Regular maintenance and minor repairs to your drains are essential to keeping them clean and clear. Doing it yourself also can save you from an expensive visit from a plumber.
Avoid a Clogged Drain
If you want your drains to flow like they should, you need to perform regular drain maintenance and cleaning. Keep drains free of items that clog them such as food, hair and soap scum. Try to clean drains regularly. Approximately once a month is good for routine maintenance.
Step 1: Keep Bath Drains Clean
Hair is the main source of clogs in shower and lavatory drains. Over time, hair and soap scum team up to form a clog that can slow your tub or sink. To prevent clogs from forming, you must stay vigilant in keeping hair from going down the drain.
Use tweezers to remove hair visible in the drain. You may need to use your fingers to get the hair out too. It's best to wear latex gloves because drains can be very dirty and slimy. Use your finger to remove the slime and soap scum from inside the drain. If you need to, use an old toothbrush to scrub away stubborn slime. Clean the drain with an abrasive cleaner and a rag or sponge and then run hot water for a couple of minutes.
When you're done cleaning the tub drain, invest in a drain screen or strainer that collects hair and keeps it from going down the drain. You'll have to clean hair out of it regularly, but it's better than dealing with a bad clog down the road.
Step 2: Clean the Kitchen Drain
Kitchen drains get clogged by grease and food particles that mix and clump together. Like all other drains, it must be cleaned regularly to avoid a clog. Periodically run hot tap water down the drain and immediately add a tablespoon of baking soda and a ¼ cup of vinegar. Let this sit for about a half hour. Run hot water through the drain again to finish the cleansing. This will reduce buildup and decrease drain odors. You can also try pouring a brine solution (salt water) down the drain afterward for a more thorough cleaning.
Use a sink strainer in your kitchen sink to catch as many food particles as possible to cut down on the chance of a clog.
Unclog a Drain
As soon as you notice that water seems to be draining more slowly than usual, it's time to clear a clog. Drain unclogging is the repair that is most often performed in drain maintenance. Don't wait for the clog to grow and cause more serious problems. There isn't one method that always works to eliminate a stubborn clog so you may want to try a combination of the following methods.
Step 1: Use a Plunger
Using a plunger is the easiest and most cost-effective way to unclog drains. A plunger should be the first thing you try, before using a harsh chemical clog remover or before taking anything apart. Plungers are particularly effective for food particle clogs in the kitchen sink. A plunger also works on soap, grease and hair clogs in a tub, though often not as well. There is a risk that you will just force the clog further down the drain making it harder to remove.
First, remove the sink stopper. In a bathroom sink or tub, plug the overflow hole with a wet rag. This prevents the air pressure generated by the plunger from dissipating out of the overflow hole instead of acting on the clog. In a kitchen sink that has a dishwasher drain attached to the sink drain, use a clamp to crimp the dishwasher drain hose closed.
Place the plunger over the drain and add water as needed to cover the rubber cup. Then pump up and down quickly to dislodge the clog. Try running hot water down the drain for approximately 10 minutes if your clog hasn't completely backed up the drain. Afterward, try using the plunger again. If the clog remains, you'll need to try a different method.
Step 2: Use a Drain-Cleaning Tool
There are a number of new drain-cleaning tools at your disposal that many people are not yet familiar with. The Zip It drain-cleaning tool is designed specifically to unclog sink and tub drains, especially ones caused by hair and soap scum. It's basically a long, flexible plastic, barbed cord that is inserted all the way into the drain and then pulled back out. The barbs pull out the hair and gunk that line the inside of the pipes.
Drain King drain openers connect to a garden hose and then are inserted into the clogged drain. The Drain King then uses focused water pressure to force the clog out of the pipe.
Step 3: Clean Sink Trap
If a plunger and other drain-cleaning tools fail, remove the trap below the sink. Usually you can loosen the slip nuts by hand, but if not, use channel-type pliers. Place a bucket under the trap to catch any spills and to hold the removed trap. Wear rubber gloves to protect your hands.
Use a bottlebrush to force any material out of the trap and clean it well with hot, soapy water. If the trap was not clogged, then it's likely that the clog is in the drainpipe and you'll need to use a snake (see step 4). In any event, always shine a light into the drainpipe to inspect for a clog. Replace the trap and then run water down the drain to see if the clog is gone.
Step 4: Use a Snake (Auger)
If you see a clog in a drainpipe, or if your sink or tub is still clogged after trying other removal methods, you may need to use a snake — also known as an auger — to clear it.
Insert the auger into the drainpipe slowly until you feel resistance. Crank the handle to get past any right-angle bends and continue to insert the auger until you feel soft resistance. Turn the handle to "screw" the snake into the clog and then withdraw it slowly. If you cannot withdraw it, just try to push the clog past whatever bend in the pipe is restricting it, hoping that it will break free and go down the drain.
Step 5: Use a Clog-Killing Chemical
This should be a last-case scenario for drain unclogging. There are many well-known drain clog-removal products available at your local local True Value hardware store. They are often the first things tried when a drain clogs but keep in mind, they are harsh chemicals and should be used and handled properly.
Read the manufacturer's directions thoroughly. Chemical clog removers can irritate skin and not all of them are safe for every type of pipe or drain in a bathtub or sink. They can damage or etch some surfaces and types of pipe. Wear gloves and safety glasses, to avoid damage to skin or eyes.
If you prefer not to use a chemical clog remover, you can mix together a homemade remedy of baking soda and vinegar. Pour ½ cup baking soda and then a ½ cup of vinegar down the drain. Let the combination sit for about three hours before running water. When running water, turn it all the way to hot and let it run for 5 to 10 minutes.
If you've tried all these approaches and you still have a persistent clog, it may be time to throw up your hands, and reach for the phone – a plumber can get the job done.
Good job! Your pipes should now be in great shape. Keep them that way by periodically following the drain maintenance steps above.
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