Monday, December 8, 2008

Basic In-Sink

One of the harsh realities of home ownership is that we no longer have a live-in Super whose job it is to take care of all of our little home emergencies, and, in fact, now that's our job (gulp). So last week when our bathroom sink stopped draining, I immediately reached for the phone to call the plumber. But then I hesitated and thought "maybe I can do this".
What followed was an epic journey that resulted in an expert list of strategies, a more complete knowledge of how plumbing works, and, finally, a lovely cleared drain.
If you would like to save yourself a couple hundred bucks next time your sink drain clogs, try these techniques. And avoid that sinking feeling.

1. Remove Stopper. The first thing to try if your sink won't drain or is draining slowly is to remove the stopper from the drain- there may be hair or soap stuck on it which is obstructing water flow. Most of them will either just lift or screw out, but if yours doesn't, it is probably attached to something under the sink- poke your head under and investigate- you should be able to disconnect it easily.
2. Boiling water. Take your biggest pot and fill it with water, and bring it to a boil on your stove. Carefully pour boiling water down the sink drain- the hot water should dissolve some of the gunk collected in your pipes and clear it away (hot tap water won't be hot enough to accomplish this). Note: if you have PVC or plastic pipes, skip this step, as the boiling water might warp them). I don't recommend using the toxic chemical drain cleaners (and neither do the real plumbers I referenced on the internet), simply because they don't really seem to work, and then you are stuck with toxic chemicals in your sink.
3. Plunge. Fill the sink will enough water to cover the head of a plunger (if you still have boiling water sitting in your sink, add some cold water so you don't burn yourself). You will want to use a cup plunger which is specifically for sinks (not a flange plunger, which is for toilets- for obvious reasons, it's good to have one of each, and not try to just use one for both purposes- gross). Make sure you cover the overflow drain in your sink with a wet washcloth or rag, so the plunger doesn't just drive the water right back out. Plunge vigorously about a dozen times. Remove the plunger and see what happens. If it doesn't work the first time, try again before you move to step 4.
4. Get Plumbery. If you've made it this far, the bad news is that you have a really stubborn clog. The good news is that now you get to feel like a real plumber. Take everything out from under your sink, and place a bucket under your pipes (if there isn't enough space, a rimmed baking pan will do). Using a wrench (or just your hands if it's not too tight), untwist the two bolt-y things that are holding on the J-shaped trap pipe (water, and hopefully the obstruction, will come pouring out into the bucket). There may be some pretty gross stuff in there, so be fore-warned. Rinse the trap pipe (not in this sink, genius), and reattach. Try to erase the sight of nasty gunky hairball from your memory, and enjoy your now-perfectly flowing sink.

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