Contrary to what some people seem to believe, when you flush something down your toilet or pour it into a sink, it doesn’t disappear. Toilets and drains are not mystical portals. They are more like roadways trying to transport traffic from one point to another.
Just like a mishap on the road can cause traffic to come to a standstill, a small problem in your plumbing system can cause a gridlock. If that happens, the best and most responsible option is to call an experienced plumbing professional who can resolve the problem and get everything working again.
You can help prevent household plumbing gridlock by being careful about the things you flush down your toilets or pour into your drains.
Here are some things that don’t belong in a waste system.
Chemicals have no place in a sewage system and that includes over-the-counter commercial drain cleaners, which can be highly caustic. Things like paint thinner, ammonia, fertilizers, pesticides, gas, solvents, etc., remain in the water system even after treatment at a sewage plant.
The Environmental Protection Agency notes some household waste even has the potential “to cause physical injury to sanitation workers, contaminate septic tanks or wastewater treatment systems if poured down drains or toilets.”
Diluted remnants of harsh chemicals still make it into rivers, lakes and oceans where they have a damaging impact on fragile ecosystems.
The City of Phoenix holds regular events to dispose of hazardous waste.
Grease and oil
Fats and grease from cooking should never be poured into a sink. Oil and water don’t mix. Instead, the grease tends to solidify and clog pipes. Even if the grease makes it past the drain lines in your home, they still cause havoc in main sewer lines. An article in Business Insider describes how a massive build-up of fat nearly caused a citywide sewer catastrophe.
Avoid flushing unused medications whether they are pills or liquids. Like other chemicals, medications you dump down the toilet will find their way into natural waterways, reports greenhome.com.
“Studies have found everything from antibiotics to ibuprofen to antidepressants in drinking water supplies throughout the U.S.”
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) periodically hosts National Prescription Drug Take-Back events where collection sites are set up in communities nationwide for safe disposal of prescription drugs.
Rice and pasta
Ever notice a pot of pasta that’s been left in water too long? These starchy foods absorb water and swell. If they swell inside a pipe there isn’t room for them to expand, so they can end up making a substantial, gross clog. Starch is a primary ingredient in many common types of glue, so the potential for a problem should be pretty obvious.
Wipes, paper towels, sanitary pads, etc.
Unlike toilet paper, which is made to dissolve, most paper products are designed to resist coming apart. Some cities have been forced to spend millions upgrading equipment to handle sanitary hygiene products, reports ecowatch.com. It’s not just a big city issue, though. Plenty of homeowners find their sewer lines clogged with baby wipes and paper towels and end up calling a local plumber to unclog their drains.
Another no-no to place down the drains are the stickers on fruits and veggies. Harmless as they may seem, the tiny stickers are regularly washed down the drain and can stick to pipes or get caught in screens and filters.
If you were trying to invent something for blocking drains, it would be hard to devise anything better than hair. Because of its thin diameter, it slips past flowing water and sticks in any nook or cranny of a plumbing system. Once lodged in those areas, it provides a collection spot for toothpaste, soap, grease, etc., and combines into a perfect clogging agent. Since the days of ancient Rome, horsehair has been added to mortar and plaster for strength and stability. Unfortunately, hair serves essentially the same purpose in your pipes.
Some homeowners place hair catchers in their drains, but another easy tip is to give your hair a good brushing before hoping in the shower.
Know what things you should avoid putting into your drains doesn’t mean it won’t happen on occasion. When it does and your drain backs up, call an experienced plumber to resolve the problem rather than trying to deal with the situation on your own and quite possibly making the problem worse.
About Linda Stanfield
Linda Stanfield has been offering plumbing services across the Valley for 31 years. She is the only plumber in the state to have won the BBB Ethics Award three times. As a plumbing leader in the valley, she can also be found on TV and YouTube sharing and helping consumers with their plumbing needs.
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