THE BEST WAYS TO PREVENT CLOGGED DRAINS
Updated: Nov 25, 2020
It's just a regular day like any other. Unsuspecting of any foul forthcoming phenomenon, you kick on the shower. After a brief water warm-up period, highlighted by the usual morning bathroom multitasking, you step inside. Somethings different... something's wrong. Were you subconsciously desiring a bath, and reflexively tripped the drain lever without realizing it? No... its something far more sinister.... The drain... is clogged. Ugh... Mondays.
C'est la vie. Clogged drains are an inevitability. Many, though, can easily be prevented or unclogged with a few simple tricks. Yup, you guessed it. I'm going to tell them to you. You'll be like, "Whoa, that's super simple and obvious, but I'm totally glad I read this blog to simplify and affirm my thoughts and questions and give me a better understanding of the causes of clogs while boosting my confidence in handling the minor drain issues in my home and improving my quality of life!" More-or-less.
Most common clogs: Food, grease, and residual sludge
Don't do: Don't put large amounts of food in the garbage disposer. Garbage disposers are misleading. They have the power to grind tough objects to paste. The problem is, your drain system is designed to drain liquids, not pastes. This thick food-sludge builds up in the line and clogs it solid. Also, don't pour grease down the kitchen drain. Your mother probably told you never to put grease down the drain, but maybe you thought you'd outsmart her smarts and just run hot water while pouring the grease down to keep it liquefied. This could work, if your drain line was only a few feet long. Most likely it's quite a bit longer, and that hot water will cool before it reaches the end, depositing the grease further down the line. This also builds up over time and stops you up.
Do do: Run lots of water when putting anything down the drain or disposer. The more water, the more likely you'll carry the junk to the end of the system. I like to plug the disposer, fill the sink with water, then pull the plug and flip on the disposer. This launches water through the line at a nice, solid rate. Secondly, treat your line with an enzyme. This is different than an acidic drain-opening product. Acids can be quite hard on the plumbing systems (not to mention your counters, floors, clothes, and skin) whereas enzymes are harmless to everything except the junk building up in your lines. Even if you never put food or grease down your lines, unavoidable buildup occurs from soap deposits and grime from hands and dishes. Treating with an enzyme is always a good idea. There are many enzyme products on the shelf, but many are formulated for tanks and lagoons instead drain lines. The one I stand behind is Roto-Rooter's own Pipe Shield. You might suspect a bias there, but it's excellent stuff that I've used in my home drains for years. Trust me, the last thing I want to do when I get home from work is clean another drain.
Most common clogs: Hair, residual sludge, and objects
Don't do: Don't remove the stopper from the pop-up assembly. I've seen it too many times... the drain is a little slow so someone pulls out the stopper to speed things up. This opens up the fabulous opportunity to drop all kinds of valuable things down the drain for your local plumber to try to fish out later. If the drain seems to slow down, the line may need cleaned or treated with an enzyme.
Do do: Run lots of water and treat the drain with an enzyme. Drains may differ in our homes by how we use them, but they all have the same basic function. Not surprisingly, they all benefit from the same basic maintenance. An enzyme in a lavatory sink is super effective at breaking down the soap and toothpaste sludge that plagues those drain lines.
Most common clogs: Hair and residual sludge
Don't do: Don't use the shower or tub drain to dispose of other household wastes. I've often seen folks dump mop water buckets, carpet cleaner waste tanks, or even their soaking buckets from painting projects down the tub drain. Things like mop lint and pet hair in excess can easily clog these lines. They are designed primarily for draining just water. They don't handle debris too well. Paint, caulk, and spackling can really gum up lines too.
Do do: Can you guess? Well, then you've been paying attention. Gold star. Running lots of water isn't too tricky with tubs and shower drains. That's kinda their whole purpose. Once again, treat those bad boys with an enzyme. Seriously, it can make a huge difference in the efficiency and lifespan of your drain system.
Most common clogs: Objects, wipes, and of course, poop.
Don't do: Don't flush wipes. Like ever. Even if they say "flushable" on the package. There's not actually any regulatory definition for a wipe being labeled flushable. Its just a marketing thing. In reality, wipes (flushable or otherwise) can hang up in your stool and cause a clog... if you're lucky. If you're not, they'll hang up further down the line and clog your whole house system. If you're really not lucky, they'll make it through your system but clog the city main line and then your whole neighborhood's sewage backs up into your basement. So... yeah. Best not to flush 'em. Certain toilet papers can have a similar effect on your system. When your toilet paper is as thick and tough as paper towels, there's a good chance it'll clog you up. I know comfort is important, and life is too short for cheap toilet paper, but its also too short to spend it unclogging your sewer on the regular. Look for tissue labeled as septic safe. There are some nice, soft options out there that still break down rapidly enough not to stop your system. Also, watch out for some in-tank toilet bowl cleaners. They often break apart and clog your flush ports, causing your toilet's flushing efficiency to go way downhill. It's best to use a canister type drop in cleaner that doesn't erode or just to clean the bowl periodically from the outside.
Do do: I'm breaking the pattern here, but an enzyme really won't do anything for your toilet. Toilets don't have the tendency to build up sludge, but instead build up mineral deposits that block the flush ports and sometimes the throat of the toilet. The way to counter this type of buildup is muriatic acid. It dissolves mineral buildup without hurting the stool, and can greatly improve the way your stool flushes.
Unclogging Tips & Tricks:
Just in case you didn't read this article till it was too late... there may still be hope. Sometimes clogs are simple obstructions you could clear yourself. Don't rush out and spend thirty bucks on some chemical drain opener! They can often cause more harm than good, and in my experience they often aren't very effective. There are better, cheaper, less dangerous things to try.
Check the p-trap – If you don't know what that is, its the p-shaped bend in the pipe just below the drain. With most kitchen and lavatory sinks, its easily accessible just beneath the sink. There are nuts before and after the bend that you can unscrew to take the trap apart. Make sure you put a bucket underneath, as it holds water and possibly the junk that's clogging your line. Check this to see if it is obstructed, clean it out, and put it back together. Very often the clog is in the p-trap, and checking there before calling a plumber can save you a good deal of money.
Go fishing – You would be amazed how many clogs you could defeat with a coat hanger. Tub and shower drains are very often clogged right at the drain opening with a bunch of hair. Get a screwdriver, remove the strainer, and use a coat hanger (or something similar) to fish the clog out. Just put a little bend on the end, poke it in there, and twirl it like a spaghetti fork. Lavatory sink drains often have a clog just below the stopper that can be similarly tackled.
Get the right plunger for the job – Those generic reddish-colored cup plungers that you probably picture when you hear the word "plunger" are no good for toilets. They're made for sinks, or drains with a flat base to achieve suction. A toilet plunger has a protruding flange at the base that helps it achieve a better seal around the throat of the toilet. This may seem simple, but it makes a world of difference if you didn't know.
Call Roto-Rooter – I couldn't help myself. Seriously, though... If you can't get it, we can. It's what we do, and we're happy to help.