We live in an old property and the drains are not the best. We’ve had to learn a few tricks to keep things flowing and how to unblock drains when the worst happens. Hopefully these methods will help you if you have similar problems with blocked drains and save you spending money on calling out a plumber.
Preventing Blocked Drains
One of the biggest causes of blockages in drains is fat. We wash our pans in hot water and detergent, the dirty water disappears down the drain and we forget it. Once that hot water cools, the fat congeals. Small amounts of fat adhere to the side of the drain and more fat sticks to that.
Pretty soon the drain is being constricted and water flow slowed, which allows even more fat to build up until the day the drain is blocked. If you allow your roasting dishes and frying pans etc. to cool and fat to solidify, you can scrape off most of the fat and bin it instead.
The other major cause of blocked drains is what people flush down the WC apart from the usual. Wet wipes, paper towels, even disposable nappies get flushed away but then they catch on something in the pipes and soon enough more things pile up, including fat, and there’s a blocked drain.
Septic Tank & Chemical Drain Cleaners, Bleach etc.
Just to further complicate things, we have a septic tank rather than mains drains. This means we have to limit our use of strong chemicals which could kill the bacteria that make the septic tank work to digest the contents.
Chemical Drain Cleaners – Caution!
All drain cleaning chemicals are dangerous if not used properly. Please read and carefully follow the instructions on the back of the container. Keep them out of the way of children.
Strong chemicals are perfectly safe if used according to the instructions.
Bleach & Caustic Soda
We use bleach quite frequently but in small quantities as a disinfectant and steriliser. It does help to keep grey water drains, the pipes from the sinks and bath, from developing smells but it’s only moderately effective at keeping pipes that have a tendency to clog clear.
Our bathroom waste water pipes have a very shallow fall which means they slowly clog up as the water doesn’t wash through quickly. When we bathe we inevitably add hair and skin cells along with the dirt we wash off to the water. This can stick to the pipe further reducing the flow speed. So after some months the water drains noticeably slowly.
To keep the pipes free running we use caustic soda. This is the main constituent in many commercial drain cleaners. It’s quite effective, but not perfect. N.B. Follow the instructions on the pack carefully – it’s powerful stuff!
With our bath and it’s very shallow waste pipe I mix a couple of litres of caustic soda solution and pour into the plug hole. Then put the plug in and fill the bath with hot water. After 5 minutes, pull the plug and, with luck, the pressure of the water will wash out the accumulated debris loosened by the caustic soda and clean the pipes.
Drain Acid – Best for Clearing Drains
The most effective chemical drain cleaner by far is drain acid. This is basically sulphuric acid and will dissolve anything organic in the drain. Clogs of hair – gone, food scraps in the kitchen waste pipe – gone.
Make no mistake, this is very strong and nasty stuff. You do not want to get it splashed on to your skin. Wear protective gloves – often it comes with some disposable protective gloves.
Read and re-read the instructions before using drain acid. Especially read the instructions on what to do if you accidentally get it on yourself or clothes. And keep it well away from children.
It’s brilliant at cleaning out a waste pipe and will clear nearly every blockage in short order. It’s not very expensive to buy, around £5.00 or £6.00 per litre. You only use a small amount and it doesn’t deteriorate in store so I think drain acid is actually the most cost effective chemical drain cleaner.
Drain Acid & Septic Tanks
With septic tanks that rely on microbial action to work properly, adding sulphuric drain acid could easily upset the balance. Once the acid has done its job and cleared the pipe, run a lot of water through after it to dilute it as it hits the septic tank.
You can get drain acid from most plumbers and builders merchants along with hardware and DIY stores