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HOW TO


Sink and Lavatory Drains
CLOGGED SINK AND LAVATORY DRAINS are probably the most frequent plumbing problem for homeowners. Usually the problem is not in the system, but with the system's users.
Clogs in the drainage system of your home occur mostly in two areas: the traps and the waste drain pipes to which the traps connect. Traps and drain pipes are intended to handle liquids not solids. Hair, bits of soap, food scraps, and grease flowing into the system can clog a drain. When water or waste won't run out of a sink, lavatory, tub, or toilet (called "fixtures"), the debris blocking the route usually is in the trap. If so, the unclogging process is simple. If the debris is in the drain pipe you may be able to unclog it if:
• The blockage is not too compacted in the pipe and the debris is near enough to the trap that a suction cup plunger or plumber's auger (snake) can reach it.
• The blockage is in a pipe near enough to a cleanout plug (a capped opening) that it may be cleared with a plumber's auger.
ABOUT DRAIN PIPES
Drainage of waste and sewage is done through a network of pipes that transports waste from fixtures and appliances to a sewer or septic system. The drain pipes in your home drain via gravity. The pipes are not under any water pressure so you don't have to turn off the water to work on a drain system.
All fixtures (sinks, bathtubs, lavatories) that drain into a vent stack (main drain) are fitted with traps. Traps usually are the problem when the system won't drain.
Traps have curved configurations to hold water. This water forms a seal to keep out sewer gases, which can be unhealthy as well as causing awful odors. The water seal also deters crawling creatures from entering a fixture from the sewer line.
The main drain line will not only have a trap in it just before it leaves the building, it will also have a vent stack, which goes up through the roof of the house.

DRAIN MAINTENANCE
The steps for clearing a clogged sink or lavatory drain pipe should proceed from the easiest to the most difficult to perform. Begin by plunging the drain. The air pressure this causes can dislodge blockages. If that doesn't work, use a plumber's auger to rout the clog out. Chemical drain cleaners are not recommended. Mechanical procedures are usually more effective. However, if you are going to use chemical drain cleaner, follow directions on the container carefully, and wear goggles, heavy rubber gloves and protective clothing. Chemical drain cleaners can relieve a clogged drain but need a small flow of water to be effective.

CAUTION: Chemical drain cleaners can be dangerous to your plumbing system. Follow directions and warnings on the container before use. If your home has a septic system, make sure the product states that it is safe for such a system. Chemicals in some drain cleaners destroy the bacterial action in a septic system.

Preventive Maintenance. The first step in drain maintenance is to avoid clogs. A kitchen drain, which clogs more frequently than others, can be kept open by keeping grease and debris out of the sink. Pour grease from pans into a tin can to be thrown in the trash. Pouring hot water down the drain for a minute a day will help clear the trap and drain pipe. All lavatory sinks should have small filtered screens to catch hair and soap pieces before they go down the drain and cause clogs.

If none of the preventive methods help, the steps to follow for unclogging a drain are as follows: Prepare to use a plunger by pouring a quart of boiling water mixed with a cup of ammonia into the drain and allow to sit for thirty minutes. Boiling water and ammonia will loosen a clog.
• Block all openings that are part of the sink or lavatory setup. Stuff wet rags in any overflow holes or in the drain of the adjacent sink of a double sink.
•Apply a thin layer of petroleum jelly on the rim of the plunger to create a tighter seal between the rubber cup and the drain.
• With two to three inches of water in the basin, place the plunger over the drain hole. Use steady, rhythmic, and forceful downward strokes to clear the clog. Try ten strokes at a time then test the water flow down the drain. Use up to fifty strokes. If clear, run hot water for a few minutes to flush any clog residue.
•If plunging doesn't work, drop and clean the trap.
• If the trap is clean and the pipes are blocked, try clearing the pipe with a plumber's auger. Different sizes are available.
• If you can't reach the blockage with an auger, call a professional plumber. The pro probably will rod the drain pipe down through the vent stack on the roof of your home.

BLOCKAGES AT STRAINERS AND STOPPERS
Blockages located at the drain's strainer (kitchen sinks) or stopper (lavatories and bathtubs) are very common plumbing problems.







Clearing Strainers. To clear the blockage, remove the strainer by prying it up and out with the tip of a standard screwdriver. Don't bend or mar the strainer. Floor drains in a basement or garage, are removed with a pry bar. Some strainers are held by screws. Remove the screws and pry around the strainer with the tip of a screwdriver or knife. Then clean the strainer and wipe away any debris at the top of the strainer base.

Clearing Stoppers. Stoppers may be removed in several different ways, as the illustrations show (Figs. 1-3). Some stoppers are opened and then removed by turning the stopper with your fingers. Some come out by unscrewing a pivot rod that is connected to the opener/closer. You may need pliers here. If so, pad the jaws of the pliers with cloth or adhesive bandages so you don't damage the chrome finish. After the stopper is out, clean it at the base of the drain opening.
If sink, lavatory, and/or tub blockages occur frequently, give all drains a weekly dose of boiling water and ammonia followed by plunging as preventive maintenance.

CLOGGED TRAPS

Traps are the primary drain blockers in most residential drainage systems. The good news is that traps are easier to clean than many mechanical stoppers (Fig. 4).
Before disassembling a trap, try a plunger first. Plug the overflow drain (if the fixture has one) with a wet cloth to increase the suction of the cup. Put the suction cup directly over the drain opening and fill the basin with two inches of water. The water acts as a seal and adds suction to the cup. Work the handle up and down forcefully.

