May 20th, 2021 by
Blocked drains are inconvenient, unsightly, and often quite smelly but if not dealt with, they can also lead to much bigger problems that would require the assistance of a plumber – and a big bill! In this article, we take a look at the common causes of a blocked drain, the signs you have one, and the timely actions you can take to prevent it from escalating into a much more serious issue.
Why do our drains become blocked?
This may be difficult to hear but if you have a blocked kitchen or bathroom drain, the most likely cause is you, and other members of your household. By far the biggest reason for a blocked drain is putting substances down the pipes that either don’t belong there or just build up over time.
In a bathroom, this is usually hair and soap products. In a kitchen, this is mostly foodstuffs – food rinsed away from plates, cooking waste etc but the worst thing you can put down a drain is fat and grease. This is especially true of solid fats such as lard, butter, and animal fats. That’s because it may go down as liquid, for example, the fats in the bottom of the tray from a joint of lamb or roast potatoes, but it will solidify when cool and then congeal in the drain and throughout the pipes. Other things such as soaps (especially now we’re washing our hands so much) and even DIY substances like paint, glue, and filler can sometimes find their way into the drain (when washing brushes and tools, for example).
All these things will accumulate on the inside of the pipes; slowly narrowing them and making it more difficult for water to flow through properly.
How to tell whether your drain is blocked
There are a few signs that you have a blocked drain. The first and most obvious is the smell. If there is a nasty smell coming from the plughole it’s an indication that there’s something in the pipes that isn’t being cleared and is rotting in there.
Another very clear sign is that water isn’t draining away properly. This can range from the water just taking longer than it should to exit the sink or bath (for example, you may find yourself standing in a centimetre or two of water when having a shower) or you have permanently standing water that’s not draining away at all.
Failing to deal with it when it’s at this stage will lead to blockages getting worse which will need a plumber to fix or may even cause floods as water finds alternative routes to escape.
How to unblock a drain
If your drain is blocked, the first thing to do is clear any obvious visible items from the plughole that you can just grab with some kitchen towel or similar and throw away.
If it is a fairly minor blockage where the water is just taking a bit too long to drain, you can try using household cupboard items such as a combination of vinegar and bicarbonate of soda. These will react to each other and start to fizz, which can dissolve small amounts of fats and food waste.
If you have tried that and it didn’t work, or the blockage is more extensive, you can use a drain unblocker product, which is specifically formulated for this issue. These are much stronger than a simple vinegar/bicarb treatment and will dissolve fats, hair, and soaps in the pipes. You can even use them if there is still standing water in the sink/bath. For best results, pour into the plughole and leave for several hours, ideally overnight, to allow it to flow through the pipes and really get to work on all the nastiness that has built up. After a few hours, flush through with plenty of hot water. You should instantly see free-flowing drains. If you don’t, it is time to call the plumber as this indicates a more serious blockage.
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How to prevent blocked drains
Prevention is always better than the cure so take these steps to minimise the risk of clogged up pipes and drains:
- Be careful what you put down the sink. Always scrape food waste from plates into a bin before rinsing or washing and never pour fats down the sink. Solid and animal fats can be poured into an old yoghurt container (or similar) and left to solidify before putting in the bin
- Always clear the plughole after every use, particularly the bath where hair can be an issue
- Use a plughole strainer to capture foodstuffs or hair before it goes down the drain
- Use a drain unblocker product regularly as a preventative measure to keep pipes flowing. It’s almost impossible to keep everything out of the pipes that shouldn’t go there so proactive use of these kinds of products will prevent any potential build-up, as well as keeping plugholes smelling fresh.
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