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Plumbing Help: Unclogging a drain

Posted by By at 24 August, at 10 : 26 AM Print

One of the common issues faced by a household is a clogged bathtub. The reason for the clog is usually the piling of body hair or unsolved fats left by the body. The other reason is that in almost all bathtubs there is a P shaped pipe section. The purpose of this pipe is to keep some water in the pipe to prevent sewer gases to come up and release into the bathroom. A bad smelling bathroom could be an uncomfortable experience for anyone.

Over time, however, the traps will sometimes get blocked with things like cooking grease or food particles (in kitchen drains) or hair and soap scum (in bathroom sinks). Slow running drains are partially blocked, and drains that don’t drain at all are obviously totally blocked.

Clearing Out a Blockage

The first step in unblocking a bathtub drain is to perform a visual inspection. If you could see a pile of hair then you can be certain it is causing the clog. In most cases you can pull out the clogging hair through a wire hanger or a pair of tweezers might work.

If you can’t see the clog to pull it out, your next step is to try plunging the drain. A plumber’s helper – plunger to some of us – didn’t get its name without good reason, and it is one of the first tools a pro would use to clear a blocked drain. Put enough water in the bathtub or sink to cover the bottom of the plunger, block the overflow outlet with a rag, put the plunger over the drain, and push down and up five or six times. The pressure should clear any clog and open up the pipe. Lift up the plunger and the water should quickly drain away. If it doesn’t, try plunging again – you might have just moved the blockage down the pipe where it got stuck again.

Note: On some bathtubs the drain stopper is attached to the overflow plate. In order to plunge the drain, you need to remove the overflow plate and the drain mechanism. The overflow plate is usually held in place by two screws, and after you remove them, you can gently remove the overflow plate and the drain mechanism at the same time.

If a plunger won’t clear a blockage, a snake” – a long flexible steel cable wound on a handle – is the next level of escalation. In a sink you just feed the snake down the drain, but on a bathtub you need to feed the snake down through the overflow plate opening. Start by feeding about 3 feet of the snake into the opening, turning it as you push it forward. You will feel some resistance as you work the snake through the trap under the drain, and the turning helps to move the head through the trap. The snake should either break up the clog by pushing its way through it, or your turning will hook the end of the snake onto the clog and you can pull it out.

Once the snake is through the trap, move the cable back and forth through the drainpipe while still turning it. You may actually feel the clog when the snake hits it. Try running some water down the drain while moving the snake in the drain. If the clog is gone, the drain will run free. You may have to repeat this process a couple of times to get the drain cleared out, since some clogs are more persistent than others.

What About Chemicals?

Most chemicals are not friendly to the environment so most professionals will refrain from using it.

Keeping Drains Clear

Clearing a blocked drain isn’t a lot of fun. It’s much better to prevent a clog from happening in the first place. Here’s some tips on how you can keep your bathtub drains free flowing.

  • Use strainers in all your drains to stop hair from going down the drain. It’s easier to clear out a strainer once a month than unblock a drain every six.
  • Don’t just drop small pieces of soap down the drain assuming they will dissolve and wash away. That’s how soap builds up in a drain.
  • Once a month, pour a kettle full of boiling water down the drain. This will melt any grease (body oil) and wash it away before it can build up. (Don’t do this in a toilet; the boiling water could crack the porcelain).
  • Every three months or so, pour a half cup of baking soda in the drain then slowly add a half cup of vinegar. Let the mixture sit in the drain for a few minutes and then rinse it away by running lots of hot water down the drain. This will not only keep your drains free running, but clean smelling as well.

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