Sometimes as you're staring at a clogged drain or leaking pipe, you wish you had a plumber friend you could call to ask for some free advice. Then you could fix your plumbing problems without paying a dime (or at least not as much as a plumber may charge you to go out and diagnose or fix the problem). Although you might not have a plumber on speed dial, you do have Landmark Home Warranty, which has hundreds of plumbers who can help for much less than you'd normally pay! We asked Ryan Nelson, Director of Contractor Relations at Landmark and former co-owner of Nelson's Plumbing, this week about drains and what homeowners can to do clean, prevent, and get rid of clogged drain lines. Here is the plumbing advice he gave:
Don't use chemical drain cleaners
First thing first, Nelson does not recommend using any type of chemical drain cleaner on your pipes. If you have a clog, it's better to try and remove it by plunging or snaking the drain.
"Chemical drain cleaners will only damage your pipes," Nelson said.
According to ConsumerReports.org, most chemical drain cleaners are more trouble than they're worth. Some react with aluminum and give off unhealthy gas, can solidify inside the pipes and can't be removed, or mix with other household cleaners and cause the mixture to burst out of the drain. Crystal Chemical drain cleaners are extremely hazardous and can end up damaging your pipes, garbage disposal, and septic system. Liquid, foam and gel cleaners can also cause damage to pipes and usually aren't as effective taking at least 30 minutes to eat through a clog.
There are some bio-clean products Consumer Reports researched, but most of them weren't as effective at cleaning out the clog. However, they can be helpful for keeping a drain clean after clogs are removed.
So what can you do to unclog your drain? Here are a plumber's suggestions:
Bathroom Sink and Tub Drains
According to Nelson, the number one cause of bathroom sink clogs is from toothpaste and long hair. If you have a clog in your bathroom sink or tub, Nelson recommends filling the basin with hot water and then unplugging the sink's drain to (hopefully) flush the drain out to clean the drains.
If that doesn't work, you can plunge the drain, use a snake or physically remove the clog if you can reach it.
Prevent bathroom sink and tub drain clogs by:
You can make sure your bathroom drains are unclogged by running hot water after taking a shower or brushing your teeth to make sure the warm water dissolves the water-soluble materials in your toothpaste or shampoo. If you have longer hair, invest in a drain saver for your bathtub, like this TubShroom that catches longer hair and lets you throw it away, instead of taking it down the pipes where it can clump and cause clogs. When you're at your bathroom sink, don't flush hair down the drain.
There are only three things that should go down the drains: #1, #2, and toilet paper. Anything else is probably too large, won't biodegrade, and will possibly get stuck in the pipes. There's nothing worse than a backed up toilet. If plunging and snaking a toilet doesn't get rid of the clog, it may be time to call a professional.
Prevent toilet clogs by:
Make sure to only flush things that are supposed to go down a toilet, down the toilet.
And never rinse them down the sink, tub, or toilet.
If you have a clog in your kitchen drain, Nelson recommends using hot water and dish soap to loosen and eat away at the clog.
Run extremely hot water down the drain to soften the clog, following up with grease-dissolving dish soap. If the clog still hasn't come loose, use a kitchen plunger and try putting hot water and dish soap down the pipes again.
You can also try putting a foaming mixture of equal parts baking soda and vinegar down the pipes to provide a natural way to get rid of clogs and not damage the pipes.
Prevent kitchen drain clogs by:
You can prevent kitchen drain clogs by keeping grease away from the pipes. Grease may go down the pipe hot and in a liquid state but will solidify into a mass as it cools, which can cause clogs. It's better to put grease in a jar that you can throw away after it has solidified. You can also use a wire mesh filter on top of your kitchen drain to keep clog-causing food out of the drains.
If you have a garbage disposal, you should always run it with some extra water after using it to make sure food scraps are pushed down the drain line. Make sure to keep things like eggshells, stringy vegetables (like celery or carrots), and foods that expand with water out of the pipes. All of these can create clogs. If you do end up having a clog and it won't get out with hot water, dish soap, and plunging, take a look at our how to unclog a kitchen drain article.
Overall, plumbers say the best way to clean out clogged drains is by mechanical means (plunging and snaking) and some hot water. Stay away from chemical cleaners as they can damage your pipes and are hazardous to humans.
The best way to prevent clogged drains is to first not put anything down the drain that shouldn't be there — throw it away or compost it. Second, make sure to run hot water after putting anything down a drain to prevent clogs from building up and give the food, toothpaste, or soap a chance to get out of your pipes.
Of course, if none of these tips work to get rid of your drain clogs, you will have to call a professional plumber. If you have a home warranty, you're in luck. Instead of the usual prices to diagnose and repair plumbing issues, you only pay a small service call fee between $60-$100. That flat-rate service call fee covers the diagnosis and repair or replacement if the problem is caused by normal wear and tear. Learn more about what else you can have repaired or replaced in your home here. Then, get a free personalized quote for your home.