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Use drain cleaners for clogs

Dear Ms. Builder: Our house is not even ten years old yet and we are starting to get occasional clogs in the drains. Do you think that the plumbing was not done correctly? What drain cleaners are best to use? - Patty H.

Dear Patty: Without inspecting your house, it is difficult to determine the precise cause of the occasional clogs. It may be the normal aging process, the plumbing may have too many bends or it may be an inadequate size. Without tearing the walls open, the former is difficult to determine.

Drain pipes do age somewhat like our faces. There is natural buildup of some gooey stuff called bio-film. Unfortunately, they have not perfected laser resurfacing for the inside of drain pipes yet.

Bio-film slowly builds up over time from bacteria acting on food particles, soaps, conditioners, body oils, toothpaste, etc. This black gunk is very sticky and gradually hardens like creosote in a chimney. Ten years is a typical time when the buildup often begins to cause problems.

Bathtubs are usually one of the worst drains for this. Long hairs tend to get stuck in the bio-film and form a tough solid blockage. Also, bathtub drains often have a fairly long nearly horizontal drain run under the tub. The water velocity is slow through this area creating a faster buildup.

When you have a clog, you can try to use a standard old plunger, but it will probably just pump out a lot of the smelly black gunk. A drain-cleaning snake usually works, but it gets messy too. If your plumber put in too many sharp elbows, the snake may not reach the point of the clog.

Unless you have a septic tank system, a standard liquid drain cleaner is your most effective and less expensive option. The ones called "thick" are supposed to settle through the standing water and make their way to the clog.

Do not use these with a septic system because the harsh chemical drain cleaners can kill the good bacteria in the septic tank. Without the bacteria, the septic tank is ineffective. Use enzyme cleaner regularly to keep the drains clean. A clog will often require a call to the plumber.

If you have a wet/dry vacuum, use it to remove as much of the water from the pipe as possible. This reduces the dilution of the drain cleaner. First ladle the standing water out of the sink or tub. Seal off any overflow openings and let the vacuum suck out the water.

Pour the thick cleaner in the drain and let it stand as long as the packaging indicates. Instead of just turning on the water and the recommended time period, put a stopper or rag over the drain and fill it half full. Remove the stopper and the water flow will have more force.

Drano makes a new foaming type of drain cleaner. This is particularly effective for cleaning the entire inside surface of the drain pipe because it foams and expands. Standard cleaners, even the thick ones, only come in contact with the bottom surface of the pipes due to gravity.

If you have a stubborn clog, both Drano (800-558-5252) and Liquid Plumber (800-227-1860) have help lines that you can call. If you end up needing professional help, make sure to tell the plumber that you used drain cleaners so he does not get chemical burns.

For those of you building a new home, plan the plumbing carefully. Use as few 90-degree elbows as possible. For horizontal drain pipes, a slope of 3/8 inch per foot length is ideal to keep the water flowing fast.

Consider using 2-inch drain pipe for bathtubs instead of standard 1-1/2-inch pipe. This makes is much easier to feed a snake through when there is a clog.

Send your questions to Ms. Builder, 6906 Royalgreen Dr., Cincinnati, OH 45244 or visit www.dulley.com/msbuilder.