If someone asks me what is the easiest way to save money on plumbing repairs I always tell them to learn how to clear clogged drains. Clogs of one kind or another are one of the most common plumbing problems. They are so common, in fact, that some entire companies specialize in drain cleaning. Since most drains will eventually get clogged you can save a bundle by learning to fix clogged drains, including clogged tub drains, clogged kitchen drains and other clogged sink drains with no special tools and a little know how.
Clogged Tub Drains
Let’s start with something fairly simple, clogged tub drains. If your tub isn’t draining well it’s very likely the result of hair around the stopper. Plunging probably won’t help this. You will need to remove the stopper and clear the hair out.
There are two common types of tub stoppers, the “trip lever” type and the “lift and turn” or “tip toe” type. The “trip lever” ones have been in use for at least 50 years, the others are a little more recent. They both accomplish the same thing but do so very differently.
Trip Lever Drains
The “trip lever” has a lever on the overflow plate near the top of the tub. There is a linkage rod inside the overflow pipe which connects to the stopper. Some styles have the actual stopper inside the piping and other styles just use the linkage to operate the stopper in the tub.
The first thing to check is the drain in the bottom of the tub. Removing any hair or debris with a pair of needle nose pliers may solve your problem. If not you need to go a little further. Remove the overflow plate and pull the linkage and stopper out through the hole (or remove it from the drain in the tub). Remove any hair or debris that comes out with the stopper, make sure the tub drains now and put everything back together..
Lift and Turn Drains
The “lift and turn” and “tip toe” type are very similar and use a stopper that is connected at the tub drain itself. These have to be unscrewed from the tub drain to clean them out. There’s a trick to unscrewing a lift and turn type stopper. If you open it all the wat and try to uncrew it it will just turn forever. You have to barely lift it up and hold it in that position while you unscrew it. A pair of needle nose pliers is very helpful for removing the hair that is usually clogging the drain.
If your tub drains now pat yourself on the back and go to dinner and a movie with the money you just saved. If things are still clogged the next step is to auger, or snake, the drain. This is done with a small cable snake through the overflow opening. Depending on your skill or confidence level this may be a job for the pros.
Clogged Sink Drains
The first thing to try with clogged sink drains in the bathroom (technically these are called lavatories, not sinks) is a plunger. Be sure you have a sink plunger, not a toilet plunger. It should look like a rubber bowl on a stick. If your lavatory has an overflow you will need to plug it with a wet washcloth, fill the bowl and then plunge away. Be careful if you have plastic piping underneath. If the connections are not tight enough the plunging could cause them to come apart.
If plunging doesn’t work the next step is to remove the trip lever (this is connected to the little rod you pull to operate the stopper), the stopper and the p-trap to make sure they are all clear. Put a medium size bowl under the p-trap to catch the water. If you have metal traps be very careful, these traps get brittle with age. If your’s are plastic you should have no worries.
This should solve most slow drainage problems in the bathroom. If not, you are once again faced with the decision of whether or not now’s the time to call a Licensed Plumber. If you do decide to call a pro at least you know you won’t be paying them to do something you could easily do yourself.
Clogged Kitchen Drains
Clogged kitchen drains are handled pretty much the same way as bathroom sinks except if you have to plunge one side you may need to block the other side with a wet cloth. This will prevent the plunger from just pushing water from one side to the other. If the plunger doesn’t do it be very careful before you remove the trap and piping under the sink. Clogged kitchen drains can involve fairly large amounts of water. Get a big bowl this time, just barely loosen one of the connections to allow things to slowly drain and re- tighten it when the bowl is full. Repeat this process until it stops draining. Now you can safely remove the p-trap and see if it just needs cleaning out.
How To Unclog A Garbage Disposal
If you have a garbage disposal clogged it is usually also jammed and not turning. Most garbage disposals have a reset button on bottom that you can push to reset the motor. Most of then also can be manually turned with an “Allen” or hex key by inserting the key into the shaft on bottom of the disposal. After manually turning the shaft a couple of times back and forth, remove the key and try the switch.
This will usually do the job. If it is still jammed, turn off the breaker, get a flashlight and see if you can see anything inside that doesn’t belong. If you can, try to remove it with your trusty needle nose pliers.
If none of these things work, you know the drill by now. At least you gave it your best shot. When the plumbers get there be sure and tell them what you have already tried.
Whole House Clogged
Having one slow draining or stopped up fixture is bad enough. When your whole house won’t drain it is a real emergency! While you may not be equipped to fix the problem yourself, there are some things you can do save yourself some serious money if you have to call a plumber.
The first thing you need to know, if you don’t already, is whether you are connected to the public sewer system or have a septic tank. If you don’t already know this there are several ways to find out. Your water bill will usually have a sewer charge if you are connected. Ask your neighbors if they know, usually you’ll have whatever they do. Check your street for manholes, a sign of a sewer system.
Something else you should do before you have a problem is look around outside your home for a clean out This is a pipe with a plug that can be unscrewed to access your sewer pipe. Clean outs are usually close to the house and may be buried in a flower bed. If you are connected to a sewer you probably have a clean out so poke around and find it.
If you know where your clean out is and your house is stopped up you can remove the cap and, if the blockage is in the yard, you can prevent your house being flooded with sewage. Just take a big pair of channel lock pliers and SLOWLY remove the clean out plug. If the line is full it might spray out of the cap as you unscrew the last few turns.
If you get the clean out cap off and the line is full of waste water that means that the blockage is downstream of the clean out. It also relieves some of the urgency of the situation as you can now usually use your plumbing sparingly and it will drain into your yard. While not great it’s better than in your house.
You will probably need to call a plumber to correct this but now you can wait until regular hours and avoid those high after hours rates. You may have also prevented a lot of costly (and disgusting) damages. You can still pat yourself on the back but you may want to wash your hands first.
Hopefully this article has shown you that anyone can learn how to clear clogged drains without calling a plumber (at least most of the time). With most plumbers charging well over $100 per hour, this one simple skill could save you a bundle.