Blocked drains are one of the most common plumbing problems. But they are more than just a mere inconvenience. Blocked drains can lead to serious and expensive damage to plumbing, as well as unsanitary conditions and health risks and costly water damage to home structures and furnishings.
There are a number of common causes of blocked drains including a buildup of hair, a buildup of fat and oil, using too much toilet paper, flushing foreign objects (basically anything other than human waste and toilet paper), broken pipes or an infestation of roots.
Block drains don’t necessarily mean overflowing water. Signs of blocked drains include slow draining, bubbling or gurgling sounds, higher water levels in the toilet than usual and bad smells coming from the drains. Any of these could be a sign that a blockage is starting to develop. And since blocked drains rarely clear themselves, if you notice any of these signs it’s worth getting onto the problem before it gets any worse.
Before you call a plumber, it’s worth trying these simple DIY solutions to your blocked drains.
- Use a plunger
A plunger is a simple way to deal with blocked sinks, showers, bathtubs and toilets. Plungers work by using the forces of compression and suction to loosen and dislodge a blockage.
Simply form a tight seal around the drain with the head of the plunger and pump the plunger up and down. The upstroke will pull the water in the drain upwards while the downstroke will force it downwards. The movement of water combined with the shift in air pressure can help to dislodge the blockage and get the water flowing again.
There are two common types of household plungers: cup plungers and toilet plungers. Cup plungers are used for sinks, showers and bathtubs, whereas toilet plungers, as the name suggests, are designed for toilets.
- Dish detergent
Using dish detergent is another simple solution for blocked or slow draining sinks, showers or toilets. Dish detergent can help to break down the fatty and oily residue that binds together common blockages. It can also help to lubricate the pipes to allow the blockages to more easily pass through.
Simply pour a cup of detergent into the drain, followed by boiling water. You may need to use a plunger to help dislodge the blockage.
- Bent wire hanger
For minor blockages in kitchen or bathroom sinks, you may be able to dislodge or fish out the blockage with a bent wire hanger. In these sinks, the most common blockages are hair and loose debris that has been bound together by fat and soap scum.
To remove these blockages, simply straighten out a wire coat hanger and bend one end of the wire into a hook small enough to fit into the drain. Gently push this hook into the drain and manoeuvre it around in an attempt to hook the blockage. Avoid pushing the blockage further down into the drain.
- Use a drain cleaning solution
There are plenty of commercial drain cleaning solutions available. Some of these will be extremely caustic and contain harmful chemicals, so be careful. Some will also be designed for use on specific types of blockages, so be sure to read the label carefully before buying.
Many plumbers will recommend using commercial drain cleaners only once you’ve tried the other DIY methods due to the harsh chemical nature of these cleaners. It’s also worth noting that these drain cleaners are quite harmful to the environment.
Before using harsh chemical cleaners, it’s worth trying a homemade solution of baking soda, vinegar, and boiling water. Simply pour a cup of baking soda down the drain, followed by two cups of boiling water. Let it settle for a minute or two. Then add another cup of baking soda and a cup of white vinegar. Plug up the drain and leave it plugged until the fizzing and bubbling ceases. Pour another cup or two of boiling water down the drain to help flush the clog.
This is a simple and environmentally friendly way to remove minor blockages from sinks without the use of harsh chemicals.
- Clean the p-trap
If none of the above methods have worked, you may need to remove the p-trap and manually extract the blockage. The p-trap is the curved pipe that sits below the sink. It is designed to catch blockages before they get further into the plumbing system, as well as preventing gases or smells from the sewer system entering your home.
Removing and clearing the p-trap is simple and doesn’t require the help of a plumber. Simply place a bucket beneath the p-trap and unscrew the couplings that connect the pipe to the sink and to the outgoing pipes. Once the p-trap is removed, feed a length of wire through the curved pipe and clean out all the debris into the bucket. Once clean, reattach the p-trap to the sink and outgoing pipe and make sure you firmly tighten the couplings to prevent leaks.
If you’re seeing signs of slow drainage or bubbling or gurgling, it’s worth dealing with the problem rather than waiting until it inevitably gets worse. If none of the above suggestions helps, and the water levels are rising fast, then it may be time to call in an emergency plumber to take care of the situation.