Homeowner’s Manual: Drain Systems and Plumbing Care (Updated for 2021!)
Clogged Drainage Lines
When wastewater gurgles and seeps slowly away from sink, lavatory, bathtub, shower or toilet bowl, there is probably foreign material in the waste line slowing the flow of water. Most of the time, clogged lines may be opened by using a “plumber’s friend,” or water plunger.
Sink & Tub Drains
Usually the problem is hair and soap curds caught in the stopper. Check first to be sure all of the other drains in the house are working. If a regular rubber stopper is used, the hair is properly hanging on the screen in the drain pipe just below the stopper. Take the screen out and clean it. Next use a plunger which applies first pressure and than suction to the plugged drain. To provide suction and pressure, smear a good layer of petroleum jelly on the edge of the rubber plunger. Then plug the overflow with a wet rag so air will not short circuit through the overflow pipe. Pump the plunger to loosen the stoppage. If this loosens the plug, rinse the drain with hot soapy water. If the screen can’t be removed and the plunger does not seem to help, try removing the hair and trash. Take a piece of wire (a regular hair pin, or thin coat hanger), put a very short bend on one end maybe ¼” or less. If the piece of wire is very short, bend the other end so you can hold onto the wire and turn it without dropping it. Work the hair back out of the drain. This may take practice until it is all out. After all of the hair has been removed, flush several cups of hot water down the drain. This should allow the bowl to empty.
Ordinary detergent added to a drain on a regular basis will help to keep it clear of the grease from soap and cooking utensils. Run hot water through the drain, turn off the water, add 3 tablespoons of detergent and follow it with enough hot water to wash it down the drain opening. Let it stand 15 minutes and run more hot water. To avoid clogging drains or toilets never pour grease into them.
To ensure that toilets or waste lines do not become clogged, never dispose of hair, grease, fish scales, lint, diapers, sanitary napkins, trash or any solid matter in your plumbing system. Back-ups in toilets can sometimes be alleviated by removing the sewer clean-out cap from the sewer clean-out located outside. This will allow the overflow to back up outside, rather than in the house. (Of course, the source of the backup must be discovered and the problem corrected.)
First, try a plunger. A plunger for the toilet is different than one for a lavatory, although there is a type which can be used for both. If this does not clear the stoppage use a plumber’s snake made for a toilet. This differs from a lavatory snake because it has a section of tubing which can be pushed into the liquid in the toilet Should you have a stoppage that needs the assistance of a “Roto-Rooter” type service, beware that the device can cut its way through and damage the PVC drainpipe under your property.
If the plunger or the snake does not remove the stoppage or if you are unsure on how to operate this equipment: STOP! Call a licensed plumber to provide further evaluation and corrections as necessary.
Plumbing Fixture Care: Do’s and Don’ts!
- Let food waste stand in the sink. If you have a garbage disposal, dispose of food waste as it accumulates. If you don’t have a disposal, put the waste in an appropriate container.
- Step in a tub with shoes on. Soles carry gritty particles that will scratch the tub’s surface.
- Put cleaning or chemical solutions on a bathtub or shower surface unless it is specifically stated as acceptable in the product’s instructions. Stains on your bathtub, tile or shower grout can be nearly impossible to remove.
- Leave wet metal utensils on the surface of the sink, as this will cause rust stains. Steel-wool soap pads will rust and stain when wet, and should be kept in an appropriate container. To remove rust stains use a commercial powered rust-remover and follow the manufacturer’s directions carefully.
- Pour grease down kitchen drains; poor liquid grease from cooking into empty tin cans and set in refrigerator until solidified; put can into tightly closed plastic bag, wrap in newspapers, and put into trash bag.
- Eliminate food stains on white sinks by using a mild solution of chlorine bleach and rinse well. For stubborn stains wait 5 minutes before rinsing.
- Remove scum of grease and soap made insoluble by hard water minerals, by cleaning the fixture with a solution of 1 tablespoon Calgon in 1 gallon of warm water. A solution of vinegar and water is milder, and is also effective if the buildup is not too great. These solutions also work well on shower doors and shower door tracks.
- Clean porcelain fixtures and marbled vanity tops with non-abrasive cleaners.
- Clean glass shower stalls with ordinary dish-washing detergent unless hard water minerals have built up. For these use a commercial glass cleaner.
- Remove the old caulking around your bathtub or sink if it should dry out or crack and replace it. If you don’t have a caulking gun, caulking material can be bought in applicator tubes or in disposable guns.
- Flush kitchen sink drains daily with scalding water. For grease buildup, dissolve 1 pound washing soda in 3 gallons of boiling water and pour down the drain. To avoid burns from boiling water, hold water container close to drain and pour slowly and directly into drain. For heavy grease buildup, use a commercial drain opener.
- Periodic use of a drain cleaner will prevent accumulations in the pipe. Be sure to read and follow directions on the container. Do not have your head over the drain when you pour the cleaner into the drain. The violent reaction of the cleaner in water can blow up in your face.
- In sinks or tubs where hair is washed, use a plastic or metal “hair catcher” or screen to catch hair before it gets into the drain.
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