Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Don't Call the Plumber

My friend's husband is a plumber, and while I'm all for helping support my friends and their spouses by giving them work, my first priority is teaching myself and others to be self sufficient, even if it means that the plumber will get less work.
Recently we had some plumbing issues. Clogged sinks, leaking sinks and toilets, clogged drainage pipes, the works. We took care of them all on our own, saving us (and our landlord) a pretty penny. I thought I'd share some of these do-it-yourself plumbing tips, tricks, and techniques, so you'll know how to fix problems when they arise, saving yourself both the headache of waiting for a plumber to arrive, and you'll be able to keep the money in your pocket.

Do It Yourself Plumbing

Preventing Plumbing Problems
Water pipes are only so wide. When food or other items go down pipes, they often get caught in bends, accumulating mass until your water system is blocked, causing many different types of issues. One of the best ways to avoid blocked sinks and pipes is to prevent things from going down the pipes that don't belong in those pipes.

  • Don't flush wipes. Disposable baby wipes are not intended to flush down the toilet. Yes, even the ones that say "flushable". I've heard too many stories of backed up sewage systems because of flushing wipes down the toilet. Your wipes may be "meant for flushing" but that doesn't mean your toilets were made for "flushable" wipes.
  • Don't flush too much at once. If you need to use a lot of toilet paper, flush twice. Once in the middle, once at the end. Of course, using family cloth can largely prevent this issue.
  • Don't flush clothes, toys, etc. Of course, no one purposely flushes these things... but kids do sometimes. (In our old apartment building, the sewer backed up after a neighbor's kid flushed a t-shirt down the toilet.) Childproofing bathrooms might be necessary, or alternatively, close supervision of your kids.
  • Don't pour down large amounts of oil that hardens. Especially in large amounts. We're big coconut oil users in this house. Coconut oil is liquid when warm, but hard as a rock when cold. Unfortunately, that means that our pipes had a heart attack- hardening of the arteries that thickened and thickened until it prevented water from going down completely! If using coconut oil or animal fats, use lots of boiling water to wash it down, and try to wash it down only in the smallest quantities possible.
  • Use 
Taking Care of Plumbing Problems
Some things aren't preventable, and problems will arise. Not everything can be taken care of by an unskilled professional, but here are some tips that even a non professional can do, preventing the need to call a plumber.

Clearing Clogged Pipes
  • Use the "Hot Volcano" Mix. If the water in your sink or tub is going down the drain too slowly, pour in a large quantity of baking soda, followed by a large quantity of vinegar, followed immediately by a large quantity of boiling water. When the steam dissipates and it stops foaming up, your water in your sink should go down considerably faster.
  • Use Caustic Soda. If the "hot volcano" didn't do the trick, pour some caustic soda dissolved in water down your drain. Beware the fumes and be careful not to let any splash on you or anywhere else. Caustic soda is dangerous. Gloves are ideal. This should work even better than the hot volcano, though is more expensive and more dangerous, not to mention uses something that most people don't have in the house... unless you're a soap maker like myself.
  • Take Apart Your Pipes. This should only be done after steps one and two were tried, as it's hard to put it back exactly as you got it out, and you're more likely to end up with leaks because of this unles you get it exact. If your sinks are still clogged, using a screw driver and your hands and a bucket, you can unscrew the pipe that connects to the sink's drain.
    From experience in a few different sinks, there usually is a screw that you unscrew with a screwdriver from the inside of your sink, and the rest twists off with your hands from the bottom. Remember exactly where everything was, because you'll need to put it back exactly, including rubber washers, if you want to make sure it doesn't leak. Put a bucket underneath to catch the water and gook that is bound to slosh out. Clean out the pipe very well, especially making sure to take out all the junk that has accumulated in the U-bend.
    Screw back your pipes very carefully, making sure to watch out for leaks at the connections. Reposition as necessary until there is no more leaking.
  • Use a Snake. Sometimes the pipes are clogged far down, too far to take apart the pipes and clean them. In such a case, using a snake helps clear out the blockage. If you don't own a snake, borrow from a neighbor who does have one, or even use a spare metal shower hose
Other Plumbing Issues
  • Leaky drains. If your pipes leak at the connection, consider purchasing teflon tape aka Plumbers tape, which is wound around connections and makes better seals.
  • Leaky toilets. If your toilet tank is constantly filling up, it will be using lots of extra water and raise your water bill. While this isn't a perfect fix, consider shutting the input valve to your toilet in between uses, so the water isn't constantly being wasted. Next to the wall there usually is a knob jutting out, and from that, the water continues via a pipe to the toilet. By turning that to the side, you'll be preventing more water from coming into the toilet. Remember to open and shut it before and after using the toilet!
For everything else... consider calling the plumber! Not everything can be fixed on your own. (At least I don't think so!)

Have you ever fixed plumbing issues on your own? What did you fix, and how did you do it? Do you have any tips to add to my list?

Linking up to Works For Me Wednesday


  1. This is very helpful! Thank you so much for sharing! I was able to unclog and fix the leak on my kitchen sink. Good thing that we only had minor plumbing problems and that I am not disastrous at DIY repairs! Sometimes, it is also advisable to call professionals if you are unsure of the plumbing problem because you might make things worse.

    Darryl Iorio

  2. I did not know you could use vinegar, hot water and baking soda to unclog a pipe. So, according to the article, when the dissipates and it stops foaming up the sink should be unclogged. What useful and valuable knowledge. Usually if a sink is broken I will just stick a hanger as deep as I can go and try to pull up any blockage. plumber

  3. Don't ever pour Fats, Oil, or Grease (FOG) down the drain. Save empty jars (e.g. spaghetti sauce), half gallon milk cartons (staple shut after filling) or other disponable containers. Pour the grease in your disposable container, seal it, and place it in with your trash. If there is a lot of grease left in the pan, possibly because it hardened, get as much as possible, possibly using the aluminum foil that was placed in the pan, paper towels, or other disposable. Object of the game - keep FOG out of the drain. It will reduce the trips from the plumber, including the expensive sewer cleaning.

    There is a tool available at discount, dollar stores and elsewhere that is intended for single use. About 3 feet long and teethed to grab hair, etc. Put it down the drain and see what you pull up.

    If the main sewer clogs, get a two man crew for transport (weighs about 120 pounds) and rent a sewer cleaner

  4. So my drain outside flooded ive cleared some baby wipes out with a rod but cant seem to clear the blockage do you think caustic soda will work.


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