Tag Archives: toilets

How to Clear a Clogged Drain Without Chemicals

September 13, 2011

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Those magical drain chemicals lauded on television aren’t all they are cracked up to be. When I got my first clog here at the old homestead, I used drain cleaners. Clogs in old plumbing can be pretty intense, and the clogs were never relieved after waiting only a few minutes, as per the chemical’s instructions. Instructions notwithstanding, I did it again and waited longer. Bah. Didn’t really work.
Hanging drainpipe
I didn’t know the damage that the chemicals could do until one day the husband went to look at a pipe under the sink. When he touched the chrome “S” trap, it fell to pieces in his hands. :-O The drain chemicals had eaten through the pipe.

I never use chemicals anymore. Folks with septic systems should never use chemicals, as the chemicals will disrupt the septic tank processes and perhaps harm the environment.

I’ve had very good success with my own physical techniques. Sure, they are messy and some of them are not for folks with weak stomachs… but my plumbing is intact. And I have a very weak stomach when it comes to plumber’s bills.

Baking Soda and Vinegar
I usually use this technique for the kitchen sink downstairs. I dump a healthy serving of baking soda down the drain. I then add a cup or two of vinegar. The base of the baking soda combined with the acid of the vinegar produce a chemical reaction– bubbling and mildly explosive. I press my hand over the drain to force the chemical reaction down the drain. For mild clogs, this often works.

The Manual Method
Believe it or not, many times I can unclog a bathroom sink by fishing around inside the drain. I have an old rat-tail comb that I reserve for this purpose. Bathroom sinks are more prone to get clogged with hair, floss, and soap scum. I stick the comb into the drain and fish the debris out. Then, I flush the drain with very hot water.

The Plunger
Not just for sluggish toilets, the toilet plunger works perfectly for the bathtub drain. Run a little bit of water into the tub to create a small pool of water. Place the plunger over the drain and chug down a few times. If the plunger wheezes and air sputters out, there is not enough water in the tub to create an air-tight pressure. I fill the tub a bit more and repeat the process. I’ve been doing this for a few years and it always fixes the clogged drain.

The snake.

The Auger
Also called the “snake,” I break out the plumber augers for the big dogs. There are several different kind of augers, and you should really use a certain one for a certain job. There’s the basic snake, a mere cable of just a few feet. This is good for small bathroom sinks. Then there’s the large auger, with a hefty metal or plastic bowl-shaped housing. I use this for big jobs like waste line cleanouts or big clogs in the bathtub drain.

The manual auger.

Finally, there’s the closet auger, which looks like a stiff whip. It’s a long pole with a handle. You insert the end of the pole into the toilet bowl. The end of the pole has a plastic end to protect the porcelain from scratches from the metal cable. I once had a serious toilet clog when one of the kids accidentally flushed a washcloth down the toilet. Back then, I didn’t know what to do except call my local plumber. He showed up with the closet auger, stirred things around for about 5 minutes, and charged me $100 for the visit. While some plumbers would have charged more, it was a hefty fine for a wayward washcloth.

Here’s a great video I found on how to use a closet auger.

An Ounce of Prevention…
As always, an ounce of prevention is worth that proverbial pound of cure. Old timers claim that one sure-fire way to prevent clogs is to dump scalding hot vinegar down the drains once a month. That sounds like it would work– the vinegar and hot water would clear any residual grease and soap scum, yep. But I have half a dozen drains…. I’d have to gallivant throughout the house doing this every week?!

My own preventative measures include the following:

  • Always pick up stray hair after combing your hair.
  • Never NEVER never dump grease down the drain.
  • Never dump paint or other congealing liquids down the drains.
  • NEVER NEVER NEVER dump food or bones down the drains.
  • Be vigilant about what goes down the toilets. No paper towels, baby wipes, etc.

A monthly treatment of vinegar and baking soda helps, too.

Who knew plumbing could be SO interesting! Thanks for reading. šŸ™‚ Hope this helps!

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Totally Drained

July 20, 2010


Yeah, literally.

I helped The Hubs install PEX plumbing yesterday.

Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. Plumbing is exhausting work. That’s why I’ve avoided up to now. But he needed a helper, and the kids were busy… I was glad to help, but I’d rather be doing electric, or painting walls. Plumbing makes me wimper like a little kid.


Loops of PEX in the wall.

Plumbing is scary to me. Water wreaks devastation and damage to all the good things I’ve done in the walls. I like to be far, far away when the plumbing is going on. To hear The Hubs groan and exclaim “Ohhhh NO!” sends my blood pressure up through the roof.

See those PEX lines? They extracted a lot of blood, sweat, and tears to get up there…


Construction materials are so colorful! But what is it with primary colors? How about some purple and green, eh?


PEX is a newer product in the United States. It’s very easy to install. In NEW HOMES. My 155-year old house put up a big stink. We first had to remove the old lead-soldered copper lines from the existing areas (and turn off the water supply at the same time, btw) to run the new PEX through the same holes. We had to do it this way because we didn’t want to hack into the support joists anymore than necessary (like the previous owners had done, see below).


