Ask the builder: how to keep drain lines flowing


The inspiration for this column came from two friends who live in Los Angeles but don’t know each other. Still, they know I’m a master plumber, and so everyone got in touch with an interesting tidbit on a favorite topic: drains.

The first was from my best friend Steve, who received a letter from a local plumber advertising a high pressure drain cleaning service. The other was from my friend Alex, an entrepreneur, who listens to my live video every day of the week.

He sent me a picture of a clogged 2 inch kitchen drain stack and said, “I have a client who kept meandering his drains and was hesitant to change the pipe. He wanted to know why he had to call a plumber every month. I looked at years of plumbing bills and said, “Congratulations, you sent that good plumber’s kid to college.” “

The photo Alex sent me showed the chimney completely clogged with large black organic debris. No wonder the pipe had to be snaked every month for the sink to drain. This misery and these expenses are avoidable! Let me share decades of experience so you can avoid clogged drains at home.

First and foremost, the only thing that should go down plumbing drains is water, both solid and liquid human waste, and tiny particles of solid food. Note that I did not say toilet paper was OK. Realize that people in other parts of the world think toilet paper is unsanitary and unacceptable. They use water to clean themselves.

I find it shocking that major US sanitary ware makers don’t promote bidets. You should watch the Flushable Wipes video on my website to see how high quality toilet paper doesn’t break down much as it travels through your drains.

Grease is one of the worst things you can throw down your drain, as Alex’s client just discovered. Although you can liquify it and apparently emulsify it by mixing liquid dish soap with the grease in the pan, the grease will eventually coat the inside of the drain pipes. This grease can trap larger food particles and quickly choke the drain line.

The way to deal with fat is simple. If you use paper towels for light cleaning or to dry your hands, as I know some do, set those wet or damp towels aside and let them dry. Use them to soak up hot liquid grease in your pots and pans. Wipe down greasy plates and bowls with these used napkins, then throw them in the trash. Your goal is to minimize the amount of grease you put into your drain system.

Never putting feminine hygiene products or disposable wipes down the toilet. These are unacceptable in a septic tank, and not a good idea if you are on a city sewer. All of these things should be placed in a sanitary bin in the bathroom. The box should have a plastic liner and lid. Post a sign in the bathroom for customers to use the can for disposal.

Buy a stainless steel mesh colander that fits nicely into your kitchen sink’s basket colander. These simple and affordable devices easily collect food particles. Once the colander starts to fill up, take it out of the sink and throw the food scraps in your trash can.

Do you use a garbage disposal in your kitchen, thinking that’s the solution? It’s not because most owners have never been trained to use it to avoid clogs. If you want to see what a trash can creates, just pull out your blender with the clear jar. Put your food scraps in it, add some water, turn it on and watch the slime you create.

If all of this sludge is not transported to the septic tank or municipal sewer, it can begin to coat the sides of drain pipes and clog them over time. If you insist on using your grinder, you must run the water in the sink for 30 seconds after turning off the machine.

Better yet, after shutting off the water, pour 2 gallons of water as fast as you can into the kitchen sink to flush the side walls of the horizontal drain arm in the wall and the vertical drain column that serves the kitchen sink.

It’s a good idea, if you can do it, to pour about 15 gallons of very hot water down your kitchen sink once a month. You want to pour this heated water down the sink as quickly as possible, being careful not to burn yourself.

The idea is to put so much water in the pipes that the tube under the sink and the horizontal branch arm in the wall behind the sink fill completely with hot water. This will dissolve any grease from the sides and top of the pipes keeping them as open as possible.

Every week, it’s a good idea to pour 10 or even 15 gallons of cold water down your toilet as quickly as possible. If you can do it with an assistant, great. Your goal is to create an artificial flash flood in your bathroom pipe and chimney, as well as your main building drain.

Just as Mother Nature keeps streams and stream beds clean of accumulated debris with the occasional flood, so should you. This push of water flowing through the pipes goes a long way in keeping them wide open.

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