what causes a drain to backupby Leo Borton

Drains lines become slow, or stop draining for a wide variety of reasons. I am asked to explain what happened all the time. To start, I would like to tell a story that I ran into some months back.

I went to a home in Oregon City on a drain stoppage call. I called to let her know that I was on my way, and that I would be about 30 minute away. Then I hear that she had used a chemical drain opener to try and clear the drain herself. This is something we hear a lot, so I just figured I was going to have to go through the process of protecting the home, and my personnel from any chemicals.

Upon arrival I could smell the unmistakable smell of rotten eggs, a smell that most plumbers do not wish to smell. I looked at the kitchen sink to see steam coming out. These are two things (the smell of rotten eggs and steam) no one should want to experience — this means sulfuric acid. I very quickly started taking things apart to clear the line, and get the acid out of the plumbing system.

All this was happening while I was trying to explain why I was moving so fast, and how bad the acid could be. I also saw a garbage disposal under the sink full of water and acid (this just keeps getting worse). To keep this story short, I got the drain open to find that the acid had eaten part of the drain, the garbage disposal, the trap under the sink, and all of the chrome inside the sink. I asked to see the drain cleaner and found that the company had put the words “safe sulfuric acid” on the bottle. I also discovered that this product was purchased at a very well known grocery store. There is no such thing as a “safe sulfuric acid.”

Now I know that most people use drain cleaners. I see the result of that a lot, and do not give anyone a hard time for it. We all try to do something on our own to save money, or not to have a strange person in our home. But they are bad, for a long list of reasons. They do, in fact, damage the drain lines. The story that I just told is worse than most.

For those who use these products for maintenance purposes, please consider this: Most stoppages are the result of grease, even if you do not use grease, or eat food with grease. This happens due to the soaps we use every day. All soaps use a protein of some sort as a cleansing agent along with a lot of other stuff.

Proteins break down into grease. The grease floats on top of the water and sticks to the top of the pipe. That’s right, the stoppage usually starts at the top of the pipe, and works its way down. When we put a chemical down the line, it just runs under all the stuff you are trying to get rid of. When we have a stoppage, that’s when the grease gets in the way… in the whole length of the pipe. So the chemicals don’t always clear the line, because it can only reach the front of the stoppage, or if the water goes down. The stoppage comes back in a short period of time. This happens due to the chemicals just putting a hole in the grease, but did not clear the line. When home owners have hair stoppages, the grease, and soaps get cleaned off. And we think the drain is clear, until it happens again in a few weeks or months.

As I said earlier, I understand why homeowners use these products. And I would not give any one a hard time for it. But I think everyone needs the right information to help you understand why your drain lines aren’t working properly. Or why it seems that your drain line needs more and more chemicals… almost like they are hooked on them. Add up what you spend on chemicals, and you might find that the plumber isn’t so costly.

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