Freeing Up Drains

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Clogged and slow-running drains are a common nuisance that most of us would rather not deal with. Having said that, there are steps you can take to keep your drains “tuned-up” and to keep them running freely. Additionally, if your drain has clogged to the point of no return, there are safe alternatives to the traditional liquid drain cleaning products that are caustic and not so great for our environment.

One of our dad’s favorite clichés was: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Dad was right – especially where plumbing is concerned. One of the best ways to prevent a slow drain is to use discretion. Watch your “goesintos” – that is, be careful about what goes into the drain. Cooking grease, coffee grounds, hair and soap scum are four of a drain’s worst enemies.

Cooking grease should be saved in an old coffee can or cardboard milk container. Coffee grounds are a welcome addition to a mulch pile, and most hair and soap scum can be caught with a screen or grate that covers the drain’s opening.

Other methods to keep your drain running freely and fresh smelling include:

• Run hot water for a few moments after each use

• Throwing a handful of baking soda into the drain, followed by hot water

• Pour a cup of vinegar into the drain and chase it with very hot water after the vinegar has been allowed to stand for about a half hour.

It helps to know a little about drain anatomy. The “P” trap is that strangely shaped system of pipes, which reside beneath the sink. There is a p-trap beneath or within every plumbing fixture in your home whether you can see it or not (sinks, toilet, tub, shower, etc.). This nifty little device acts as a water door, preventing unpleasant sewer gases from backing up into the home. By virtue of its shape, it also happens to be the location where most drainage clogs occur.

Before you tear apart your p-trap to make an inspection and give it a cleaning, there a few simple remedies you can attempt first:

• Pour one-half cup of salt, one-half cup of baking soda and one-half cup of vinegar into the drain. Add the vinegar last or it won’t work. Follow this concoction with at least two quarts of boiling water.

• If that doesn’t do the trick, try a plunger. Place the plunger over the mouth of the drain and rapidly pump it up and down a dozen times or so, abruptly lifting it up and out of the water on the last stroke. If the water rushes out you’ve unclogged the drain.

• If that doesn’t work, try something a bit more forceful. Use an expansion plug. An expansion plug (EP) is a flexible rubber nozzle that attaches to a garden hose. Insert the EP nozzle into the drain and turn on the water. The rubber nozzle will expand causing a tight fit in the drain while concentrated water pressure attempts to dislodge the clog.

If all else fails it’s time to revisit the p-trap. You’ll need a small plastic bucket, a rag, a large pair of pliers or channel locks and a portable light. Before beginning, it helps to remove all of the junk under the sink so that you have ample room to work. Then:

• Position the plastic bucket directly under the trap. Using the pliers, remove the two coupling nuts, which attach the trap to the sink and to the wall.

• Once removed, inspect and clean the interior of the trap with a straightened wire coat hanger or large nylon bottle brush.

• Finally, reassemble the trap, being certain that the washers aren’t twisted while tightening the coupling nuts hand-tight. If the drain leaks it will usually be a coupling nut. Use a wrench or large pliers to “ever so slightly” tighten the coupling nut that leaks.

If the trap is found to be reasonably clean and does not seem to be the cause of the clog, try using a small retractable drain snake. When the trap has been removed it is easy to snake the drain line via the outlet in the wall where you can easily access the drainage system. Work the snake in and out while rotating the handle clockwise. It also is wise to snake the vent pipe on the roof while the snake is out of the toolbox. A clogged roof vent can cause a slow drain.

If you’ve tried everything and remain unsuccessful, the next tool you’ll need will be the telephone. Use it to call a plumber or sewer and drain specialist who will have the tools and expertise to get things flowing freely.

Note: If all of the drains in your home are running slowly, chances are the problem is located within the main sewer line. In this case you’ll want to go right to a professional.

And that’s all there is to it! For more home improvement tips and information, visit our web site at www.onthehouse.com or call our listener hot line 24/7 at 1-800-737-2474 (ext 59).

TIP

Aerators: Go with the Flow

Got a faucet that blasts out a huge stream of water? If it doesn’t have an aerator tip, you’re wasting money. Aerators are a simple and inexpensive way to save money on your water bill. These little devices screw onto the business end of your faucet. They save you money by mixing air with the water, creating a flow that is still forceful, but that uses far fewer gallons per minute. How much difference does it make? When washing hands or doing dishes or anything else other than filling something up, with an aerator you’ll use 50 percent less water. Not a bad savings for something that costs only a couple of bucks. So check your kitchen sink, bathroom lavatories, laundry tubs and bar sinks. If they don’t have aerators, put them on. You’ll save dough by cutting the flow. And that’s the On The House tip. For more tips, visit our Web site at Onthehouse.com.

QA

Cleaning A Tub Stopper

Question - The stopper for my tub keeps getting plugged and it slows the drain. It’s one of those that has the little screw on knob on the top that you grab and pull up and turn to make it stay. I can’t figure out how it comes off or out. I’ve just been able to reach through the sides with a hanger and pull out the hair that is plugging it. We have lots of girls with long hair.

Donovan

Answer - Just as there are many styles of faucets, there are several styles of tub stoppers. Unfortunately, you have the style that doesn’t prevent hair from clogging the drain. Although the style of stopper that you have can be removed from time to time for cleaning, we suggest that you consider replacing your current stopper with a “plunge” style stopper that will stop the drain in the waste and overflow piping and not at the tub level. A lever at the overflow plate operates the stopper. This style of stopper allows you to have a perforated grate at the tub drain that will collect hair after each use. When it comes to replacing the stopper, the best tool is your telephone. Use it to call in a qualified plumber.

If you’re set on regularly cleaning your existing stopper, you can do it, but the task can be daunting. The “finger knob” at the top of the stopper can be unscrewed from the stopper base. This will expose a screw head that holds the stopper to the shaft that is anchored to the drain. Removing the finger knob can be tough – you may need to a pair of pliers to loosen it. Protect the finish by placing a cloth between the pliers and the stopper. With the stopper out of the way, you will have direct access to the drain.

While we don’t promote the frequent use of chemical drain cleaners, this may be your best alternative.

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