How to Recover Lost Items From Drains Like a Pro

Few emotions match the feeling of helplessness watching a valuable ring or favorite earring, or even a contact lense, disappear down a drain. Is it gone forever? Here’s how to recover them like a pro.

By far the vast majority of valuable items are lost down sink drains. Toilets rank a distant second.  Rings account for the lion’s share of lost items.  Earrings are next. Contact lenses are third.  However, the light weight of contact lenses makes them the least likely to be recovered successfully.

First, don’t let any more water flow into the sink.  Flowing water might flush the valuable further down the drain, possibly loosing it forever.

Next, get ready for a little plumbing.  Tools needed are a small bucket about the dimensions of the ubiquitous ice cream pail, a few old towels or rags, and some adjustable wrenches.

The Trap

Under every sink is an S-shaped pipe called a trap, or p-trap.  Its job is to stop sewer gasses from getting into the house by trapping a small amount of water in the “S” to block air flow.  This trap will be located in the cabinet under the sink.

Happily, it often serves another merciful purpose.  Chances are that’s where the ring, earring or contact is awaiting recovery. 

There are two types of traps.  One type makes recovery easy.  It will have a small cap or plug at the bottom of the “S” trap. It’s about 1 1/4-inches in diameter and should be quite easy to remove with a small adjustable wrench. 

Turn the cap or plug clockwise.  Once removed, less than a cup of water will flow out of the pipe and, with any luck, bring with it the lost valuable.

Remove Couplings

The second type of trap does not have a plug and is more common.  The S-shaped pipe, the trap, must be removed.  It is attached with two couplings, above it to the pipe coming out of the sink, and below it to the drain that goes into the floor. 

These couplings are intended to be removable by hand.  If they don’t yield to hand pressure, use a larger adjustable wrench.  Turn the top coupling gently, counter clockwise; turn the bottom coupling counter clockwise . Do not use force.  Some older pipes are metal, but all newer pipes are made of PVC and can break. 

Slightly loosen both couplings but first remove the top one that is closest to the sink. When the bottom coupling is removed, carefully tip it towards the bucket to remove water from the trap.  Most likely, the lost item will fall out with the water.

The vast majority of lost items like rings and earrings are recovered from these traps.  

Should the lost item not be in the sink trap, the next possible location is the sewer system beneath the home.  The decision then is whether the intrinsic or sentimental value of the lost ring justifies the expense of further pursuit.  A qualified plumber will be needed.


Toilets can also be a location for lost items.  Recovery is less common.  Toilets are designed to thoroughly flush their contents, reducing the prospects of recovering lost items.  However, in some cases it may be worth a try.

Recovering a ring or earring from a toilet is more complicated than from drains.  It involves removing the toilet.  Like sinks, toilets have traps, but they are built into the base of the trap.  To check it, the base (often called the ‘bowl’) of the toilet must be removed.

Start by turning off the water and draining the tank.  Next, disconnect the supply line to the tank.  Then remove the tank from the base.  The tank and the base are connected with two bolts, usually nylon.  The nuts on these bolts will be beneath the tank, at the back of the base.

Remove Base

The base now can be removed.  It is held in place by two bolts, located on the bottom on each side of the base.  They are often covered with decorator caps.  These should be easy to pry off. 

The nuts on these bolts, called J-bolts, often are corroded and difficult to remove.  A penetrating oil may need to be applied and left for a few hours.  If that fails, they will have to be removed with a hacksaw. 

Once the base, or bowl, is removed, plug the sewer pipe with a wet cloth or towel to prevent sewer gases from escaping into the room.  These gasses are unpleasant and can be toxic.  

Now, carefully tip the bowl forward over a bucket.  A few cups of water will flow out, and hopefully also the lost item. 


To reassemble the toilet, reverse the procedure above, with one exception.  Removing the bowl, or base, will have disturbed the wax ring that seals the toilet base to the sewer pipe to prevent sewer gases from leaking into the bathroom.  It can’t be reused.  A new wax ring must be installed.  They are available at all home improvement and plumbing shops.

The procedure for installing a toilet is explained in detail in the article, ‘How to Install a Toilet Like a Pro’.  Here’s the link:

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Published in: Do-It-Yourself


RSSComments: 1  |  Post a Comment
  1. A great how-to. I will keep this bookmarked.

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