Handling Plumbing Problems Yourself- Do's and Don'ts

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Let me tell you- having no working sink is absolutely no fun. Not one bit.

From Thursday evening until late Sunday night, we didn't have a usable kitchen sink in our house. (We ended up using disposables for the duration as much as we could. Any dishes that had to be washed ended up sitting in the sink until they were scooped out into a bucket which was then dumped down the toilet.) 
The drain had been sluggish for a long time, and Mike tried doing some things to get it "less sluggish" just a drop before that, but it didn't seem to have any effect. It was draining slower and slower, until it decided to completely stop up. 
Nothing going down.

Now- why not just call our landlord to fix it?

Because where I live, if something in an apartment breaks through routine use/faulty equipment/weather, it is the landlord's responsibility to fix it, but if it is broken because of the fault of the tenants, it is the tenant's responsibility to fix it. And clogged drains... well, they usually are the fault of the tenant. (Alright- its exacerbated by the fact that this apartment, though new, was built very poorly, and the drainage system is horrible.)

So anyhow, Mike was annoyed at me that the sink was draining really slowly, since it kind of was my fault, since when I was cleaning up, I put away the sink strainer and then lost it, so lots of small pieces of food were going down the drain, which certainly contributed to the clog, but I'm not sure if it was the sole cause of the clog.

Thinking that the clog might be right underneath the sink, and not wanting to have to take apart the pipes to deal with it, since that would mean taking out all the pots that were being stored under the sink, I tried dealing with the problem from above, by poking a wooden skewer down the drain multiple times in an attempt to dislodge whatever might be blocking it. And the water went down a little- so I thought it was working, so I did it multiple times.
Bad idea.
Our sink pipes were made of a thin, accordion folded plastic, and the skewers poked holes in the pipe multiple times... the water was going down in the sink simply because it was coming out of the holes in the pipe and onto the pots in the cabinet below.
Big fail there. Lesson learned- don't stick pokey things into a pipe made of thin-ish plastic.
So, of course, I had to go buy new pipes to go under...
And the pipes that I ended up buying were the wrong size, so that didn't help much...

And we still didn't have working pipes.

We tried sticking our plumber's snake down the pipe, but, unfortunately, the snake simply wouldn't go down- it was stuffed up really, really hard.

The way our pipes were installed, there is a pipe that goes down from our kitchen sink, and connects with another drain in our bathroom, and from there the pipe goes under the floor to another drain in the bathroom, and from there it leaves our house.

So I decided to try to stick our snake through pipe from the drain in the bathroom, in the direction of the kitchen pipe, to see if I could dislodge the clog from that direction. A lot of nasty gook came out (congealed fat) but it wasn't long enough to reach the clogged area in the kitchen pipe...

Mike then bought new pipes, this time from thick firm plastic, these with a trap to catch anything that might clog the pipes, and installed these instead of the accordion folding pipes that we had previously, and once those were installed, he poured boiling water down the drain, to try to melt the congealed fat a little bit. Once that sat for a little bit, he tried using the snake again- this time he was able to get it in a drop, then he used a plunger (a brand new one- don't worry- not from the toilet) repeatedly pumping as much air as he could down the pipe to try to dislodge the clog.
Meanwhile, I was trying to clean out the pipes from the direction of the bathroom, and suddenly I saw water start coming from the direction of the kitchen into the bathroom drain. At least there as progress there! I told Mike to keep using the plunger, and he did, and I kept on seeing more and more water coming down, with little pieces in it...
However, the water started flooding out of the bathroom drain, since the water was coming at too fast of a rate for the water to proceed in the narrow pipe going from one bathroom drain to another. I stuck the snake down that pipe and managed to widen it a bit, but not much- the bathroom was still being flooded by the bathroom sink water, and the snake wasn't allowing me to clear the pipes enough. 
Mike was joking that our pipes were lined with cholesterol, and they had a heart attack, and we were giving our pipes a stent.

