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How to Avoid a Clogged Toilet or Drain this Holiday Season

How to Avoid a Clogged Toilet or Drain this Holiday Season

The holidays are a great time of year. From visiting with friends and family to consuming copious amounts of food, what's not to like? For homeowners hosting during the holidays, the one thing to avoid is a clogged toilet or drain.

Yes, our favorite things about the holidays are the root causes of clogs. For example, our favorite comfort foods like mashed potatoes and gravy are also the best ways to create a clogged drain. The smaller food particles that avoid the trash by sticking to the plate and later get washed down the drain compile into a blockage especially on older drains! Always use a strainer in the drain when cleaning dishes, this will prevent the larger particles from entering the drainage system. Every little bit helps, has older drains tend to already have a lot of build up, the shear amount of stress on a drain during the holiday season can be enough to finally cause the drain to close up and stop draining.

Plus, add some house guests and that small drainage issue in the bathroom erupts into a full-fledged clogged drain. The extra water can create some stress on the plumbing system. Many homes already have slow drains, throughout the year they go unnoticed as depending on the location, the water build-up happens in the pipes, unseen by homeowners. Add some house guests and additional usage on the plumbing system and that slow drain becomes a clogged drain and the back-up appears at the lowest point in the home, typically a tub, shower, or toilet on a main level or basement.

If you are having guests over the holidays and have already noticed some minor drainage issues, then consider contacting your trusted plumber. Nobody wants to explain to their mother-in-law why she can't shower on Friday morning. However if your objective is to have the house guest leave early, a backed-up drain just may do the trick!

While we wish everyone a healthy and happy weekend, we want to remind homeowners planning the holiday meal about classic clogged drain culprits.

Avoid a Clogged Toilet

The best way to fix a clogged toilet remains avoiding an issue. However, life and clogs happen. In order to prevent clogs, then it is important to understand the main causes of a clog. As a result, you'll know when the fix is a DIY effort and when the fix requires a professional plumber.

For starters, many clogged toilets occur from built-up paper in the drain, this is known as a "soft stoppage". There are two types of clogs- Partial and full clogs. Many people fear the full clog (where the waste will not flush) and panic when they see the water rise. Frequently, they flush again, which simply worsens the problem. If you have toilets that routinely flush slow or back-up, have a professional inspect before you add house guest to the equation, this is only inviting trouble if unattended too!

To avoid overflow, never flush again. If you or a guest does flush twice, then immediately lift the ball-float in the tank to temporarily stop the flow until you can turn the water completely off.

For routinely slow or backed-up drains, we highly suggest a drain inspection with a video camera. This determines if larger issues exist because when left unattended they create headaches and possibly property damage. For older toilets, consider replacing with a more efficient low flow toilet. Plus, these toilets help reduce wasted water and lowers your water bill. Additionally, other potential issues include damaged exterior drain or root intrusion. Frequently, these issues go unnoticed until large volumes of water enter the house. As a result, the slow drain then becomes a main line back-up. This requires professional drain cleaning equipment and/or excavating the pipe to replace or repair.

For older homes with cast iron drains, drain issue derive from root intrusion. Frequently, the pipe corrodes from the outside in. As a result dirt and sediment enter the line, which creates blockage. Again, this requires professional expertise because the only fix means digging up the line and replacing sections or the entire sewer line.

All homes should have an accessible clean-out, this a fitting that allows entry into the sewer line for service or inspection with a sewer camera.

Clear a Clogged Toilet

  1. Scoop out excess water from the bowl. Leave a couple of inches at the bottom. If you have a shop vac, use it- these work wonders! Feel free to lay down towels to avoid a bigger mess.
  2. Plunge. Use a toilet plunger, which are cone-shaped to fit in the drain-hole. The remaining water in the bowl acts as suction, which creates water pressure to remove blockage. Try this a few times.
  3. Snake or auger the toilet. Following the toilet plunger, use a snake or auger, which are long wires with a corkscrew tip. Feed the wire into the pipe while simultaneously turning the handle clockwise until it hits the block. Keep turning the snake or auger, which allows the tip to screw into the obstruction. This will either clear the block or the debris will stick to the tip of the auger. Be careful putting it into the toilet, this will prevent scratching the toilet in visible areas.

Unfortunately, if the clog remains, then a DIY approach will not work. A professional plumber contains the expertise and experience to unclog serious issues.

How to Avoid a Clogged Drain

First and foremost, preventative measures help homeowners avoid costly repairs and replacements due to clogged drains (and other issues). However, focusing on what does and does not get poured down the drain helps avoid clogs.

  • Don't pour cooking oil and/or fat down the drain - it solidifies in the pipes.
  • Don't put poultry skins, starch, stringy or fibrous waste down the drain - these substances (chicken, turkey skins, potato peels, celery, coffee grinds, etc.) don't break down in the disposal.

Plus, remember to run the water when using a garbage disposal. Additionally, allow the disposal to "catch up" after each cup of waste is poured down the drain. Just because it is a machine, doesn't mean it doesn't need a break.

However, despite good intentions, clogs still happen. Luckily, there are some simple do-it-yourself steps to check and fix minor clogs.

Clear a Clogged Drain

  1. Check the garbage disposal. First, when working on the disposal (or any appliance plugged into an outlet), turn the unit off and unplug it from the electric source. Next, check to make sure there are no tripped breakers in the fuse box. Then, attempt to clear the clog by turning the blades manually with an Allen wrench (there should be a hole at the bottom of the disposal). Of note, this possibly requires many rotations to unjam. If you put your hand down and feel for large hard objects, this helps identify the object jamming the blades. However, proceed with caution as many times turning the blades manually helps dislodge items, which require hand removal. Finally, plug in the disposal and turn it on (it might need a minute to cool off - if so, press the reset button on the bottom and try again).
  2. Plunge. To unclog the drain, attempt to remove the substance that is causing the backup using a plunger. In order to plunge correctly, partially fill the sink with water and work the plunger up/down to break up the clog. Remove waste as it comes into the sink and focus on the upstroke - catch the waste before it goes back down the drain.

Do not plunge the sink if you tried a commercial drain cleaner. Allow the drain cleaner to work through the sink because the chemicals are dangerous if they touch your skin while plunging the sink. In general using chemicals can do more harm than good on the drain pipes. We highly recommend not using drain cleaner!

If the clogged drain continues to persist, then consider calling a professional to avoid any larger issues. Plus, it's the holidays. Spend your time with friends and family rather than stress about a clogged drain.

For homeowners happily hosting the holidays, then be mindful of any drainage warning signs and feel free to contact trusted neighborhood plumber. As always, Snappy is here to help everyday, even the holidays. Snappy is here 24/7, so feel free to contact us anytime and make sure the water runs smoothly all holiday season.