The following is a guest post by Chris Long, a store associate at a Home Depot in the Chicago suburbs. If you would like to write an article for Money Q&A, please visit our Guest Posting Guidelines page.
When your toilet is out of commission or your sinks are stuck, instead of calling in the professionals for a pricey sink or toilet repair, invest in a few inexpensive plumbing supplies and tackle the job yourself. You can tackle plumbing problem solving yourself to save money.
It’s true: many plumbing repairs are within your grasp, even if you are a first time DIY-er. Of course, the more complicated the problem, the more likely you’ll need to enlist some professional support but for many issues – namely, clogs – you can get by with some simple plungers and drain cleaners. You can handle DIY plumbing problem solving.
DIY Plumbing Problem Solving
Believe it or not, that little Pepto-pink/rust-red rubber plunger that you can pick up for a couple of bucks (and are likely to find in any house on the map) is not even designed for the toilet. Which prefaces this nicely: not all plungers are created equal.
The “plunger” with which most folks are intimately familiar is actually designed for use in the sink, not the toilet. These are referred to as sink, forced cup or bell plungers and have a wide suction cup shape with a flat bottom edge in order to fully encircle whatever drain it is sitting atop.
They are very effective at unclogging sinks, bathtub drains and even dislodging material trapped in a garbage disposal.
For the toilet, you have your toilet plungers (gasp!), also called flange, bellows or even accordion plungers.
Basically, a toilet plunger is a sink plunger with a narrow flange attached to the bottom of the bell. This flange fits snugly into the toilet’s drain hole in order to provide a forceful rush of water to break up blockages.
*Tip: If you have a low-flow toilet, get a low-flow plunger designed just for this purpose: they are made with a funneled nose that creates a tighter seal in the drain and prevents backsplash!
When used properly, these sink and toilet plungers can handle the majority of clogs all on their own. For tougher clogs, you may also choose to use a drain opener or cleaner in conjunction with the appropriate plunger.
Different Drain Cleaners
Initially, always start with the path of least resistance to find the place that is causing the resistance. In other words, chemicals should only come in to play after a plunger on its own has proven insufficient.
After all, if you use the chemicals first and they don’t work, you have to go to work on the clog that is now situated in toxic water that might come back to bite you. Like, literally burning you in the face when it splashes back out of the drain. Not fun.
So if you do combine the two, be sure to let the chemicals sit overnight to reduce the risk of injury to yourself and others. And always wear gloves!
That being said, here are two types of go-to drain openers.
Enzyme Drain Treatments
This type of drain cleaner utilizes enzymes that eat away at the organic matter clinging to the sides of your pipes. Best used on slow running drains, enzyme cleaners are not effective on completely clogged pipes. You can buy these in either a powder or ready-to-use liquid form.
For these treatments, you need to be able to leave the water off for an extended period of time – the longer the better but at least overnight – so it’s a good idea to pour this before going away for the weekend.
Simply mix up the appropriate amount of powder with water and drizzle it down the drain, or just pour the ready-to-use liquid right in. You may need several applications when first using this product but continue with a monthly drain cleanse thereafter. These products are similar to what anyone who has a septic tank would use monthly to keep the honey wagon away.
Alkaline Drain Cleaners
An alkaline liquid drain cleaner like Drano works to remove buildup and clear clogs caused by grease, hair and gunk. These cleaners come in liquid, gel, crystal and “foaming” types, but all do the same thing and work quickly.
An effective cleaning method using this type of product is to pour it down the drain, allow it to sit for an hour or so and then follow it up with a boiling water flush (boil a pot of water and carefully pour it down the drain).
Free Flow Lines
Now that the clogs are cleared, keep them that way by following a couple of simple preventative guidelines:
- Use a drain screen in the shower to catch hair that will work its way back into your pipes.
- Stay on top of toilet and drain maintenance because if you wait until you experience a problem, it’s already too late.
What are some of the DIY plumbing projects and repairs you’ve performed that have helped to clean your pipes and keep your cash?
Chris Long is a store associate at a Home Depot in the Chicago suburbs. Chris writes on plumbing topics for the Home Depot website, helping homeowners on the repair of toilets to bathroom sink and shower plumbing topics.