Friday, February 12, 2010

Simple living solution to slow drains and clogged pipes - an heirloom skill that works wonders today.

In a world of simple living, we are all looking for green solutions to problems. Here is a great heirloom skill and the ultimate green answer to slow drains and clogged pipes

Boiling water – the simple living green cure for backed up pipes

Slow draining tubs, sinks that gurgle and spit while draining – these are the kinds of slow torture that the world throws at you while you are trying to turn your little homestead into a new garden of Eden.  Well, the scream of your tea kettle as it reaches full boil can be the last scream that needs to be heard regarding stopped plumbing woes. My cottage was built in 1924, and so it has cast iron pipes and very small ones at that. So far, I have found no leaks. However, after 86 years of use, the pipes have become clogged with gunk and buildup. When I moved in the tub drained slowly and the bathroom sink moved slower than molasses and had a faint sour smell. The sink became worse and worse and finally, I had to do something. Hiring a plumber was out of the question for many reasons, money not the least.

I was afraid to use any of the common chemical based ones you find in the grocery store. Not only were they not “green”, but I feared what effect all that caustic chemical would have on antique iron pipes. Finally, in desperations I replaced the entire U trap under the sink. It was then that I noticed the smell. Oh god, it was the worst smell ever. Even the guys in the hardware store were turning green and you know they must be used to some mighty foul smells. Finally, the U trap was replaced with spanking new PVC. I turned on the water and…. Slow drain.

It was obvious I could not replace all the pipe- I had somehow to clean them out and open them up. I wanted to use old fashioned methods and I was afraid of corroding my pipe with strong chemicals, so I took to home remedies. First I tried snaking and plunging. The snaking was a total loss and the plunging only succeeded in bringing up brown smelly gunk up into my sink. No matter how many times I used the plunger there seemed to be an unlimited amount of brown flakes.

The next thing I tried was baking soda and vinegar. I put the soda in first then added vinegar. It was the classic science fair volcano and it was totally useless. Then remembering my mom using vinegar as a rinse to clean all kinds of things, I decided to try vinegar all by itself.  I tried massive amounts – a full gallon, of pure vinegar. Honestly, this seemed to help. The drain ran noticeably quicker. I felt like I had a success. But in a matter of minutes the drain was back to a slow gurgle. In total frustration, I reached for a container of drain cleaner I had bought just in case. Iron pipes be damned – I snatched the bottle up and poured it all into the slowing draining sink. The thick liquid sunk to the bottom of the sink – and remained there. Unbelievable. Not only did it not cause the water to rush down an open drain, but it actually just sat there. The drain was completely stopped now. This was impossible – how could modern science fail me?

Panicked, I sank into gloom. While sulking in a chair out in the garden, the smell of that goo on my hands surrounded me. Fighting back nausea, I try to figure out what exactly the smell was. A thousand horrid ways to smell that way danced through my head. Then suddenly it struck me – this was the smell of rancid fat. No fouler smell exists and this was surely that. It all fell in place – soap is full of fats and there must be years of buildup down there and it had all turned rancid. Suddenly, the drain cleaner failure made sense also. Soap is made from Fat and lye. The main ingredient in drain cleaner is lye or sodium hydroxide. Somehow the acid in the vinegar had loosened up those years of soap accumulation. Loosened but not removed it. As the loose mass began to move and flow slowly down the drain I had dumped a huge load of Lye right on top. This reset the soap as hard as it had ever been and this time all in one big clog. Well obviously, the acid in vinegar worked to soften the buildup, but not enough to clear it out of the system.

What other way does one get rid of big globs of soaponified fat. How do you clear soap from anything - hot water. Hot water was the missing ingredient. I put every large pan I owned on the range and set it for high. I waited for them all to reach boiling then I prepared for the assault. I poured the first large pot of boiling water into the sink. A few minutes passed and suddenly there was that heavenly clunk noise as the drain opened and the water rushed out of the basin. It worked. For good measure I poured two more large pots of boiling water down the sink. Under the sink, the pipes were hot all the way as far as I could feel them. Feeling flush with victory, I poured 2 pans into the kitchen sink and one in the bathtub. After a great deal of waiting for water to boil – I had perfectly opened up all the drains in my house and also completely cleaned them. The bathroom sink no longer had the lingering smell and it never returned.

Honestly, I have never had this problem again. But, just in case, I repeat this process with a giant pan in each drain every time I do spring cleaning. Now this method is useless against hair, but most hair would not stick to the pipes if it were not caught on a thick coating of soap buildup.

Now mind you, there are enzyme treatments available to digest soap buildup and they do work. But why bother with the cost and complexity when a pot of boiling water will not only clear the buildup but thoroughly cleanse and refresh the pipes. I really use this method and I have told all my friends about it. I tell you this is a green miracle.

1 comment:

  1. It's always good to have the necessary equipment when dealing with clogged pipes. A good old rubber plunger is one of the basic tools for the job. If that doesn't work, then it's time to unleash the metal snake and anti-clog chemicals.


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