How to Prevent Slow & Clogged Drains

Clogged Drain

Feeling Drained? Here’s How to Deal with Clogs.

Clogs may be attractive footwear, but there’s nothing more wearing than a clogged drain. We expect water to go down the drain. When your shower turns into a foot bath or your kitchen sink is a pool of dirty dishwater, a slow or completely clogged drain is the culprit. On top of restricting water flow, a clogged drain can also bring bad smells into your home.

This post covers:

  • The difference between kitchen sink and bathroom sink and shower clogged drains
  • Actions to take
  • Why to avoid liquid drain cleaner
  • Know when to call a plumber

Fat: The Leading Cause of Kitchen Clogged Drains

Fatty substances are the number one cause of kitchen sink clogged drains. Not surprising, since cooking fats such as oil, grease and butter on pots and pans often end up in the kitchen sink. You might think that, well, these are all liquidy, they should go right down the drain along with the dishwater.

The problem is that leftover fat from cooking is liquid because it is hot. As the hot liquid fat winds down the drain and cools, it solidifies and coats the inside of the drain pipe. Continuous build-up as the fat coating gets thicker and thicker results in slow drainage, leading eventually to a completely clogged drain. 

Other causes of clogged kitchen sink drains are large food particles or vegetable peels that can become trapped in the p-trap, the curved pipe beneath the sink. Similarly, flour, eggshells and coffee grounds expand and form a sludgy, messy blockage. 

Keep these items out of your kitchen sink and you’ll probably never need to deal with a clogged drain. Follow this basic rule of thumb: If you think something may clog or damage your drain, find another way to dispose of it. Pour cooking fats and grease into a melt-proof container and dispose of it in the garbage. Place unused foodstuffs into a melt-proof container and dispose of in the garbage. 

Paint products and nail polish remover can damage pipes with their chemical properties, so there’s absolutely no reason they should ever be poured down a drain. Instead, allow them to dry in the can and dispose of them in accordance with local and state requirements. Do not toss in the trash.

Pull the Stop on Bathroom Clogged Drains

As you might expect, hair is the most common cause of bathroom drain clogs. Hair easily goes down the drain with water, but doesn’t flow all the way and instead accumulates inside the pipe right below the drain. 

The pop-up stopper on your bathroom sink is a magnet for hair, dental floss, and other yucky stuff. However, that’s a good thing because it keeps all of that out of your drains. What’s not a good thing is allowing this waste to build up. Over time, this can cause the sink to drain slower and slower and eventually not empty at all. Slow drainage is itself a problem, as this allows clogs in the drain line to form all the more easily. 

Greasy soap residue and particles can also coat the interior of pipes and cause a blockage. In some cases, the soap buildup can become so bad it can corrode the pipes. The same holds true for soap residue as it does for hair: the drain stopper can collect soap scum and other gunk that can slow down the drain considerably, or even clog it completely. 

There’s a simple fix. When you notice a slowing drain in the bathroom, it’s time to remove the stopper and clean it. Cleaning a drain stopper is a simple task that only requires a screwdriver and a washcloth or a drain cleaning tool to help you remove the buildup.

Preventing Clogged Drains 

Prevention is always the best medicine. Install a drain screen, strainer, or hair catcher. These fit over your drains and physically prevent debris from washing down it, while still allowing water to flow through. These simple items can be found at most hardware or bath stores. As another plus, they make it easy to clean up any debris that is collected while you use your bath, shower or sink.

To prevent soap scum build up in the shower, home improvement expert Bob Villa recommends:

  • Use liquid soap instead of bar soap
  • Keep shower and tub area dry
  • Use a house water softener
  • Use a daily shower cleaner
  • Invest in an automatic shower cleaner

Make it a weekly habit to do a full-fledge scrub to both clean the sink, tub and shower and keep on top of debris removal. As part of the weekly maintenance, pour a mixture of baking soda and vinegar down the drain. This not only breaks up any greasy build up in your pipes, but it also helps keep the drain smelling fresher and cleaner.  

Take Action Against Clogs

The best way to clear a clogged drain is to act sooner rather than later. A drain where water drains slightly slow is easier to unclog than a drain that is blocked completely. So as soon as you notice water going down a drain is moving slower than it should take action to restore its flow. 

In some cases, the cause of the clog may be debris accumulated directly beneath the drain. In this case, bend the end of a wire hanger or use a small screwdriver to dislodge and scrape out the blockage.  

For minor obstructions, sometimes all that is needed is to flush the drain with boiling water. Before you do this, however, check first to see if your home has plastic pipes. If you do, boiling water is not recommended. Instead, use a mix of vinegar and baking soda to dissolve the blockage using natural enzymes to dissolve the clog. Similarly, Bio Clean  BioOne Cleaning is a safe commercial product, that uses non-GMO enzymes and bacteria to eat greases, fat, and soap products. (Maybe add –  a product Ongaro & Sons promotes and sells)

Some people recommend use of Pepsi or Coca-Cola. These kinds of sodas contain phosphoric acid, which is effective to cut through the gunk and even calcium build up. Pour a room temperature 2-liter bottle down the drain, let it fizz in there for about an hour, and then rinse with hot water.

Of course, when all else fails, there’s always the plumber’s little helper: the plunger. Used properly, suction from plunger action can sometimes dislodge whatever is causing the blockage. While a seemingly simple task, there is a recommended plunging technique that is most effective to clear a clogged drain:

  1. Fill the sink or tub with hot water. Make sure the plunger is full of water, not air.
  2. Make a slow initial plunge. You’re just trying to force air down the drain. If you push too hard, you’re more likely to splatter the contents of sink or bath water and still not force enough air to remove the clog
  3. Wait until water drains completely, then push harder.
  4. Keep the plunger firmly in place and keep pushing with even strokes for about 20 seconds. 
  5. If the clog is not removed, add water and repeat plunging.

If after repeated tries the clog remains, you probably need to consider calling a professional plumber.

Avoid Liquid Drain Cleaners

It’s tempting to reach for a liquid drain cleaner when you are faced with a drain that’s slow or clogged. However, these cleaners can do more harm than good, and may not even address the problem. The corrosive ingredients in the cleaner eat away at the blockage, but the problem is they also eat away at your pipes, leading to a much more expensive problem. Additionally, the chemicals in these cleaners are poisonous to the environment and often end up polluting lakes, streams, and waterways.

When to Call a Plumber

If you find that your drains are often slow, and the tips above did little to solve the problem, it is time to call in a professional plumber. Your problem could be due to deteriorating pipes, a clog deeper within the pipes, or a problem with your main drain line. In any of these cases, you may do more harm than good in the long run by trying to solve the problem yourself or by brushing it off.

To accurately diagnose the problem, a plumber can utilize tools and methods like video drain inspections to pinpoint exactly where and why the damage occurred. Once a video inspection has been completed, there are a number of options available to clean the drain or clear stubborn clogs that are beyond the capabilities of most homeowners.

Who You Gonna Call? Ongaro & Sons

Ongaro & Sons have seen more than their fair share of clogged drains. After 38 years serving commercial and residential customers in Marin and Sonoma counties, Ongaro & Sons fully understands the needs and expectations of homeowners. You can depend on family-owned and operated Ongaro & Sons to solve any drain clog problem. We clean out your pipes, not your wallets.