When you get right down to it, having a backed-up sink is a good problem to have: It means you’re enjoying the luxury of indoor plumbing. But that might be a small consolation when disaster strikes and you’re faced with calling a plumber for expensive (and urgent) attention.
While there’s no guarantee against drain problems, some of the plumbers we’ve spoken with have some tips for avoiding costly repairs. Here’s how to keep everything but your wallet going down the drain.
1. NEVER POUR GREASE INTO THE SINK.
Professionals say that kitchen sinks are typically where most clogs are found in the home. People tend to pour the fat run-off from cooking down the drain without realizing that the lard will almost certainly stick around, hardening and narrowing pipes. Dispose of your grease in the garbage.
2. BE SKEPTICAL OF THOSE “FLUSHABLE” WIPES.
No one likes a ripe bottom, and so the market for pre-moistened wipes has grown over the past decade. But recently, news outlets like The Guardian have highlighted concern from municipalities that have experienced sewage back-ups and residential contamination from what they allege are wipes that don’t break down in the septic system. While manufacturers for the wipes contend that other items (baby wipes and paper towels) and poorly-labeled brands are at fault, it’s probably best to stick to toilet paper unless you’re certain a flushable wipe is meeting industry standards for breaking down in water.
3. DON’T HANG THINGS FROM EXPOSED PIPES.
This is a problem most often found in basements, where plumbers are surprised to see homeowners hanging wet or pressed clothes from the exposed plumbing. These pipes are not meant to support weight, and you’d be surprised at how heavy a few pants or shirts can get, especially when wet. The strain can cause the pipes to burst. Don’t use them as clothing racks.
4. AVOID DROP-IN BOWL CLEANER.
While cleaning your toilet bowl the old-fashioned way is no one’s idea of a party, using the drop-in style cleaners in the tank or bowl can be problematic. The corrosive chemicals constantly leaching into the water can damage pipes and even prompted some toilet manufacturers to void the warranty for using them.
5. USE STAINLESS WASHER HOSES.
Some washing machines are installed with black rubber hoses that have been known to burst. To avoid a tsunami of water—up to five gallons a minute—from flooding your laundry area, use stainless braided hoses.
6. DON’T ABUSE YOUR DISPOSAL.
While certainly dangerous and ravenous for food debris, garbage disposals are not designed to eat everything. Bigger chunks of food should go into the garbage; never try to choke it with a ton of waste, either. Try slowly scraping plates to avoid a clog.
AND IF ALL ELSE FAILS…
Before you call a professional, try plunging the drain using a conventional (and hopefully clean) manual plunger. The suction might loosen a clog and allow it to drain. For shower drains, you can try a plastic stick with “teeth”—usually just a few dollars at hardware stores—that you can snake into the pipe to try and remove hair. And if water is gushing from anywhere, hopefully you’ve made sure everyone in your home knows where the main water shut-off valve is. Usually, it’s next to the water line. Find it before you need it.
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