I tried to think whether something firmer would manage to clean the pipes out more- and decided to try a wire hanger. I untwisted the hanger, and bent the wire into a sort of spiral shape and tried pushing it into the pipe. It barely went in, but when I pulled it out, it came out with a big chunk of congealed gook, so I did it again and again and again, until I managed to clear out the entire length of pipe- pulling out pieces that were clogging the pipes- some as large as 1.5 inches by 4 inches, which I chucked out. I then did this in the pipe leading from the bathroom drain to the kitchen one, and pulled out a lot of nastiness in that direction as well.

Once I pulled out as much of the stuff clogging the pipe as possible with the hanger, Mike poured more boiling water down the drains, as well as bleach, to melt and get rid of whatever else could be eliminated...

And finally, finally, finally... after a few days of not having a working sink- it is working again!

I am so glad that Mike figured out how to get out that super stubborn clog, a clog so stubborn that even a snake didn't work at first.
And I'm proud of myself for figuring out how to remove the clog with a wire hanger.

And I'm really glad we both managed to work together to figure this out (90% of the labor and hard work was Mike's doing, I'll be honest) so that we didn't have to pay for a plumber.

And hopefully, with our new kitchen pipes with a trap, we won't be clogging our drains as frequently as before.

Have you ever had a clog that was so bad that all the standard methods weren't working to eliminate it? What do you do?
Do you generally try to fix these types of problems yourself or do you call a plumber?

Penniless Parenting

Mommy, wife, writer, baker, chef, crafter, sewer, teacher, babysitter, cleaning lady, penny pincher, frugal gal


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  1. Sometimes it's worth it to hire a professional!

    1. Oh- trust me- I strongly considered it. But first we asked our plumber friend some advice, and he pretty much said that he'd do the same thing that we were doing, so we figured we'd give it another go, and then we got it fixed.

  2. Good job! I'm not sure I could handle so much ickiness. Whenever our sink starts slowing down I start with the toilet plunger (sounds gross, but it's used exclusively for sinks in our place because our toilet can't be plunged) and finish off with a little baking soda and vinegar.

  3. I typed a long response that seems to have gone missing!! The short of it, well done!!! you did a great job :)

  4. Plumbing is a very tedious, and sometimes gross, task. It takes a lot of patience and work. Many people don't realize that until they actually run into a plumbing issue in their own home. I really think that faulty pipes are the most frustrating things to deal with. I really liked your solution to just replace them. http://www.pipeworksinc.org/Plumbing-Services-Bloomington-IL.html

  5. I have sometimes used a wet/dry vac to unclog a drain. It can suck up stuff that is pretty far down. Of course, then you have to clean that stuff out of the vac....

  6. I talked to this post as I read it. You probably didn't hear me. My husband does our plumbing, with much cursing and gnashing of teeth. (I used to lose bits of food down the drain too.) He always says don't use bleach, don't use lye (especially lye!), stick to the snake and the plunger and the boiling water, like you did. The wire was brilliant, by the way.

    (A weekly cup of baking soda followed by enough vinegar to make the baking soda fizz away, followed by a big kettle of boiling water works as a preventative.)

    All that said, it's probably not your fault. He's seen lots of kitchen drains that are just badly put together or use junky materials. That accordion folded thing? Awful. It's a miracle it didn't back up earlier. Husband made plumbing curses on your behalf.

    1. That is an interesting idea for preventive maintenance. When it comes to treating a clogged up drain, the Web is full of articles and videos. The most interesting one that I have found involves dismantling the drain pipes not extensively, and using an industrial quality vacuum cleaner to remove the clog material.
      Crystal Drano also does an excellent job; it contains lye but also other ingredients.

  7. Why didn't you use a chemical drain cleaner, like Drano?

  8. Great Job! Your perseverance paid off! Somewhere recently here in USA, I saw a sign saying not to put any kind of fats, liquid or solid down your drain. I try to put mine in old cans or other containers that are going to be thrown out anyway. Saves a lot of sweat later on...

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