Thursday, July 11, 2013

Pipe Dreams

We recently had the opportunity to learn some valuable lessons regarding DIY plumbing problem solving, enough so that I thought it worth sharing, so perhaps others don't have to spend 3 days with a clogged kitchen sink like we did. We ended up trying 4 separate options to unclog the sink, only one of which actually worked. Lets break it down:

Unclogging Strategy #1: Drain-O (Or any other brand chemical-y drain clog blaster in a bottle)
We've had varying success with using this stuff in the past, and we had some leftover from some other clog scenario, so I went ahead and used it. Didn't budge the clog one bit. Complete failure.

Unclogging Strategy #2: Baking Soda & Vinegar
I have had complete success with this strategy in the past, so much so I was certain it would work this time around. For those who aren't familiar with this, you pour a sizable amount of baking soda down the drain, followed by 1/2 cup or more of vinegar, and quickly block the drain opening with something (this forces the science fair volcano action to head down towards the clog instead of back up and out into the sink). Wait half an hour and flush with boiling water. Repeat a few more times if necessary. I did just that, about 3-4 times, and nada. My tried and true natural home remedy finally failed me.

Unclogging Strategy #3: The Snake
After pouring various substances down the drain failed me, I decided it was time to try the snake, which is basically just a small metal coil/spring on the end of a long metal wire that you shove down the drain, into the pipes, in hopes of breaking up the clog manually. I bought a small, sink-specific one at The Depot for about $6, and was actually feeling very Rosie the Riveter in my attempts to deal with the clog myself while Phil was at work. I get home and hit snags right away. First off, we have a double sink, and the drain opening on the side closest to the clog has a strainer built in, that looks like this:

So problem #1 was that the snake wouldn't fit through any of those little holes, and removing the strainer involves fancy tools and pretty much dismantling the whole drain. So, logically, my plan B became (those of you who know anything about plumbing, get ready to face palm) to send the snake down through the pipes via the other side of the sink, the side featuring the garbage disposal. This actually ended up being absolutely fine at first - snake went through the disposal and into the pipes like buttah. I sent it down as far as I could, wriggled it around for a while, and then, snag #2. Snake done got stuck in the pipes. Oops. At this point I hung up my Rosie the Riveter headscarf (its hard to be both a feminist and inept at things like plumbing at the same time) gave in to the fact that I screwed up yet another project, and sent Phil this photographic confession of my oopsie:

You can see the snake hanging its head in shame on the right. (And for the record, part of the clog was caused by coffee grounds, hence why the sinks look so nasty). 

So I waited for my trusty male counterpart to come home and remedy the situation. After gently patting my head and sharing that "Sweetie, you can't put a snake down a garbage disposal," Phil got to work dismantling the pipes in order to free the poor snakeypoo. We found where it was stuck (the opening inside one of the pipe joints was very small and while the coiled end of the snake went into it just fine, it got stuck on an internal lip on the way out), and freed it from that spot. But then came snag #3, wherein the snake also would not fit back out through the garbage disposal (again, in my defense, it went in so easy there was really no indication that coming back out the other way would be such an impossible task.) We tried cutting the coiled part of the snake off with wire cutters (and gardening shears), but the metal wire was too strong. So Phil dismantled the other end of the snake, so as to free the non-coiled end and thread that side through the garbage disposal and out through the now open pipe. And so the saga of The Silly Little Woman and Her Snake came to a close. Which brings us to...

Unclogging Strategy #4: Take Apart the Pipes
After freeing the snake, we went for the last option we knew of, which was to stick a bucket under the pipes, remove the U-joint and see what happens. This took approximately 30 seconds, and we were able to fully clear the clog by simply dumping the contents of the U-joint into the bucket. We spent days avoiding this option, as it seemed like people went to great lengths and spent lots of money avoiding this step. However, our biggest lesson learned is that this was the fastest, easiest, cheapest and most effective solution to our problem. Next time, I might try the baking soda vinegar trick once or twice, but if that doesn't work, I'm going straight to option #4. Oh, and the contents of the clog was just coffee grounds & eggshells- so another lesson learned, when using a dozen eggs all at once to make a couple epically delicious frittatas, don't put all 12 eggshells down the disposal. And don't follow that up with coffee grounds either. 

So many lessons learned on that one, but we were proud to have finally dominated that clog on our own (after shelling out over $300 to have a plumber come fix our leaky bathtub faucet, we vowed to avoid hiring out these little repairs at all costs). Hopefully someone out there can learn from our mistakes and not have to endure half a week of clogged sinks and mountains of dirty dishes like we did. And I'll continue looking for opportunities to earn the right to don my Rosie headscarf on days other than Halloween (and for the record, I don't actually wear a red and white polka dot bandana while working around the house. It's figurative, people).

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