet, for those of us who’ve experienced it, a pasta clog can be surprisingly stubborn and tricky to remove.
Pasta noodles are made from semolina flour, a coarsely-ground, protein-rich flour that makes for highly elastic dough. Semolina flour has two building blocks: gluten, a type of protein found in wheat, and starch, a type of carbohydrate found in plants.
When you cook pasta noodles, two things happen:
- The gluten hardens, just like the protein in an egg or steak hardens when you cook it
- The starch granules absorb water and swell up until they eventually turn in to a sticky gel
Together, the gluten and starch give the pasta its distinct texture. As the noodles cook, some of the starches will dissolve in the water, making it murky and viscous.
Pasta water by itself is harmless for your drain. It’s the pasta noodles that can get caught up on the blades of your garbage disposal (if your sink at home has one) or swell up in your pipes and get stuck somewhere along the way.
If that happened to you, here’s how to unclog a drain with pasta.
How to Unclog a Drain With Pasta
Clogged your drain pipe with pasta?
Sometimes, the simplest solution is also the best one. Turn on the hot water and let it run for 3-4 minutes. If the trick above doesn’t help, try making a homemade clog remover.
To fix a stubborn pasta clog in your drain pipes, architecture and decoration magazine Hunker recommends the following approach.
Bring 2-3 pots of water to a boil and collect them in a cleaning bucket. Mix with ¼ cup of dish soap per 1 gallon of water. Carefully pour the homemade drain pipe cleaner down the drain, then let hot tap water run for 2-3 minutes more.
This technique usually works for two reasons. First, the soapy water gets most food items down the drain pipe unstuck. Second, the large amount of water applies pressure on the food items, causing them to move down to the bigger pipes in the system until it isn’t stuck any longer.
Look down your sink with a spotlight or with your phone camera’s flash on. If you can’t see any pasta noodles and the water drains normally when you turn it on, you’ve most probably fixed the problem.
Before calling a plumber if the problem persists, try using a plunger. The plunger is usually the first thing that a plumber will try with a clogged kitchen sink. And for a good reason, since it works on most of the clogs that don’t require disassembly of the drain pipes and fittings.
If the water continues to drain slowly or quickly comes back up again, the problem persists. At this stage, you have two options: try with a drain clog remover like Drano or Green Gobbler, or consider calling a plumber.
My two cents? Call a plumber.
Sure, you can have success with a drain clog remover. But you can just as well waste your time and money or, worse, damage your pipes and fittings in case they’re made of PVC and you use more clog remover than necessary.
Drain clog removers tend to come in two varieties: crystals (granules) or gel. Never use clog remover crystals or granules in a sink with a garbage disposal. They can damage your garbage disposal beyond repair. Some clog remover gels are garbage-disposal-safe, which is usually stated on the label.
How to Keep Pasta Clogs From Happening Again
Always strain the pasta noodles from the pot before pouring the water down your sink. Make sure you’re using the right tool for the purpose.
Oftentimes, a mesh strainer is better than a colander. Use a colander for bigger noodles like penne, rigatoni, and farfalle, and a mesh strainer for smaller noodles like spaghetti, macaroni, and fusilli.
If your kitchen sink doesn’t have a garbage disposal, put a kitchen sink strainer over the plughole. The sink strainer will catch any pasta noodles leftover in your pasta water.
Why You Should Always Save Some Pasta Water
Pasta water is, as many food writers like to say, liquid gold. It’s salty, starchy, and can help you elevate a good pasta sauce on any day.
Before straining the pasta noodles in your sink, save ½ a cup of pasta water. Add the pasta water to your sauce as it cooks (this technique works just as well on tomato-based as it does on dairy-based sauces).
Thanks to all that salt and starches in it, the pasta water will season your sauce and help to thicken it. My personal technique is to add 1 cooking spoonful of pasta sauce to my pasta sauce as I’m cooking the sauce in my frying pan.
If you’re curious about this technique, check my post, “Why Your Pasta Water Is White.” There, I tell you all about why this works—and how to apply it when cooking pasta meals at home.
Pasta clogs happen and can be surprisingly tricky. If you’re lucky, you can remove a pasta clog by simply running hot tap water for 3-4 minutes in your sink.
For more stubborn clogs, try the solution of boiling water and dish soap (mixing ¼ cup of dish soap per 1 quart of water) that I recommended. Most of the time, that does the trick.
Your third—and last—DIY resort is using a plunger. As long as you use the right plunger with the right technique, you have a very high chance of removing the clog yourself.
If none of these two techniques works, it’s probably time to call the plumber.
I mean, you can continue to try with chemical solvents and other DIY techniques, but, in my own experience, the time and money you’ll spend trying to fix this will probably end up more than calling a professional.