GIMME SHELTER- Cover up: How to prevent clogged drains

Kevin Burns
Owner, Blue Ridge Rooter


Q: My sink drain keeps clogging up, and every once in a while my toilet backs up. How can I prevent blockage in my household drains?

A: In my 30 years as a plumber, I've found everything from a family of skunks, to chopsticks, to beer bottles in drains, and there are a number of things you can do to prevent them from backing up.

First of all, keep your toilet lid closed so stuff doesn't fall in. This is especially important if you have young children in the house.

A plunger is the best first line of defense a homeowner can use before calling a plumber, so keep one on hand. Plungers work well not only on toilets, but also on sinks, bathtubs, and many other drains around the house.

Drain-O or other chemical treatments should be avoided at all costs. Not only are they not effective, but they're also highly corrosive and can severely damage skin and eyes. 

In bathtubs, a common cause of drain blockage is hair, and a simple screener or strainer can block hair and other debris from clogging pipes.

As for the kitchen sink, don't put grease down the drain, and be sure to use your garbage disposal sparingly.  I have found loaves of bread, pounds of hamburger, and evan an entire chicken stuck in pipes after people shoved them down the disposal without thinking twice.  

Another thing people don't think twice about is flushing certain items such as dental floss, diaper wipes, and cigarettes down the toilet. Because these products are made from nylon and other non-biodegradable materials, they do not decompose properly in your sewer system, and can cause serious blockage.  

Clearly, blockages in pipes can come from many strange sources. A plumber I know received a call to work on a stopped-up toilet and discovered a squirrel under the toilet that had come down through the vent pipes. Every house and building has vent pipes on the roof, and they're generally not covered. Usually leaves and other small debris will decompose in the sewer harmlessly, but a squirrel would definitely cause some problems.  

I even had a call once to work on the County Office Building where a group of kids had dropped a fire extinguisher down the vent pipes. It was causing a major back-up, and I believe it eventually had to be cut out of the pipe. Covering vent pipes with a wire grating is something to consider as a preventive measure to keep unwanted guests– and objects– from stopping up drains.