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HOME MAINTENANCE : Foresight Will Help Drains Flow Freely

January 01, 1994| From Associated Press

A little preventive maintenance will keep your bathtub drain from clogging.

A slightly clogged drain is much easier to clear than a totally blocked one. In many cases, flushing the drain with liberal doses of boiling water will restore free flow. (Don't pour boiling water into plastic pipes, however. They are not made for temperatures over 180 degrees Fahrenheit.)

Keep a bathtub drain from clogging by cleaning the stopper assembly every couple of months. On most tubs, remove the screws from the overflow plate and pull out the assembly. Then ease the stopper out. Clean both pieces of any accumulation and reinstall them. With the curved part of the stopper linkage facing down, work the stopper gently back and forth to fit it into place. Then reinstall the overflow plate.

Act promptly when you notice the bathtub drain is emptying slower than usual. When a bathtub drains slowly or not at all, it's probably caused by an accumulation of hair and soap curds lodged in the drainpipe, usually near the drain opening.

To correct such clogging, use a rubber plunger with a wide flat tip that makes good contact with the tub bottom. Before starting, remove the stopper and stuff a wet rag into the overflow drain to increase pressure.

Run an inch or so of water into the tub. Spread a thin coat of petroleum jelly on the lip of the plunger. Place it directly over the drain, tilting it slightly to release trapped air, and plunge it up and down vigorously to build up pressure. Then pull the plunger off the drain opening. If the water rushes down the drain, you have dislodged the blockage. Run more water in the tub. If it doesn't go down easily, try the plunger again.

If the plunger doesn't do the job, try a trap-and-drain auger, better known as a plumber's snake. Available at hardware stores, this is a long, flexible tube with a spiral hook at one end and a crank handle at the other.

Remove the overflow plate and stopper assembly. Feed the snake through the overflow opening. Crank the handle of the snake clockwise, pushing and pulling it to work the head down into the trap below the floor to break up the blockage. In older homes, the bathtubs may have a cylindrical drum trap on the floor near the tub. On other bathtubs, access to the drainpipe is through a nearby trapdoor. Use these access routes to unclog these types with a snake.

Another way to clear a blocked drain is with a liquid drain opener. These chemical cleaners are heavier than water and settle through the water in the pipe to reach and dissolve the blockage. Use extreme caution when using a chemical drain cleaner. It's highly caustic and can burn your skin and corrode pipes. Follow directions on the container exactly. Wear rubber gloves and safety goggles. If you splash cleaner on your skin, douse it immediately with cold water. If the drain remains clogged after you add drain cleaner, don't try to clean the drain by any other means. Allow the water to remain in the tub and call a plumber.

Treat your drains monthly with the following homemade cleaner that deodorizes drains and fights buildup in traps. It's safer than a commercial drain cleaner--especially if you have a septic system, but not if you have plastic pipes:

Place one cup of baking soda, one cup of salt and a quarter cup of cream of tartar in a covered jar and shake well to mix. To use, pour a quarter cup directly down the drain, followed by two cups of boiling water. After one minute, flush it out with cool tap water.

Store the unused mixed ingredients in a dry place in a tightly sealed container.

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