Cleaning the trapIf a plunger won't clear the clog, you'll need to clean the trap under the sink.
- Make sure you have a bucket in place to catch waste water.
- Check to see if there is a clean-out plug in the trap; it will be a square or hexagonal plug in the base of the bend. If so, remove the plug and push a straightened coat hanger or bottle brush around the bends of the trap to remove debris.
- If the trap does not have a clean-out plug, remove the trap by loosening two couplings that hold the trap in place. If you have chrome pipe fittings, you'll need to pad the water pump pliers to protect the finish. Penetrating oil may help to loosen a stubborn trap joint.
- Hold the trap over the bucket and insert a straightened coat hanger or bottle brush into the trap. Force the hanger or bottle brush around the curves and push out debris.
- Wash the trap with hot, soapy water.
- Before reconnecting, check the trap for wear or corrosion. The metal or plastic material may begin to thin and start to leak. If you notice wear, replace the trap. When you reassemble the trap after cleaning, you many need to reseal the threads. Use pipe joint compound or Teflon tape.
Using a sewer snakeIf the trap is clear and the drain still clogs, the blockage is further into the sink's drain pipe or the main drain. To clear these drains, you'll need a plumber's auger or, as it is more commonly called, a sewer snake.
- With the trap removed, insert the snake into the sink drain line and push in until you meet the obstruction.
- When the tip of the snake is against the clog, try to hook the clog by twisting the snake's handle clockwise.
- When the debris is solidly hooked, twist and push the clog back and forth until you break up the clog. Flush the pipe with cold water.
- Once the clog is gone, reassemble the sink's trap. When you reassemble the trap after cleaning, you need to reseal the threads. Use pipe joint compound or Teflon tape. Run water for a few minutes to make sure the clog is completely flushed and the trap is not leaking where it has been reconnected.
Unclogging the main drainIf more than one sink, bathtub or toilet is clogged, you'll need to clean out the main drain line or the sewer.
- To clean out the main drain line, find the clean-out plugs located on the large drain pipes. Look for these plugs on the vertical pipes in your basement or crawl space. In some houses these drains may be located in a garage or pantry closet, or there may be access to these plugs outdoors along the foundations of your house. Usually these pipes will be vertical, but occasionally a plug may be located on a horizontal pipe.
- When you find a steel or plastic cap for the pipes with a square fitting at the top, remove the fitting with a wrench. Be sure to have a waste bucket in place when opening up the drain.
- Use a plumber's snake to break up any clogs. Make sure to insert the auger in both directions of the pipe. You can also use a powerful stream of water from your garden hose to break up any debris.
- Replace the steel cap of the drain pipe.
How can I prevent clogged drains?Okay, you've finally gotten that drain unclogged. You'd prefer never to experience the mess and inconvenience of a clogged drain again. Keeping your drains clear is probably easier than you think. With a few simple precautions, you can prevent your drains from clogging.
Tips for the kitchen sink
- Pour grease into cans and throw them in the garbage. If you empty grease into the sink, the grease collects along the sides of the pipe and then food particles stick to the pipes, eventually contributing to a clog. Also too much grease can eventually cause sewer blockages since the bacteria in sewage systems cannot readily break down grease.
- When you are grinding up food in a disposal, run plenty of cold water to flush food particles down the pipe. Using too little water can contribute to the particles collecting along the sides of the pipe.
- Don't empty coffee grounds in the sink.
- Pour a kettle of boiling water down the drain once a week to melt away any fat or grease that may have collected.
- If your drains clog often, periodically you may want to put 1/2 cup of baking soda and 1/2 cup of white vinegar down the drain. Let this mixture sit for a few minutes with the drain covered. Flush the mixture down with a kettle of boiling water. The baking soda and vinegar mixture should break down fats and keep your drains smelling fresh.
Tips for the bathroom
- Clean the pop-up stoppers in sinks frequently. Hair often collects here and causes clogs.
- Never flush heavy paper products down the drain. Excess paper can clog the toilet and/or the whole sewer system.
- Never dump chemicals like paint or paint thinner down the drain. Avoid pouring hot wax or other substances in the drains. Dumping acid into your septic tank system is against the law.
- Beware of products that claim to maintain a septic system or unclog greasy soil by enzymatically attacking grease. The general consensus is that these products are ineffective and may even be harmful. Some products may use chemicals that kill the bacteria needed to break up solid wastes.
- If you have your own home septic tank, have a professional inspect it every two to three years. Some regions require septic tank inspection on a regular basis. Check with your local health board about the rules in your community.
Source: Lowe's Home Safety Council founded by Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse. (Used with permission)
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