There are few things as frustrating, filthy and damaging as a clogged drain or toilet. Some systems seem to never have any problems; others seem to be constantly slowing or clogging and flooding things. What’s the reason for that?
The reason is actually plural – reasons. It can be:
- Something wrong with the system
- The people using the system wrongly
- Negligence in maintaining the system
Of course, it could be some combination of all three. The truth is that a modern plastic (30 years or younger) properly designed and installed drain system that is used correctly and maintained regularly should never clog … ever. Older steel, iron or clay drain systems are another story, and another article.
Something Wrong with the System
Whether it’s a toilet, kitchen sink drain, a main drain under the house or any drain – it needs to be designed and installed properly according to the Plumbing Code. Over the years, we have found so many different things wrong with drains and fixtures that it’s prohibitive to even begin to list the possibilities. Suffice to say, that if you have a drain or fixture that has reoccurring clogging problems, one of the first things to do is have an experienced, licensed service plumber clear the problem and examine the entire system – inside and out.
These days, the examination is a lot easier to do with cameras that can go into any system and record what is there. Then, your plumber can show you if there is a problem that needs correcting like a bad fitting, belly in the line, etc. If something is wrong and it’s not repaired properly, it will always give you trouble no matter how much you “baby” it.
The People Using the System Wrongly
If there isn’t anything obviously wrong with the physical fixture or system, then it is possible it’s not being used properly. Drains are designed to drain water and slurry from a garbage disposer with lots of water, before, during, and after grinding up non-leafy, non-fibrous, soft foods – nothing else. No grease, paint, chemicals of any kind, mortars or calking of any kind, etc.
Toilets, even the best quality, “large throated” toilets are not designed to take anything besides human waste, toilet paper, flushable thin wipes and that’s it. They obviously can’t take foreign objects like toys and combs, but they also can’t take things like feminine products, paper towels, food waste (like extra noodles, chili, etc.), cat litter or plant trimmings, etc.
An exception to this is we have seen that many “builder-grade” toilets won’t always stand up to basic, regular use and have to be plunged often. This is due to an inferior fixture and not the fault of the users.
Negligence Maintaining the System
Is it true that a modern, properly designed and installed system needs maintenance sometimes, even when used properly? Yes, absolutely. Main drains in a system shouldn’t need maintenance, but kitchen sinks, bathroom sinks, tubs and showers definitely need periodic maintenance. The frequency depends on who is using the systems and how they live.
There is really no getting around the fact that bathroom sinks, tubs and showers need their drains kept clear of hair that will accumulate from normal use. A family with four teenage girls will need it more often than a senior couple, but still is needed. Experience will tell you how often. It’s usually not necessary to cable, snake or jet these drains, just a regular use of a commercial grade sodium hydroxide drain cleaner – (not Drano), will do a good job dissolving hair and soap scum. If misused, this chemical can be dangerous, so be careful to follow instructions and use gloves and face shields.
Kitchen sinks also need some maintenance due to grease build-up. The type of food that is cooked and eaten in the home will make the difference in the frequency of cleaning. The maintenance that is best for this is usually a small Jetter, used by a professional who won’t end up flooding everything.
If any of your drains do need cleaning, snaking, or jetting, there should be an accessible clean-out available at the top or bottom of any drain to make it easy to service. If the installer cut corners and didn’t put in clean-outs where they belong, it’s worth the investment to have your service plumber install them properly to limit the intrusion and expense of maintenance in the future.
Toilets and drains; everybody has them. Poor construction, misuse and neglect of these systems keeps us very busy. We’re here to help you if and when you need us, but if you, your family or your tenants are reminded of these “basics”, hopefully it won’t be quite as often.
Bruce Davis, Sr. is President of Day & Nite Plumbing & Heating, Inc., a 61-year old family-owned and operated plumbing and heating business in Lynwood, Washington. Visit their website at dayandnite.net.