What Can Clog Drains?

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Almost anything, including water, can clog drains. Drains from household fixtures such as sinks, tubs and showers are usually required to be no bigger than 2 inches in diameter, roughly the size of the circle when the tips of your forefinger and thumb meet. Anything bigger than that is likely to cause your drain to clog.

Toilets and Paper Products

  • Toilets are meant to flush human waste and toilet paper (and not too much of that). Any other paper product such as paper towels, disposable diapers, tissues, wipes, tampons, menstrual pads, napkins or even large wads of toilet paper will almost certainly clog the drain. The force of the water going through the drain will not be strong enough to push these paper products past the trap, an S-shaped pipe that keeps sewer gas from flowing into your house. And even if you could get a disposable diaper past the trap, it is going to keep expanding as the gel crystals absorb more liquid and it will stop up the drain farther down the line.

Soap Scum and Hair

  • Shower and bath drains are often clogged by gobs of soap, shampoo and hair, which together form an unmovable mass, usually in the trap. These kinds of clogs can usually be dissolved (or at least broken down enough to get them to move down the drain) by combinations such as vinegar, baking soda and boiling water or by commercial liquid drain cleaners. Hard water can contribute to such clogs by depositing minerals on the inside of the drain and thereby narrowing the passageway. When you notice that a sink, shower or tub is draining slowly, assume that the drain is becoming clogged and take measures to clean it out before you end up with an overflow.

Food

  • Bits of food and soap scum can easily clog a kitchen sink. Do not put food scrapings down the drain unless you have a garbage disposal---and then make sure all of the food has been ground up by the disposal before you turn it off. This applies especially to foods such as rice and pasta, which absorb water and expand. Grease from cooking is another culprit. Never put grease down a drain---it hardens almost immediately. Avoid putting foods that seem to be liquids but are thicker than juice down the drain. Examples include cake batter, pudding, gravy, spaghetti sauce, purees and so on.

Household Products

  • Household products can be deceptive. For example, the water you used to wash the floor has in it soap and various bits of debris. Putting this dirty water down the drain is likely to contribute to a clog. Paint, liquid plaster of Paris, car oil, glue, liquid makeup and tea bags are just a few examples of things that will clog a drain.

Pipes

  • Copper and PVC drain pipes have smooth interior surfaces. Older galvanized and cast iron drain lines do not---they rust and corrode, creating a rough inner surface to which soap, hair and toothpaste will attach. Older plumbing often has drain pipes that are 1-1/2 inches rather than 2 inches in diameter. The smaller size pipe will clog more easily than the larger size.

References

  • Photo Credit Jupiterimages/Creatas/Getty Images
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