How to Maintain and Clean Your Plumbing Drains
With so many people staying at home recently, plumbing in houses is getting used a lot more, and there tend to be more problems with drains. Here are some tips for how you can maintain and clean your plumbing drains.
CAUTION: Using Drain Unblocking Fluids
First, here is some cautionary advice about using store-bought drain unblocking fluids. Drano, Liquid Plumber, Green Gobbler, etc. (any “drain unblocker”) all contain very strong chemicals. Even though they say they are not dangerous to pipes, which may be generally true for one-time use, they tend to gradually destroy any metal in the system. Even if all your drains are plastic, I have seen drain unblocking fluids stain and burn stainless steel sinks or damage the metal ring and stopper in the bottom of a sink. Acids and other chemicals can burn the skin, lungs, and eyes. Be very careful.
Sometimes those chemical solutions work, usually only for greasy clogs, but I recommend using other methods.
I hesitate to recommend any drain opener in a bottle, but this one is among the most effective automagic products that I’ve used. (Follow the instructions to be safe.) It was recommended to me by a plumber friend. I haven’t seen it in stock at local stores, but you can buy it on Amazon. I usually keep a bottle on hand, just in case.
Causes of Drain Blockages
Drain clogs tend to be made of different materials in different places, for example, hair in tubs/showers, grease and food in kitchen sinks, soap scum and other random stuff in bathroom sinks, excess paper and other “stuff” in toilets, etc.
Part of the cause for drain blockages is that since new regulations have been put in place, all recent water fixtures are “low-flow” which limits the volume of water coming out. That’s good for water conservation and helps save the environment, but doesn’t necessarily help to flush drains. A drain pipe is a lot longer and more complicated than you may imagine. A cup of water doesn’t have much effect when there are 50-100 feet of pipe to go from the drain to the sewer. So when drains are being used, the water only really flows along the bottom of the pipe, letting grease build up along the sides over time and blocking like a clogged artery.
Preventing Clogged Drains
Prevention is the best cure. A good solution is to rinse well often. Hot water goes a long way to help. Maybe once a week or so, use a stopper to close the drain, fill up the sink or tub mostly full with hot water, then let it go and rush down the drain all at once. The large volume of hot water will fill the drain pipe and rinse it better, flushing build-up away.
Another preventive solution is to pour a cup or two of bleach down a drain and leave it sitting overnight before washing it down. It will help degrease the P-trap (U shaped pipe under the sink, tub or shower) and isn’t hazardous to the pipes. Just use as normal the next day, and it flushes away. Do the bleach trick once a month or as needed and rinse thoroughly, and you shouldn’t have an issue. As usual, with bleach, be careful.
You can buy various types of drain strainers and filters, for example, this one. Depending on the situation, some work better than others. These can be kind of a pain when they clog and have to be cleaned, but they might help to prevent issues further down the drain.
Methods and Tools to Remove Drain Clogs
Of course, people look for a plunger when a toilet or other drain is clogged. Not all plungers are made the same. The thicker black plungers like this one with a kind of flange insert that can be pulled out to fit a toilet better work so much better than a cheap plunger.
An air-powered plunger like this one (the kind you pump by hand, not necessarily the compressed gas cartridge ones) works great for all types of applications. Don’t forget to block the overflows, which are typically a small hole near the top of a sink or a bathtub (usually need to unscrew a cover on a tub), by stuffing a wet rag in.
Drain snakes/augers are great tools. You might be familiar with heavy-duty metal spring snakes like this one. You might be courageous and do it yourself, but I usually recommend having an experienced professional do this, especially if using a snake driven by a power drill. It can be tricky and dangerous.
An alternative to those metal drain snakes are smaller plastic zip tools like this one to clean drains. These are easy to use and work well for pulling hair clogs out of tub/shower drains and so on. They only cost about $5, buy one and keep it under the bathroom sink to use as needed.
Be safe; wear latex or nitrile gloves, safety glasses, consider a mask or face shield, try to avoid contact with all of that nasty stuff, and make sure you have plenty of ventilation.
If you have an issue with a particular drain and you’re trying to DIY, post a comment here or send me a message and I will try to help you out.
Or I can just do it for you.