Taking ownership of a property tends to be a proud moment – and that’s true whether you’re on the first rung of the ladder or all the way at the top. Unfortunately, there are some less glamourous sides to being a homeowner, and many of these will involve words like leaking, cracked, broken and backed up.
With this in mind, we’ve asked our pals at Bentley Drains to share some advice on what to do if your drains are blocked.
Fair warning: this post may not be suitable for those of a delicate constitution. If you’re halfway through a chocolate biscuit, it may be best to look away now.
How do you know if you might have a blockage?
Some blocked drains can be obvious, others can be harder to locate, especially if the blockage is underground.
You may have a blockage if:
- Your sink, shower or bath is emptying very slowly (or not at all).
- You’re finding it hard to flush your toilet.
- There are bad smells coming from your drains.
- There is seepage or a leak around any external drainpipes, grates or manhole covers.
- You can hear suspicious gurgling noises.
If you’ve noticed any of these signs, it’s probably time to take action. There are some remedies you can try yourself, but if they don’t work, you’ll need to call a plumber or drain clearing professional.
In cases of horrendous smells, unmanageable leaks or serious seepage, you’ll probably want to jump straight to calling the professionals.
How do blockages happen?
There’s no delicate way to say this, but the only things you should be putting down your drains are water, toilet paper and, erm, human waste. Everything else should be put in the bin instead.
Things like fat, oil, soap, hair and food scraps can come together to become solid entities inside your pipes. This can be compounded – literally – if you’re also flushing things like wet wipes (yes, even the ones that claim to be flushable!), sanitary towels, tampons, nappies or general rubbish.
If you haven’t heard of the 40-tonne fatberg that was found in the London sewer system some years ago, reading about it could be a really good way to ruin your day.
Installing drain screens in your plug holes can help to help reduce the risk of contributing to your own fatberg. We’d also recommend clearing external drains, gutters and downspouts at least once a year, more frequently if you live in a heavy foliage area (not a euphemism).
What can you do about it once it’s happened?
The best way to deal with a blockage is not to let it happen in the first place, but that’s not an exceptionally helpful thing to hear when your loos won’t flush. If things have all gone a bit wrong, you’ll want to address it as quickly as possible. As you can probably imagine, things can get a lot worse very quickly when you’re dealing with drains.
Before you go anywhere near blocked interior or exterior drains, you’ll need to make sure you’re properly togged up. You’ll need to wear appropriate protective gear such as gloves and eye protection. We also strongly advise that you exercise caution when working near any drain openings outside.
Identify the issue
It probably goes without saying that you’ll need to determine where the issue is before you can do much about it. Is the issue a single sink, bath, shower or toilet… or are multiple drains affected? Have you checked any external drains, downpipes and manhole covers? This can help assess the severity of the blockage.
Try a plunger
In many cases, it’s hard to beat the effectiveness of a good, old-fashioned plunger. Make sure you have the right plunger for the job (if you’re dealing with a blocked loo, you’ll need a specialist toilet plunger), fill the sink, bath or shower tray with enough water to cover the rubber cup, then plunge vigorously up and down.
Use a drain snake or auger
Drain snakes and augers are tools that can reach deeper into the drain to remove clogs. This is a bit more technical, and you’ll need to follow the manufacturer’s instructions. In cases of more severe blockages, you may need to remove the drain trap or even the u-bend to make it down to the clog.
Some minor grease and soap issues can be addressed by carefully pouring boiling water down the drain. If that doesn’t work, a mixture of baking soda and vinegar might do the trick. Pour the baking soda down the drain, followed by the vinegar, then leave it to fizz for a while like a school science experiment. This should then be flushed down with hot water.
Chemical drain cleaners
Chemical drain cleaners can be effective, but they should really only be used as a last resort. Not only are they harsh on pipes and often not environmentally friendly, they can also be very dangerous if not used safely. If you go for this option, make sure you follow the instructions very carefully, including wearing protective gear and ensuring ventilation.
Dealing with external drains, downpipes, grates and manholes
If you have an external blockage or flood, you’ll need to act quickly to prevent water damage to your property. Larger drain snakes and augers can be useful here, as can using a gloved hand or garden tool to manually remove debris such as leaves or twigs. As a last resort, jetting with a high-pressure water hose might help to break down a blockage, but you’ll need to be careful you don’t end up with a more severe flooding issue than you started with.
Call in the professionals
If you haven’t managed to clear the clog yourself, or if you suspect a more serious issue like a damaged or collapsed pipe, we recommend contacting a drainage professional. They’ll have the equipment and expertise needed to diagnose and fix more complex issues.
Can we help?
Whatever your drainage issue, your safety should always be paramount. Please be cautious when using any tools or chemicals, as causing further damage or even injury is the last thing you’ll want. If you’re at all unsure or uncomfortable with the process, please don’t hesitate to call in an expert.