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What causes a stoppage?  The most obvious answer to that question is poor flushing habits.  Everyday, we respond to service calls to clear a home stoppage and find items in the drain line that should not be there.  So before we discuss the different methods of drain cleaning, let’s list what may and may not be flushed or rinsed down the drain

Proper Use

In the bathroom, nothing should be flushed down the toilet besides toilet paper.  Paper towels, facial tissue, napkins, nail clippings and feminine hygiene products will all lead to a build-up in the drain line and eventually a stoppage.  Nothing but soap and shaving cream should be rinsed down the drains of your lavatory sinks and shower or tub.  Often, an accumulation of hair can lead to drain issues in both the lavatory sink and shower or tub.  This is something you can likely resolve on your own.  In the lavatory sink, hair that is rinsed down the drain during normal usage will collect around the pop-up stopper that is used to plug and fill the sink.  A habit of occasionally pulling the pop-up stopper out of the drain hole and cleaning it will keep this type of stoppage from occurring.  Similarly, in the shower or tub hair will gather at the drain grate.  Periodically, it should be pulled and cleaned so that it does not clog the drain.

In the kitchen, many of the same rules apply.  Liquids used to clean the home or wash dishes may be poured down the drain without worry.  When pouring very hot liquids down the drain however, you should run cold water from the faucet at the same time to cool the pipes.  Grease should never be sent through the drainage system.  It will settle, cool and congeal in the drain line and over time decrease the diameter of the pipes.  Plates and bowls should be scraped before they are rinsed so that solid foods are not rinsed down the drain during washing.  You are able to rinse some food items down your drain using a garbage disposal, but caution must be taken to only rinse items through the disposal that it is able to process.  For more guidance on proper garbage disposal usage, check out our article Grinding Habits for the Holidays from Solutions & Insights by clicking here

Contributing Factors

Now let’s discuss some of the factors that contribute to stoppages that are not related to poor habits.  As you may recall from the article on re-pipes, copper and galvanized steel piping has become notorious for degrading over time.  It corrodes and the build-up of corrosion and waste that clings to the corrosion eventually suffocates the system’s ability to drain properly.  In addition, galvanized steel will form burs on the inside of the piping.  These burs are sharp and stick out into the flow of the drain.  As the discharge passes through the pipes, paper and other flushables will catch on the burs and cause the discharge that follows to accumulate.  This inevitably leads to a typical drain line stoppage.

Another issue that will lead to stoppages is a belly in the drain line.  When a drain line in installed, the plumbing technician that is performing the work must ensure that the pipes have what we call “fall.”  Fall refers to the downward slope of the pipe towards either the home’s septic tank or the county or city sewer tie-in.  It is a very simple principle that utilizes the force of gravity to draw the line’s discharge away from the home and towards the septic or sewer.  A “belly” is a point along the drain line where the slope of the fall dips and goes uphill a little working against gravity.  Waste can collect in the belly if the force of the discharge is not strong enough to push it past.  If this happens, a cycle begins that causes the waste from future discharges to build-up and a stoppage forms.  There are many ways for a belly to form in the line such as the ground beneath the piping settling.  The very best way to ensure that your drain line has proper fall is to have it installed by a licensed plumbing company with a strong reputation.  If you suspect that your line may have a belly already, it may be beneficial for you to have it examined by camera.  Using the latest technologies, we are able to run a tiny camera through your system to look for improper fall, bellies, roots that have grown into the pipes, backwards fittings or any of the other factors such as these that all lead to stoppages.

Drain Cleaning

We have covered many of the typical ways that a stoppage can form.  Let’s look at some of the available options for clearing them.  When we respond to a call for a stoppage, the very first thing we must determine is whether the stoppage is locally isolated to the fixture that is not draining properly, we call this a local stoppage, or is affecting the entire home, we call this a main stoppage.  Most local stoppages can be cleared by either disassembling, cleaning and reassembling the piping directly servicing the fixture or by using specialized tools, such as an auger.  Occasionally, the toilet must be pulled so that the drain line may be accessed directly.   If that occurs, the plumbing technician will likely run a “snaking” machine into the line.  There are many types of these machines, but they all operate on the same principle.  A coiled, metal cable is fed into the drain line until it reaches the stoppage.  Then a small turbine turns the cable in the line.  The cable is outfitted with a selection of interchangeable heads that when turned by the turbine cut through the stoppage and pushes it down the line until it clears.  You may have noticed the short, iron coated pipes that stick up out of the roof of your home.  These are called vents and are used to access the drain line.  When you experience a main stoppage, the plumbing technician will utilize the vents to run the snaking machine into the drain line and find and clear the stoppage.

Cabling the lines is a typical first response to both local and main line stoppages.  It resolves the issue most of the time.  If the stoppage occurred because of something becoming clogged during normal usage or if something foreign found its way into the line and was cleared, then you should not experience that same stoppage again.  However as we have discussed, sometimes there are extraneous factors at play, such as severe corrosion, roots or a belly in the line.  In these cases, snaking the line would not likely be a long term solution and we must consider other alternatives such as diagnosing the line with a camera, re-piping or using a power-jet to clear out the build-up of corrosion.

American Plumbing Solutions, Inc. prides itself on retaining talented and experienced technicians who will respond to your drain issues with both speed and skill.  We are committed to working with the newest technology and planning with you the very best solution to meet your needs.  If you need service performed on your drain lines or if you would like to set-up a consultation to troubleshoot any plumbing problems you may be having, please call our office at (813) 672 – 0511 and one of our dispatchers will schedule a technician for you.  

Drain Cleaning and Stoppages
by Steven Billa