Learn how to clean out a clogged drain pipe

By Tom Phelan - ReminderNews
Featured Article - posted Wed., Apr. 17, 2013
- Contributed Photo

Recently my daughter complained that her bathtub was still draining slowly after several attempts to remedy the situation herself. Her only recourse seemed to be to take the issue to the property management company responsible for her apartment. That was a discouraging prospect, since she had taken that route before, and the problem returned.

The apartment in question is one of many in a very old brick building that was built in the 1800s. None of the walls are straight, nor are the floors level. That makes the plumbing suspect, as well. My daughter tried chemical drain cleaner, but the positive result was only temporary. I am averse to using chemical solutions, though many people swear by them, and report success. Chemical agents used in these situations are extremely caustic, and mishaps can be nasty.

Personally, I never really liked plungers either. They often aren’t the solution. And they might just move the problem from one area to another.

I always take a cautious, patient approach to clearing drains, and my own efforts have always been successful. Try this approach in your own home.

First, identify the extent of the problem. Does more than one of the drains also clog, or is it limited to only one? If the problem is not isolated to your bathroom sink or tub, you may need to find the spot further along your plumbing system where a more serious obstruction is the cause.

Take caution if chemical drain cleaner was your first course of action. Flush the drain well, before working on it, and wear eye protection and rubber gloves.

If your clogged drain includes a built-in stopper, you should first remove it, and look for any material clinging to it. Bathroom sinks typically have a unit integrated with the faucet. You will find the connection to the drain under the sink. Put a bucket or large pan under the drainpipes, and loosen the retaining collar at the end of the horizontal connecting rod. Once you pull out the rod, you should be able to pull the stopper up and out of the drain. If a tangle of hair and gunk comes out with it, chances are good that there is more inside the drain. Getting the whole drain clear is important.

Home and hardware stores can sell you a clever flexible plastic tool that will clear the matter still hiding in the pipe. I find that a foot-long length of wire hanger, with a quarter-inch foot bent at the bottom works just as well.

Reinstall the stopper by replacing the actuator rod assembly, and, with the bucket still under the plumbing, run water in the sink. If it runs freely down the drain, you are finished. If water flow is sluggish, you still have a clog.

Centering your bucket under the “P” trap in the sink, loosen the collar that holds it in place at each end. This might require adjustable pliers. There will be water and perhaps gunk inside the trap. If a mess comes out, you have found your blockage. If nothing but water comes from the trap, the blockage is apparently further along in the plumbing.

You may be approaching that point at which a call to a plumber is warranted. But with the “P” trap still off, you can insert a plumber’s snake (available at your home or hardware store) in the outbound side of the drainpipe. Working the snake’s turning handle as it goes into the plumbing might catch onto or clear the blockage. Reassembling the plumbing and running water will tell you if you were successful.

If you think you should call a plumber, trying a chemical agent first might do the job for you. Just read the directions completely, and be very cautious.

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