Cleaning the Trap. If suction won't work, remove the trap below the fixture. The trap is held by two large chromed or plastic couplings. You may be able to loosen the couplings by hand. If not, use a pipe wrench and pad the ridges in the jaws of the wrench with cloth so the jaws do not damage the chrome finish. Once loosened, the couplings slide up or down and the trap can be removed. The trap piece telescopes into the fixture's tailpiece and the beginning of the drain pipe. Be gentle with the pipe wrench-they have lots of torque and can easily bend and damage the pipes and the fittings. Just loosen the coupling on its threads and complete the removal job by using your hands.

Clean-out plugs. If a trap has a square or hex plug in the base of the bend, you can unscrew it to clean debris from the trap instead of removing the trap itself. Use a bent-out wire coat hanger for this job (Fig. 5).
As you clean the trap, check it for wear. Metal or plastic (traps are one or the other) can wear thin and start to leak. If you spot wear, replace the trap.
If the trap is clear and the drain still plugged, run an auger down through the fixture drain hole, maneuvering it so it goes around bends. If this doesn't work and the trap has a plug in the base, remove the plug and insert the auger through the hole. If there isn't any plug in the trap, remove the trap. The object is to get the end of the auger against the clog (which is probably in the drain pipe extension or stub-out) and break up the clog by pushing the auger back and forth in a twisting motion.
Clean-out plugs are spaced in the run of big drain pipes. The plugs are usually on vertical pipes (sometimes horizontal) in a basement or crawl space. Often the plugs/pipes are accessible outdoors along the foundation of the house. You may find them in a garage or pantry closet. The drain pipes are capped with a steel disk with a square fitting on the top of the disk. The square fits a wrench.
Have a waste bucket handy when opening this port. Then insert an auger into the pipe both ways: up and down. Break-up any debris within reach. If you can't reach it, call a pro. A garden hose can substitute here for an auger. Remove the nozzle and turn on full blast.
If your house is older, the bathtub drain system may be equipped with a drum trap (Fig. 6). Look on the bathroom floor under a tile, perhaps. The trap may be in the floor in the basement or crawl space. Clean this trap by removing the lid and clear it similar to a clean-out plug or trap as detailed above.

CLOGGED TOILET DRAINS

The problem here is often too much tissue at time of flush. You might trace the clog to a flushed washcloth, sponge, towel, or bath toy.
To clear a toilet, first try a plunger to break up tissue clogs. If ineffective, use a closet auger with a corkscrew point on the end to open the toilet. This tool is very flexible and turns easily into the trap in the bowl to snag the object (Fig. 7).
Before working with the closet auger, use a cup and waste bucket to remove as much debris from the bowl as possible. You can protect your hand and arm by sticking both into a heavy plastic garbage bag. Move the closet auger under and down the bowl to the blockage and then pull out the blockage. Avoid pushing it down through the trap. If it goes into the main drain, the drain can get clogged; the object
probably won't dissolve itself through flushing.
If you can't reach the clog with the auger and if there's a clean-out plug under the toilet, remove the plug and auger the pipe. Be prepared with a large bucket for trickle-down of lots of water and debris.

CLOGGED APPLIANCE TRAPS
A dishwasher, clothes washer, and garbage disposer also have traps that sometimes get clogged.
Dishwasher Problems. For a dishwasher, you may be able to remove the drain port cover and thread a slim rod or auger down the drain pipe to clean the trap. If you can get under the machine, you may be able to drop the trap and clean it. However, a clogged trap/pipe may not be the problem. A malfunctioning drain valve solenoid can be the trouble-maker. Call a pro for this.
Another dishwasher clogging problem may be the strainer at the bottom of the dishwasher inside the machine. The strainer, (usually metal but sometimes plastic) can easily be removed for cleaning. Just lift out the strainer, which is in two parts or halves. Then clean out the ports under a tap and rinse. You can avoid clogged strainer problems by properly cleaning dishes, glasses, pots, pans, etc., before you put them into the dishwasher for washing. A dishwasher is not a garbage disposer (Fig. 8).

Clothes Washer Problems
. Washing machine drainage problems are traced to two things: an improperly set control on the panel of the machine (make sure the machine and the timer have gone through a complete cycle), or a block in the discharge hose or trap. Inspect the hose for any blockage or kinks or severe bends in the hose.
A good way to check the hose for blockage is to remove it from the machine. Use a screwdriver if it's held with a worm clamp-pliers if it's held with a spring clamp. Remove clogging material with a wood rod or by aiming the end of a faucet into the hose opening and turning on the faucet to force out debris.
If the washer problem is a clogged trap, remove the drain hose, insert an auger in the pipe and run the auger down through the trap and pipe (Fig. 9).
Garbage Disposer Problems. Garbage disposers have traps similar to sinks. If the disposer is clogged, it probably will be in the trap.
You can avoid disposer clogging problems by using plenty of water during the disposer's foodgrinding cycle. Don't skimp on water. The water flushes away the ground-up debris in the disposer. If the disposer is connected to the sink drain, you will have to remove the connection and pipe and clean out the pipe or the sink trap/pipe.
Because a slurry of garbage tends to stick to the inside of the disposer drain line and hold moisture, the drain from the disposer to the main drain tends to rust or corrode much more quickly than, for example, the drain from a sink. It's a good idea to remove the drain line of a disposal unit every two or three years and clean it out. It is a messy job, but it will ensure a longer life for the drain line and save you clogging problems. You will have to replace the gaskets in the slip joints when you disassemble the drain, and some of the slip couplings may have deteriorated and also require replacement.

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