Chances are at least once in your lifetime you’re going to be faced with a clogged drain. It happens. Whether it’s the shower drain, toilet, or kitchen sink, plumbing drains get clogged for one reason or another. Period.
The good news is that for most run-of-the-mill clogs, you don’t have to spend a lot of money fixing a clogged drain. The bad news is that there are a lot of solutions out there that can actually end up doing more harm than good.
The dangers of clog-clearing products. There are a lot of excellent ways to fix a clogged drain, but there are definitely a few that we, as plumbers, know you should absolutely avoid. Our #1 bad guy is probably the most well-known product on the market to clear drains. Lye-based household drain cleaners contain ingredients like bleach, sodium nitrate, aluminum and sodium chloride. When mixed with water, it creates a powerful reaction that generates heat reaching a temperature near boiling. This reaction, combined with a soap-like cleansing agent, accelerates the decomposition process to dissolve and loosen hair, grease and other clogged matter to move it through the pipes.
Sounds like the perfect storm, right? Unfortunately, this solution is dangerous for plumbing systems because of the heat it generates. The impact on your drain pipes after using products like these can result in:
• PVC pipes that soften and break
• Toilets becoming cracked
• Old pipes that have already started to corrode become damaged
• Adhesive that holds pipes together can loosen
Aside from the damage it can do to your plumbing, it’s also dangerous for you, your family and your pets. These products are caustic cleaners, meaning if it splashes up on you it can burn your skin and eyes, and it can be dangerous if it gets into your lungs. It can also interact negatively with other products, so it’s better to wait at least 24 hours before using any other cleaners.
In many cases, by the time you have a clog it may be too late to clear it up on your own. The best way to attack a clog is to take action once you start to notice that your drain is slow moving. Here are some common household and human-friendly alternatives that may help mitigate the problem:
• Most minor sink and toilet clogs can be cleared with a plunger
• A plumber’s snake or cable auger are helpful for more stubborn clogs
• The drain trap connecting to your kitchen or other sink can easily be removed to clear any clogs
• A solution of baking soda and vinegar is an earth-friendly method to freshen and clear clogged drains
Preventing Clogged Drains
The best way to reduce the chance of clogs is to treat your plumbing system with TLC (tender loving care):
1. Never, ever, flush wipes, diapers, hygiene products, prophylactics or any other objects down the toilet other than human waste and toilet paper. Find more on how to treat your toilet right in our blog, “5 Things You Should Never Flush Down the Toilet”.
2. If you have a garbage disposal, limit the amount of food to just the scrapes you’d clean from your plate. And never put bones, egg shells, avocado pits or skins, fruit with peels, or any non-food items. Learn more about proper use of a garbage disposal in our previous blog.
3. For showers, you can drastically reduce the amount of hair that goes down the drain with one of these super-economical hair catchers. Simply discard the hair in the catcher after each bath or shower.
4. If you don’t have a garbage disposal, then you’ll want to be extra careful about what kinds of things are going down the kitchen drain. There are catchers for kitchens too! And they are dishwasher safe, making them easy to clean. These are our favorite.
Never attempt to fix a severely clogged drain without the advice of a professional. Although most clogs are easy to remedy, hard to dissolve clogs may require the tools and expertise that only a plumber can fix.