24 June, 2009

Calling All Housebloggers...How Do You Unclog Old Pipes

With all the long-haired hippie types living at The Box House, our drains frequently clog, even with hair traps over everything. Most of the time, a plunger will work, even for the tub. However, the time between clogs seems to be getting shorter.

The problem is, we have ancient cast iron pipes that are probably rough and rusty on the inside, making them perfect hair catchers. I'm loathe to use non-mechanical means to unclog, because I've been told that Draino and the like are too corrosive for old pipes. What's everyone else using? Our tenant suggested bleach, but the info I'm finding online is rather conflicted. Some plumbers say okay, others say no.

So, I'm hoping someone will chime in with their fail-safe, house-safe method for unclogging a drain. Thanks!


Karen Anne said...

I never had any luck clearing clogs with Draino and the like. Then I read on the web about bleach. I haven't tried it on complete clogs, but for slow draining situations it seems to work well.

I let water from the hot water faucet run for awhile, then dump in a cup of bleach and leave it for about two hours, then flush with a lot of water from the hot water faucet. I'm saying faucet, because the water is supposed to be hot, but I'm not dumping in boiling water from the stove.

I now do this as a preventative when I think of it, which come to think of it, I haven't done in awhile.

Bleach (Clorox) is serious stuff. In my ignorant youth I poured bleach directly onto a grubby kitchen terrycloth towel and let it soak, when I rinsed it out the bleach had eaten holes in it.

min hus said...

I feel your pain.

Usually I get lucky, and the hair clog hangs on to where I can get it with my trusty wire hanger. It's my best weapon. When I'm not so lucky, I usually turn to 1) boiling hot water straight from the kettle (which works best if there isn't standing water there already) 2) Baking soda + vinegar, cover, leave for 10 min or so, then follow with boiling water.

You can use either regularly as a preventative too. Which I'm not good at doing! :)

Shane said...

Probably not what you are wanting to do, but this will take care of it in a hurry and is pretty easy to use:

PlantingOaks said...

I agree with Shane and Casey. Isn't that what a pipe snake is for?

I don't have first hand experience, as luckily, our bathroom drains are easily accessible from below (and the traps are replacement pvc) so we just unscrew them and and let all the lovely mess fall into a bucket.

From what I've heard, ANY chemical that is effective at breaking up the clog will eventually be effective at breaking up your pipe.

denise said...

I, too, am of the long hair variety, and we just had to clear our bathroom sink the other night. We tried the vinegar and hot water thing, which didn't really work. Pete ended up getting one of those auger/pipe snakes that you attach a drill to, like the one that Shane and Casey linked to, and that did the trick.

Joanne said...

Thanks for your insights, everyone!

Last time Ted snaked a drain, it took over an hour, and it was rather gross. This clog is in the tenants' line, and I'm going to have to make her move all the furniture she just set up in order to get to the access panel behind the tub. I was hoping someone had a we-just-throw-this-stuff-down-the-drain-and-it-works-miracles-without-harming-the-pipes solution. It's hard to expect tenants to do preventative maintenance, and hard to remind myself to do it for them.

Karen Anne-In my youth, as a new college freshman doing laundry at the dorms, I had a similar experience with bleach and underwear. Yikes.

Jenne said...

I watched an episode of CSI once where the killer poured bleach down a drain to hide DNA evidence....and the show did one of those cool visualizations showing what happened in the drain, and it showed the bleach actually eating and destroying hair.

I also used to work with a lady, who had a plumber tell her that to avoid plumbing issues, you should pour a gallon of bleach down EVERY drain in your house, ONCE a month. Which seems excessive, when you think of every sink/bath tub/toilet in a house...but who knows...maybe it works. I don't know if I could handle the smell of that much bleach.

You could try the bleach thing, then try this organic drain cleaning recipe
to clear out any stuff that might be left behind...b/c there has to be some type of buildup in the waste lines after all those years that the hair's getting caught on at some point...

Hope that helps!

Cristina Van Dyck said...

Okay, I see you're probably trying to avoid using Drano, BUT, having this hair problem myself I finally resorted to using one particular Drano product, and I won't use anything else, anymore. Except maybe bleach as maintenance.

Try this no-fail solution:


And then tell your tenants that the next time they clog the drains with hair, they can run out and get a bottle.

Jennifer said...

Baking soda and vinegar works well for us

Brigid Keely said...

My husband used to manage vintage apartment buildings (built in the 1920s) in Chicago. Like your building, they all had plumbing problems and somewhat delicate pipes.

He uses a snake. We own our own, but you can rent them from home improvement stores that offer tool rental. Compressed air can damage the pipes (although it's awesome for unclogging stuff with newer pipes), and if you pour harsh chemicals down the drains and they don't reach the clog, whoever works with the drain next runs the risk of getting those chemicals splashed up on them.

If you snake the pipes yourselves, be very careful and don't push or force the line because you CAN damage the pipes depending on how old they are, what they're made of, and what condition they're in.

Also, when you're plunging, make sure you have something blocking the overflow valve/hole. We keep two plungers on hand; one for plunging and one to put over the overflow for maximum suction.

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Bronx Drain Cleaning said...

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