BAD BAD plumber. That entire joist is without support! And for what?! A couple inches of PVC! Bad...

Well, the old holes were, in some cases, too small for the PEX to pass through; so we had to make a few holes, anyway. :S We got the upstairs bathroom connected, but the water supply hasn’t been turned back on yet (we’ve haven’t had showers since Saturday, ehe). We’re hoping we can finish the job tonight. I’m hoping there are NO LEAKS. This plumbing system runs right over my new kitchen.

Yes, plumbing makes me a little anxious….

About PEX: it’s been in use in Europe for over 40 years now. It’s a rigid, tough polyethylene plastic material. You connect the ends with crimps or clamps. The nice thing about the PEX system is that the ONLY joints are at the manifold box in the basement (near the water supply) and at the actual fixture (such as, at the sink’s shut off valve). It also has better insulating qualities than copper (which bursts when water freezes). Best of all, PEX is a lot less expensive than copper, and requires no blow torch to install!


Blue PEX for cold supply. How sweet.


Our manifold. We still have to connect it to the water supply and hot water tank. Scary stuff, I think.

We decided to leave the drains as they are. Everything is *technically* vented except the kitchen sink and washing machine (drains we have to re-do, anyway). Well, the upstairs bathroom sink needs a little drain work, though. Apparently, the previous owners didn’t bother to actually CONNECT the pipes together! Sewer gases belch out from this open pipe area. Not a pleasant smell when it’s been 90+ degrees for over a week. Mmmmmmm.

Hanging drainpipe


I can’t wait to install our new 1.6 gallon toilet (let me rephrase that– to HAVE it installed). We have one downstairs, and when that sucker flushes, IT FLUSHES. I swear I feel my hair move with the downdraft. Yeehaw! No more holding the flush valve and praying that the contents go down! I’m really looking forward to that. Yeah, plumbing can be exciting sometimes. LOL

ANYWAY. Once we have surmounted the plumbing hurdle, I can finally start installing the sheetrock. Maybe by Thursday I can start. Here’s hoping I get a shower before then….

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Preparing For the Renovation

May 4, 2010


It’s crunch time.

I haven’t posted since Friday, but it hasn’t been because I’m slacking! Things are really starting to take shape. I’m assembling materials, earning money to pay for all the materials (so far, I’ve incurred NO DEBT to pay for anything!!), making my plans, assembling a work schedule, and meeting with plumbers. I’m still not firmly decided whether to do my own plumbing.. I’d rather not. PEX is easy enough, but I am doing so many other things and I’m feeling pretty stressed about the plumbing. $3000 is a big, big pill to swallow, though…. *sigh* I met with another plumber today, and will meet with another later, so I’m weighing my options here. Lots of these guys envision the Sistine Chapel of plumbing when looking around… but I don’t want decorative, superior plumbing, I just want to have drains and not smell sewer gases anymore. It’s great that these guys take great pride in their work, but I can’t pay for top-notch design. Many are willing to do things in stages (which is good), but I’m happy with Studor vents and they want to cut into studs and create a network of vent pipes. Not sure what to do here. All I want is “sufficiency.” My home is an average home in a below-average neighborhood; I don’t want to over-renovate it.

In other news, we got our new window. It’s FIVE feet by FOUR feet! That’s twice the size of the existing (crappy), broken window we have right now. OHHH let me tell you, I am SO excited at the prospect of having daylight around me while I work!


Imagine glorious daylight streaming through this baby!

It’s a side-sliding, too! Yay! My existing window is this little aluminum hole in the wall– a single-hung type. But the aluminum is so warped that I cannot open it. It takes one of the taller guys to whack the thing open a few inches. It’s a pretty dismal kitchen I have right now. I cannot WAIT to have something clean and pleasant. Who knows, I may be inspired to cook again, lol.


The old window. The curtains cover a nasty crack in the corner of the glass.

We also got two new toilets for the bathrooms, the 1.6 gallon toilets. The existing ones date back to the 60s, and they are huge. They also have almost no flush power (probably due to the plumbing drains)– with those old battleaxes, we have to hold the flush handle down to flush anything here… and watch as a gadzillion gallons (and accompanying dollars) literally go right down the drain. The water bill here is mortifying. I’m hoping that proper drains will fix most of the problems.


I got these two toilets for $50 off apiece! (I love Lowe’s!). I went to Lowe’s last week, and spotted one of their sale flyers. In it was a sale on a particular toilet– the toilet was high rated and dirt cheap (4-star flush power and $79). I looked and looked but couldn’t find the model. Finally, I asked the two Lowes dudes, and they couldn’t find it either. So they called their manager, who said to give me the next model up (upgraded) for the same $79 price!!! I flipped! So I got a 5-star flush power model for $80/each. They Lowes dudes were fun, too; we cracked jokes and talked about how fun it is to work at Lowes (and to even have a job– this IS New York State, after all). So kudos to Lowes for great service and showing me favor. I appreciate it. šŸ˜€

We also got most of the garden planted this week, too. I’ll have more on that in a future post. Things are really starting to come together. Yay! I can’t wait til this is all over in three months!

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