Back to Basics is an article series that highlights important, but possibly overlooked, information facilities management professionals should know.
Whether they’re in a sink, toilet, tub, shower, or floor drain, clogs can cause serious problems for homeowners and business owners alike. While there are ways facilities professionals can help prevent drains from getting clogged at their facilities, they should also know the basics of trying to unclog these obstructions.
Of course, facilities personnel who are not plumbers should call in the pros if an obstruction is too large or if they are having problems trying to do it themselves. There is nothing worse when trying to fix a plumbing problem than discovering that after spending time and effort to fix it, it is now worse than it was before. Too many do-it-yourselfers have discovered this the hard way.
It is important to educate staff, customers, and visitors of the facility on the following prevention steps:
Toilets: Use the trash, not the toilet, to flush down personal hygiene products, baby and personal wipes, cotton swabs and balls, and cigarette filters. Only human waste and toilet paper should be flushed.
Bathrooms: Clean out sink, shower, and tub drains on a regular basis.
Bathing or showering amenities: These items are typically found in places like hotels, bed and breakfast establishments, emergency shelters, and apartment complexes: Keep hair and soap scum out of bathroom drains. A mesh screen can catch both and keep them from clogging your pipes.
Kitchens: Scrape all food scraps into the garbage can, and wipe off excess grease and oil from cookware and utensils with paper towels and throw them away in the trash.
Dishwashers: Spot-clean all dishes before putting them into the dishwasher.
Restaurants and food service establishments: Regularly use and inspect grease traps, and follow the suggested cleanout schedule. These grease traps should properly separate greases, fats, and oils.
Hazardous materials: Do not dump paint or paint thinner down the drain.
Septic tanks: If you have septic tanks, have them professionally inspected at least every 3 years. However, this should be based on the number of users of the system, the total wastewater generated, the volume of solids in wastewater, and the septic tank size.
Dealing with Clogs
Facilities professionals who are not licensed plumbers can take these steps before calling in the professionals:
- Check the drain stopper by removing it, cleaning it, and putting it back together.
- Use boiling water to clear out the water line.
- Consider cleaning and disinfecting your drain. Turn on the hot water for a minute. Pour ½ cup of baking soda and 1 cup of vinegar down the drain, wait 10 minutes, pour in a bucket of hot water, and repeat for best results.
- Apply a liquid drain cleaner if you do not have a septic tank, and follow the directions on the cleaner’s label. These cleaners can be purchased at grocery and discount stores, as well as home improvement centers.
- Use the toilet plunger. For drains, make sure it has a good seal, and push in and push out to force water up and down the pipe. For sinks, don’t use the plunger unless there are 2 inches of water.
- Use a plumbing snake. These are more powerful than a plunger and could tear up a drainpipe if used improperly. Consider first removing the P-trap, the curving piece of drainpipe underneath the sink, and the trap arm, the piece of pipe between the P-trap and the wall pipe. Insert the snake’s head into the drain by uncoiling it using the handle. If you feel pressure, you found the obstruction. Move the snakehead around, and pull it out if the snakehead is stuck in the obstruction.
- Use a drain auger. This long hose can fit down a drain or toilet. Remove the cover or grill first. Turn the auger clockwise and push, and it will try to snag the object. Once you’ve found the blockage, pull the auger out.
Reasons to Utilize a Professional Plumber
- Less time—Let a professional help you diagnose your problems and repair them right away when you aren’t sure how to do it yourself.
- Safety—Prevent yourself from getting hurt by not working around sharp tools, electrical hazards, and hazardous materials.
- Equipment—Plumbers have tools the amateurs don’t.
- Emergencies—When you have a plumbing emergency, you need help immediately.
- Cheaper—Rather than temporarily solving your problem, get help with lasting results, which will be less expensive in the long run.
Be sure to follow the proper preventive steps to avoid clogged drains. When a drain does get clogged, follow basic steps to clear the obstruction. However, when in doubt about how to fix a stopped-up drain, consider just calling in the professionals.