There’s a lot more to your plumbing than meets the eye. Because a majority of a home’s plumbing is not visible, it is often taken for granted or forgotten. When a blockage does occur, it may be hard to figure out what is causing the issue due to the lack of visibility. However, drain clogs are fairly common, and there are a few ways you can combat them before resorting to professional help.

Blockage Causes

Drains become clogged when something blocks the flow of fluid through the pipes. The blockage can be caused by buildup of substances over time or just one, large item obstructing the flow path. Some of the biggest offenders are pieces of solid food, accumulation of hair, cooking grease that solidifies in the pipes, and buildup of soap residue or mold.

Easy Fixes

The plunger. Keeping a plunger on hand is a must. It’s the best unclogging tool that homeowners have at their disposal for toilet clogs, and plungers can help with slow-running sinks as well. To plunge a sink, seal any overflow holes with a wet rag, and fill the sink with a few inches of water; this should create enough suction to facilitate the plunging and help dislodge whatever is clogging the drain.

A solution of baking soda and vinegar. Pouring about a quarter of a cup each of baking soda and vinegar into drains with less severe clogs should do the trick. If you’re clearing drains that are more stubborn, the clog might require up to a cup. Pour the baking soda into the drain first, and then add the vinegar; as soon as they combine, the mixture should start bubbling. Let the solution stand for 15 minutes—or up to 30 minutes for substantial clogs—and then run hot water down the drain.

Heating grease-clogged pipes. If you just poured some cooking grease down your kitchen drain and it’s suddenly clogged, you can probably fix the issue by heating the drain trap (the U-shaped part of the pipe under the sink). To do this, you can wrap a heating pad around it or blow warm air onto it with a hair dryer. This will help heat the metal pipe to melt the grease clogging the drain. Run hot water down the drain immediately after to flush the melted grease out of the trap and prevent it from solidifying there again.

Preventative Maintenance

Whether your drains have never been blocked or you’ve just finished unclogging a drain, it is important to protect yourself from further drain problems by taking preventative measures.

Use drain screens. Drain screens are like mini kitchen strainers, and they can be used on all your drains to prevent anything solid from going down the drain while still letting water pass through. They are inexpensive and can be especially handy for catching hair in the shower.

Avoid putting any kind of solid materials down drains. If you must put something solid down a drain, it should be decomposable. While cooking grease is liquid when poured down a drain, it can solidify and cause blockages, so do your best to dispose of it by pouring it into a small container and throwing it in the trash. Eggshells, hard or stringy fruit/vegetable skins, and coffee grounds should also be kept out of drains—even if you have a garbage disposal. Keep as much hair out of bathroom drains as you can, and supervise your children to keep them from flushing anything unsuitable down the toilet.

Minimize your usage of chemical drain cleaners. If you must resort to using a chemical drain cleaner, try to do so very infrequently because they can damage many types of pipes if used too often. These cleaners also give off toxic fumes and can burn skin and eyes. Additionally, avoid using different types of chemical cleaners at the same time; combining different chemicals can create poisonous gasses or cause an explosion. Regularly using the baking-soda-and-vinegar mixture discussed above can deliver similar results without the dangers of toxicity.

Regularly flush your drains with hot water. Get into the habit of filling your sinks with hot water and letting it run down the drain. This will help melt, detach, and flush out any residue that is building up in your pipes. Doing this just once a week can help your drains run more smoothly.

If you’ve tried all the do-it-yourself ideas in this article to no avail, it’s time to call in a professional to address your issue. For a list of reputable plumbing contractors in your area, check out our Best Pick Plumbers.

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Sources: National Kitchen & Bath Association; Popular Mechanics.

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