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Minor vs. Major Drain Clogs: Diagnosing the Difference

Updated on August 31, 2016

Sinks and bathtubs that back up or become clogged are an unfortunate part of life, but paying attention to the warning signs of an imminent clog can help prevent an unpleasant situation from creeping up on you at an inconvenient moment. Learn these four signs so that you can prevent minor problems from turning into major ones!

Bad Smells in the Pipes

Unpleasant smells coming from your drains can sometimes be caused by such minor issues as food caught in the garbage disposal. But while this may seem like a problem of aesthetics, in fact it can be a sign of deeper problems in your pipes. In the event that the issue is persistent throughout drains in different parts of the home, or in the absence of a garbage disposal system, it is likely a blockage is building up in the drains somewhere below.

Slow Drains

Before your pipes become completely stopped and the irritating stopped sink or tub manifests, they usually begin to drain noticeably slowly in various areas of the home. You may run water in one side of a double sink to find it bubbling up on the other side before going down completely, or a bathtub may take several minutes to drain. If slow drainage is occurring in just one area of the house this can be due to a localized problem that is easily fixed, but if all drains are slow, the problem is occurring at a deeper level.

Complete or Frequent Blockages

Sometimes when a sink becomes blocked, a simple plunging can fix the problem. But sometimes after plunging a sink or a tub, you find the same sink is becoming blocked repeatedly over the following weeks or months. This is a sign that something is going on deeper in the pipes that needs to be addressed; usually some sort of build up further down. If such issues are going on in multiple drains in your home, you could have a blockage in your main sewer line.

Backflow in Sinks and Tubs

Back flow is what happens when untreated sewage washes up in one basin while you are running water or flushing in another area of the home. This is not only a major sanitary problem, but a sign of a serious clog or blockage in the sewage line that requires immediate attention. Plunging alone cannot fix it and some exploratory work, such as sending in an auger or pipe camera, may be needed to find the source of the problem and fix it.

Safety Tips

Remember, when handling clogs yourself at home, avoid use of caustic drain cleaners! These can be dangerous to you, the environment, and even your pipes! If you have used them and they fail to clear up your drain problems, however, leading you to subsequently call for plumbing help, please do alert your plumber that you have used them. This will enable them to take the appropriate safety steps to protect themselves and your home!


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