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How to Clear a Drain Clog

Let’s face it: clogged drains are a fact of life. Nearly everyone has dealt with the revulsion and frustration that comes with a stopped-up shower or bathtub. More than mere inconveniences, such clogged drains may actually represent a very real health risk. Standing water is one of the most active breeding grounds for mold, mildew and fungus, and pathogens like these can easily compromise your immune system. No wonder so many homeowners come online in search of swift and decisive action to take against clogged drains. The results often surprise them.

An entire cottage industry has sprung up around iconic brands like Drano to convince homeowners that a chemical solution is best. Ask any plumber, however, and you will most likely hear just the opposite – caustic chemicals like these can be slow, harmful to the air and destructive to your pipes. Because they are designed as free-roaming solvents, it’s not unusual for chemical drain compounds to release harmful byproducts into oceans and streams as well. Thankfully, simple mechanical solutions are usually all you need to rid your home of a stubborn clog for good.

If the clog is close to the mouth of the drain, you may be able to remove it by hand. Many homeowners assume a stubborn clog must have taken root deep in the bowels of their plumbing systems, but often a bright flashlight and a screwdriver are all you need to get at the problem. Needle nose pliers or a coat hanger can remove the clog from there, giving you ready access to examine it more closely. If hair, soap or anything else is at fault, consider changing your protective screens more often. In the case of cooking grease, you may want to run the garbage disposal a little longer in the future.

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If the clog is too far or too stubborn to remove by hand, a good plunger is the next step. Plungers work precisely the way they sound – by “pulling” clogs free using powerful suction. If your plunging creates squeaking noises or an imperfect seal, add more water to the basin before you resume. Any air that makes its way into the bell of the plunger will render it useless. Try a few hard thrusts and see if the water begins to drain – often you don’t need to produce the clog, as sending it downstream has the same effect.

If the plunger fails as well, it’s time to break out the heavy artillery: a plumber’s snake. The snake is a steel cable that can be threaded, turned and otherwise manipulated deep into the pipe to get at the clog itself. You may need to remove the overflow plate to get this kind of access to the pipes, but the good news is that you can expect a quick job from there. Depending on the shape and stiffness of the snake, you should be able to break up the obstruction and send it downstream by feel alone.

Although the snake works nearly all the time, you may find some clogs that resist even the most concerted efforts at manual repair. These are the rare cases where you may need to call a plumbing professional. Beware, however: anytime you hire contractors to go into the walls of your home, you are in for a lengthy and expensive process that may require additional visits to resolve. An experienced plumber may be able to solve the problem using a heavier gauge snake, but it’s wise to plan ahead and get an estimate should more aggressive tactics be required.

Of course the easiest way to deal with clogged drains is to simply avoid them in the first place. Fine screens, water softeners and common sense can often help you greatly reduce the incidence of major clogs. A growing number of homeowners even use boiling water, baking soda and vinegar once a month to dissolve soap scum, grease and other tenacious compounds. If you notice your water flow slowing, try preventive measures such as these before you have to resort to emergency measures. Often with regular maintenance and careful habits, you can keep your drains and pipes in pristine condition for years at a stretch.


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