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Clearing A Clogged Drain

By Jim Sulski

Summary: It's happened to all of us, and usually at the most inconvient time - your drain is clogged. Jim explains the options for fixing a clogged drain without damaging your pipes.

If your morning showers resemble more of a bath lately, you're probably suffering from a common home malady: clogged drain pipes.
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There is nothing more frustrating than a slow-moving drain. And eventually, a slow-moving drain becomes a non-moving drain.

More than a few ingredients contribute to clogged pipes.

In a kitchen sink line, residual grease from a cooking pan over a period of time adheres to the inner wall of that pipe.
As food particles pass through that pipe, they begin to build up, especially in bends in elbows - but not so much in the straight vertical runs.

In the bathroom, the clog is usually caused by an accumulation of soap fat, toothpaste, hair, etc. In addition, other things such as toothpaste caps and large pieces of food can also clog a drain.

According to the experts, the only true way to clean out a drain pipe is to literally scrape it clean with a drain snake, also known as a rod or auger. These flexible cables are inserted into a drain, where they cut and grind their way through a clog.

Sometimes a plunger can be used to remove a small clog. A plunger - or a plumber's helper - is a suction cup that fits over the top of the drain and uses pressure to remove clogs.

The problem is most people can't correctly block up all the drain holes, such as the overflow holes on a sink and tub, to get the plunger to correctly work.

To clear a pipe, drain rods are also strongly recommended over chemical cleaners.

Chemical cleaners might be okay in a regularly scheduled maintenance program, but people usually use them after the trouble has started. In most cases, chemicals won't work if it's a real stoppage.

Plus, there are certain dangers to the chemical drain openers. You can harm not only the plumbing, but you can harm yourself.

To ream out a drain pipe, you can use several types of rods: a hand-operated version; an attachment for an electric drill; and a power rod, which looks like an oversized drill with a cone on the front.

A power rod will make the job faster and easier. But hand-operated versions can also handle many clogs.

If you're going to rent a power rod, you might be better off calling a plumbing contractor, because the costs and time are going to work out the same.

Snaking out a drain is a dirty job, so you'd be wise to put on gloves and old clothing.
Next, you should bail out any standing water in the tub or sink you'll be working on.

If it's the bathtub drain that's running slowly, you can usually get to the drain pipe from a tub drum trap. It's usually a plate on the floor in the bathroom near the tub. Or there might be an access panel behind the tub. Or maybe you can access it from the basement if the trap has been inverted.

You can also simply insert the rod down the tub drain but you may have to go through some additional bends and turns.

You'll need a bucket to catch the water that's in the trap. After cleaning out the trap, insert the rod down the trap and into the drain line.

On a sink, use a pipe wrench to remove the elbow joint or S-trap or J-trap that's located under the sink and insert the rod into the drain.

Sometimes, you may get lucky and find the clog in the trap. But the clog usually is in the horizontal drain pipe that makes a run from the tub to the main drain stack that empties into the sewer line.

How far down the clog is located is anyone's guess, and it might take several attempts for the rod to come in contact with the clog.

Insert the snake into the drain as far as it will go. When it stops, it has either reached the clog or a bend in the pipe. Rotating the snake-and moving it back and forth-will help it travel through the bends and break up clogs.

Be persistent. The snake doesn't always work on the first try. In many homes, there's a venting system on the drains and lots of times the rod may go up the vent and not down the drain. So you have to play with it a bit.

The rod should move fairly easily in and out of the drain. If it doesn't, it should be withdrawn and inserted again.

The worst problem is with today's plastic pipes. If you push a rod hard enough, it can go through a pipe, which gets brittle with the change of temperature.

© by Jim Sulski. All rights reserved. February 2, 2005.

NOTE: This column is distributed by Real Estate Matters Syndicate, PO Box 366, Glencoe, Illinois, 60022. This column may not be resold, reprinted, resyndicated or redistributed without written permission from the publisher. 

2005 by Ilyce R. Glink. Distributed by Real Estate Matters Syndicate.




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