A clogged drain is a bear to deal with – dirty water over flows everywhere – what a mess! You may not know what is making the water not go down the drain. That isn’t helpful when you are trying to figure out how to fix it. Are there ways to avoid drains getting clogged in the first place? The answer is an absolute ‘yes’!
Although some of these suggestions for keeping your drains clean are obvious, they are definitely worth repeating. Keep your drains clean and clear by:
- Not putting grease down a drain. This is one of the number one clogging agents because grease does not freely flush away. Grease tends to glob up in balls of grease, thus closing off the flow of water through the drain.
- In addition to grease, avoid putting coffee grounds and large amounts of pasta down the drain. In the bathroom, hair and soap scum should not be put down a drain.
So, if you can’t put these items down the drain, how do you get rid of them? Coffee grounds can go into the trash or into your garden, as they are good for the soil. Pour grease into a tin can, such as an old coffee can, and then throw it away. (You can keep the can in the freezer until it is full. This keeps the smell to a minimum in your kitchen.)
What about hair and soap scum? You can place a drain screen over the drain. Most home supply and plumbing stores will carry various sizes. You just need to know what type of drain screen you need. Installation is easy with most screens simply placed over the drain. This is a very inexpensive solution and will save your drains from clogging up.
If you ask any homeowner, they will probably tell you their tips and tricks for unclogging drains. One “trick” that does work is to take a bent wire hanger. Put it down the clogged drain and then pull the clogging debris out. You don’t want to push the debris farther down the drain, as this will just make the clog worse.
Wet/dry vacuums can be great tools for unclogging a drain. Make sure that the vacuum is on ‘vacuum liquids’. Then take the vacuum nozzle and make a very tight seal over the drain. Sometimes you can use an old plunger, place it over the drain to create the tight seal and then attach the nozzle to the top of the plunger. (You need to remove the plunger’s handle first.) Turn the vacuum on to its highest setting. The suction of the vacuum may be enough to pull the clog out of the drain.
A drain snake is also useful to have in your toolkit. Relatively inexpensive, you can find a drain snake at most home or large box stores. Essentially the drain snake is a long very flexible metal “rope”. At the end of the “rope” is a metal grabber. To unclog a drain using a drain snake, take the drain snake and feed it down the drain until you hit the clog. Use the grabber to grab the clog and pull it out.
Dish detergent and boiling water is another option to unclog a drain. Pour 1/4th cup of liquid dish detergent down the drain followed by boiling water. You can also use this strategy to unclog a toilet.
There are several routines that, if performed on a regular basis, should keep your drains free and clear. These include:
- Using a drain screen as mentioned above.
- Letting hot water run down the drain in the sink, tub, or shower immediately after use. Hot water helps to dissolve debris that may clog the drain.
- Once in awhile, take a 1/4th or less of a cup of baking soda, pour it down the drain, then let the hot water run for a few minutes. This keeps drains clear and may get rid of any odors.
- Or, take one cup of regular vinegar, pour it down the drain, and run very hot water for a few minutes. This works very similar to baking soda.
According to James and Morris Carey (authors of Home Maintenance for Dummies) you may be able to open up drains that clog on a regular basis by taking the following steps:
- Take ½ cup of baking soda and ½ cup of salt and pour it down the drain.
- Then take ½ cup of regular vinegar and pour it down the drain.
- Next, pour two quarts of boiling water down the drain.
- Leave this overnight and, the next day, flush with warm water and use as usual.
Sinks with garbage disposals can be particularly challenging to unclog. You can try the following with this type of drain:
- Take an ice cube tray and fill it with ½ regular vinegar and ½ water. Let it freeze. Note that vinegar takes longer to freeze than just regular water.
- Turn on your garbage disposal (with the water running) and add ice cubes. The acidity of the vinegar helps to clean out the disposal and the drain itself.
- The smell of vinegar is not for everyone. To reduce the odor of the vinegar, take the above steps and then put a slice of lemon down the garbage disposal. This should remove the smell.
Removing the Drain
If the above strategies fail to unclog the drain, you may need to disassemble the drain itself. Make sure the water is off. Go under the sink and take an empty bucket. Place the bucket directly under the trap. (This is the U-shaped pipe under the drain.) Take a plumber’s wrench (that you can purchase at most home stores) and loosen the nuts at both ends of the U-shaped pipe. Remove the trap, turn it upside down, and tap out the contents of the drain into the bucket. You may also need to reach into the pipes to remove additional debris. An old towel and used toothbrush can also help with this process. When done, rinse out the trap using water and then put everything back together.
Some Words of Caution
Many homeowners rely on using commercial drain cleaners that may contain lye as an ingredient. A small amount of lye used to clean drains is typically ok. Using large amounts of lye and/or commercial cleaners can be harmful to your pipes over time. If you find yourself continually pouring commercial cleaners down the drain and the drain is not unclogging or you are not comfortable with disassembling the drain, then it is time to call in a professional plumber.