During the winter, it is not unusual to find a block of solid ice clogging the washer drain. The position of the pipe makes the plumbing difficult to insulate; consequently, small pools of standing water are regularly exposed to below-freezing temperatures, resulting in the formation of ice in the drain. Should this unfortunate situation arise, do not panic. There are a number of non-corrosive, everyday items that can be poured down the drain to melt the ice and keep the water flowing freely.
Technically, a salt is any compound formed during the neutralization of an acid by a metallic base. Outside of the chemistry lab, salt is sodium chloride -- a crystalline compound used to season food. When winter weather takes a toll on the household plumbing, dissolve icy drains by pouring 1 tablespoon of table salt down the drain. Once the salt makes contact with the ice, it will begin to liquefy, lowering the temperature at which the water solidifies in the process. A similar effect can be created with other water-soluble compounds, such as table sugar, Epsom salts or baking soda. Use whichever one you happen to have on hand.
One of the defining properties of an alcohol is its low freezing point. When poured over an icy mess, alcohols dissolve the frozen crystals and return them to their liquid state. To use alcohol to clear an ice-clogged drain, simply pour 1/4-cup rubbing alcohol directly into the drain then wait 15 minutes. Repeat the process until the pipe is clear. Denatured alcohol, ethanol or clear liquor can also be used with similar results.
Ordinary household acids, such as urea-based plant fertilizer, vinegar or lemon juice, can also be used to break down icy residues and clear out the pipes. When combined with ordinary ice, acidic liquids release their hydrogen ions, decreasing both the pH and the freezing point of the water, thus causing the ice to melt. Pour the chosen acid down the drain in 1/4-cup increments until the ice vanishes and the drain clears.
When a substance is dissolved in a fluid, the result is known as a solution. To make a homemade de-icing solution, combine 1/4-cup table salt, 1/4-cup baking soda and 1/2-cup white vinegar. Pour this frost-busting concoction down the drain, wait 15 minutes then follow the solution with 2 cups of hot water. The combination of baking soda and vinegar generates a small amount of heat that will help the salt work its way through the ice.
- Ultimate Handyman: Thawing Frozen Pipes
- Frostburg State University Department of Chemistry; Why Does Salt Melt Ice?; Fred Senese
- University of Illinois Department of Physics: Q & A -- Melting Ice
- "Extraordinary Uses for Ordinary Things"; Marylin Bader, et al.; 2005
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