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Clear Tough Clogs

Updated on September 26, 2011

Plumbing Problems?

Indoor plumbing may be the second greatest invention since the advent of the trebuchet. Kings and queens dreaded the nightly trudge out back to take care of business. Chambermaids dreaded it even more.

These days, indoor plumbing comes standard in most homes. Very few prospective buyers will consider a prospective purchase of a prospective dwelling unless the place is already plumbed. Walls must be fraught with copper supply lines connecting back to water mains in the front yard.

Getting clean water into the house offers little challenge. Unfortunately, used water often finds itself backed up in the outgoing pipes. Hair that might otherwise be light and bouncy conspires into tiny clumps. These clumps quickly glom together into dedicated blobs. Well coordinated blobs interlock into full-blown clogs. Clogs obstruct flow and can be tough to clear. Plumbers often make house calls to release recalcitrant clogs.

Cool, clear water.
Cool, clear water. | Source

How does this happen?

At the far end of your outgoing pipes is a really stinky reservoir. Out-gassing from the reservoir is what plumbers politely refer to as 'sewer gas'. Left unchecked, this gas seeps back into your remodeled bathroom and peels the wallpaper. It would also kill you, but you'd already be extremely upset about the wallpaper anyway.

Blocking this yucky gas from returning to your bathroom is accomplished by the strategic application of a water plug. Water seeks its' own level, therefore a trap is built into the outbound plumbing under the sink. In this trap resides the last few ounces of water that came out of the faucet. It's a simple contrivance and it works perfectly. Sewer gas remains on the back side of the trap, blocked by a brave slug of second-hand water.

This snippet of standing water provides protection from sewer gas, but also collects detritus. Given sufficient hair and other non-water materials, clogs eventually form in the trap. These clogs can be tough. Dedicated scientists study the formation and composition of such blockage. No one actually understands the process by which smooth and bouncy hair self-assembles into pipe-shaped clogs.

Not this clog.
Not this clog. | Source

So... how do clogs get un-clogged?

Three general techniques are available:

  • Mechanical devices,
  • Manual intervention. and
  • Chemicals

Mechanically removing a clog can be accomplished with a custom-bent coat hanger or a purpose-built device purchased from a plumbing superstore. The process is not particularly complex, but unskilled hands may cause permanent damage to the sink stopper or even the trap itself. It is possible to poke a hole in the trap or, if too much force is applied, break a pipe joint. Start slowly and use as little effort as possible. Success is measured by the extraction of a glob of goo. The sink will begin to drain again.

Yet another mechanical solution involves the application of pressurized atmosphere into the drain in the hope that the clog will be shoved out the back end of the trap or sucked back into the sink as a vacuum is created. Inexpensive plungers can be purchased at most hardware stores. Sometimes it works. On the other hand, over enthusiastic plunging can damage plumbing and also make a big mess in the area.

Manual intervention is certainly the most thorough methodology, but few amateur plumbers look forward to disassembling a trap, cleaning it, and putting it all back together. Several trips to the hardware store usually result. A pleasant weekend may be squandered.

Chemicals designed to release tough clogs line shelves at Home Depot. Scientists understand the precise combinations of acids and bases required to dissolve hair without affecting pipes and pipe joints. Since the clog is usually organic and the plumbing is not, results are usually positive. Keep in mind, however, that pouring these products into a clogged drain that eventually empties into a septic tank may prove disastrous. Septic tanks (intentionally) contain billions of organic critters that may not survive an onslaught of improperly selected drain cleaner.


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    • dallas93444 profile image

      Dallas W Thompson 6 years ago from Bakersfield, CA

      As a former real estate developer and builder of houses, I shout "amen!" Great article with good comments. Flag up! Most people have no idea of what "out-of-sight-out-of-mind" stuff does... especially "plumbing!" Flag up!

    • tsmog profile image

      Tim Mitchell 6 years ago from Escondido, CA

      Wow! Was this a sci-fi story or a plumbing how-to. I felt like I was re-experiencing the movie the 'The Blob' with Steve McQueen or 'The Crawling Eye' with Forest Tucker. I saw pictures of hair slithering through my homes pipes amassing into those 'traps' plotting revenge on me. Great article. Voted useful, awesome & interesting. Kudos.