We often provide instructional What to Do blog posts (like this one on water pressure), but just as important is knowing what not to do. Plumbing mishaps can become worse, pose safety risks, and create structural problems if not addressed correctly, and one of the most important of theses is knowing what to do or not do when unclogging a drain.
Don’t be scared! This blog post doesn’t come with horror movie music. Read on to sort out problems from solutions and safely tending to a clogged drain. (discussing problems related to chemical burns and damaged pipes from using chemical cleaners and homemade tools)
Don’t Use Chemical Cleaners
“But what about those commercials that make it look like pouring chemical cleaner down the drain is a magic trick?” you might be wondering. There’s magic alright—the magic of television. In reality, such cleaners are very powerful. One of two things can happen regarding the clog: Too much or too strong a cleaner, and it will can eat up the gunk...and have your pipe for dessert. It can corrode or otherwise damage your pipe. Another potential problem is that the cleaner will only eat through some of the clog—enough to create a hole and make you think you’re all set. In fact, that little hole is a temporary fix that will close up again and possibly worsen.
Pipes aren’t the only thing that can be harmed by chemical cleaners. Anything that highly corrosive is a danger to your skin; using a cleaner puts you at risk for a chemical burn.
Don’t Use Homemade Tools
Maybe you (boo!) poured a chemical cleaner down the drain and it didn’t work, or maybe you skipped the chemical cleaner altogether (yay!). You may think another option is to shove something down the drain to force the clog to move along the pipe. You might even get ambitious and jury-rig a contraption for that purpose. Don’t do it! Your homemade tool, while well-intentioned, could break, damage the pipe, or get stuck in the pipe.
Don’t Use Professional-Grade Tools If You Lack Experience
If you ignore your drains, eventually stuff will accumulate inside the pipes, forming a clog at some point in time. Take preventative measures and do the following:
- Use a plastic 99-cent Zip It to fish out hair and gunk from all the drains in your house one every month or two.
- Pour an environmentally safe, proactive drain cleaner such as BioOne down your drains once a month. The bacteria in BioOne will eat away the plaque lining your pipes, preventing a drain clog.
Corrosion or Damage Occurred
If your pipes are old, they may corrode or collect sediment inside them. If you've tried to snake your drains or have used a power auger or hydrojetter improperly, you may have damaged the inside of your pipes or jammed stuff that was lining the insides of your pipes, causing a clog deep down in the plumbing.
If a few attempts with a plunger don’t seem to do the trick, start with a 99-cent Zip in sink drains. For stubborn drains and uncooperative toilets, you can graduate to a flexible snake. Always wear goggles and keep sanitizing cleaning supplies on hand – it can get messy. Beware of using professional grade plumbing equipment like hydrojetters and high power snakes on your own. Though they are available for purchase in many hardware stores, they require training and experience to operate and the consequences on improper use can be disastrous – personal injury and bad pipe damage are high on the list.
If you are stuck dealing with a clogged drain, you should know there are several things you can do to try to clear the drain on you're own. Try the following tricks and tips:
- Put on googles and rubber gloves to protect yourself from chemical burns if you poured chemical drain cleaner down the drain. Otherwise it can splash up and hurt (even blind) you.
- If you didn't use a chemical drain cleaner, try pouring a gallon of hot (almost boiling) water and a quarter cup of Dawn dish detergent (or any de-greasing dish detergent) down the clogged drain. The hot water and de-greasing agent may break up the clog.
- Get out your trusty plunger. Put a thin layer of petroleum jelly around the rim and plunge away.
- Try using a plumber's snake to carefully dislodge or break up the clog. Do not just jam the clog deeper into the drain or you will make it worse. Instead try to break it up and remove it.
If these steps don't work, you'll need to call a professional. Don't try using industrial equipment on your own; you will risk damaging your pipes or hurting yourself.
Quick question & answer: Is there anything I shouldn’t do when unclogging a drain?
Yes! When unclogging a drain, do not use chemical cleaners. They can corrode your pipes or only create a temporary solution that will later turn into a bigger issue. Avoid using homemade tools because they could break, damage the pipe, or get stuck in the pipe. Also, do not use professional-grade tools if you lack experience due to potential damage.