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Published: Sun, February 3, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



By REBECCA SLOAN

VINDICATOR CORRESPONDENT

t's sloppy, disgusting and oh, so disgruntling. Who doesn't want to utter an oath and tear out his hair when he discovers a clogged drain?

The good news is there are many ways you can prevent drains from clogging in the first place.

Steve Hendershot, owner of Roto-Rooter Plumbers in Youngstown, said pouring grease down the kitchen sink is the biggest faux pas people make that's guaranteed to create a clog.

"The grease cools and sticks in the drain and then food particles that are washed down the drain later stick in the grease," Hendershot said.

Brian Pritchard, of A to Z Drain Service and Sewer Cleaning in Niles, said dish soap will also stick to greasy drain residue and create clogs.

Another problem: Pritchard said that some other surefire ways to clog a kitchen drain include jamming too much food down the garbage disposal.

"You should never put celery in the kitchen garbage disposal," Pritchard said. "Because celery is stringy, it will get stuck in the disposal and cause a clog. Too many potato peels will also do this."

Pritchard recommends running lots of water down the disposal whenever using it.

"Don't pile a bunch of food in the disposal and then turn it on. Turn the water on, keep it running and add garbage to the disposal gradually," Pritchard said.

When it comes to bathroom drains, both Pritchard and Hendershot said soap residue and hair can create a clog in no time.

"You should always use hair traps in the bathroom sink and tub," Hendershot advised.

Pritchard said people lose about 80 to 120 hairs per day, and it's easy for many of these to get washed down the drain.

"If a bathroom drain is running slow, it's most likely clogged with hair that is stuck in residue from shampoos and conditioners. Remember that lots of conditioners are made from animal fats, which means they are greasy," Pritchard said.

In the laundry room, the biggest clog culprit is lint, according to Pritchard.

"If your washing machine empties into a laundry basin, you can stop lint from clogging the drain by putting a piece of panty hose over the water discharge line to catch the lint," Pritchard said.

Be careful: If you happen to have a clogged drain right now, your first impulse is probably to go out and buy a bottle of Drano or Liquid Plumber.

This might get things moving again, but both Pritchard and Hendershot said people should use over-the-counter drain products with caution.

"The biggest mistake people make when they use an over-the-counter product is to mix different kinds of products together. For instance, they might start out pouring bleach or vinegar down the drain thinking that will solve the clog, and when that doesn't work, they might go and buy some Drano and pour that down the drain. When that doesn't work, they might go and get some Liquid Plumber and pour that down the drain. Mixing products together can result in dangerous -- even deadly -- poisonous gases," Hendershot explained.

Hendershot said he knows of a woman who died from the poisonous gas that resulted when she mixed together various drain chemicals while trying to eliminate a clog.

"It's important to remember that these chemicals have acid in them, and acid can be dangerous, especially when it is mixed with something else," Hendershot said.

Pritchard said if your home has a septic tank, you shouldn't use drain openers that contain acids because the acids break down the septic bacteria that's needed to dissolve waste.

Hendershot said that if one dose of Drano, or a similar over-the-counter product, doesn't take care of the clog, it's best to call a professional.

"If the drain is still clogged, you can go out and buy another bottle of Drano or whatever, but most likely if the product doesn't work once, then it isn't going to really take care of the problem," he said.

Worse yet, Pritchard said that repeated use of acidic drain products such as Drano or Liquid Plumber can actually damage pipes.

"Acid can eat through pipes," he said.

Of course, sometimes people forgo the Drano all together and attempt to take care of a clog with a plunger or a sewer snake.

Don't get snake-bit: Plungers can often work wonders on clogged drains if the blockage isn't wedged too far inside the drain, but sewer snakes are best for clogs wedged deep in the plumbing. If you decide to give the snake a shake, Hendershot recommends doing so with caution.

"I discourage people from going out and renting a really long, professional-quality sewer snake. Snakes like these can be as long as 75 feet, and if you don't know what you are doing, you can end up damaging your plumbing, even injuring yourself if you aren't strong enough to use the equipment," he said.

Remember also that no matter what method of clog removal is used, clogs can "move" from drain to drain.

"If your kitchen and laundry are on the same pipe, and you take care of a clog in the kitchen, what you really might have done is redirect the clog to the laundry room," Hendershot said.

If only one drain in the house is clogged, this often indicates that the problem is simple and the clog is right below the trap of the drain.

However, if more than one drain is clogged, especially if they are basement drains, this could be a sign that the main drain line is clogged. If you suspect that a main drain line is clogged, it's always best to call a professional.

Pritchard said tree roots often cause clogs in main drain lines. If this is the case, a plumber will need to use a snake to remove the clog. Pritchard said some plumbers, including himself, even have minivideo cameras they can run through the main drain line to determine where exactly the clog is.

Finding the clog this way is much less costly than hiring someone to tear up the entire main drain line, he said.

Since an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, some people nip clogs in the bud by regularly treating their drains with products designed to eat away at build-up and keep things flowing smoothly.

Good methods: Pritchard and Hendershot said that if you choose this route, it is best to use an environmentally safe product that relies on enzymes -- not acids -- to keep drains running clear.

Enzyme-based products used to maintain drains can be purchased over-the-counter or through plumbers.

Pritchard said you can also dump some boiling water down the kitchen and bathroom drains on a regular basis to help keep greasy clogs from forming.

"Just make sure you use plenty of boiling water, though, or it may just melt the grease and cause it to settle in the arm of a pipe," Pritchard said.




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