Bathroom Sink Blockage

Your bathroom sink drain line is prone to clogging and is barraged on a daily basis by:

  • Toothpaste
  • Facial hair
  • Shaving cream
  • Soap
  • Make-up

Other items such as: toothpaste caps, rubber bands, hair ties, Q-tips, disposable razor covers, and can fall into the drain opening.

When you experience a stopped up bathroom sink a plunger rarely works. As there is an air gap inside of the sink within the overflow port not allowing for suction. A large amount of foreign matter enters the bathroom sink. There is always a good chance that removing the trap, clearing any contents inside the tailpiece, and rinsing and reassembling the trap, will usually remedy the situation. If the problem still persists and the stoppage comes back immediately, you must decide between a chemical based drain opener, or a drain cleaning cable accessed through the trap arm to remedy the clog. You could try a liquid drain cleaner which is cost effective, but rarely works.

The decision to use a chemical may have some negative consequences, in addition to not working. If the chemicals do not free the clog quickly, continuous exposure beyond the recommended time frame for the chemical process may lead to damage of the drainpipe inside the wall. In this case, add water (if you can) to dilute the acid that is in the drain. Great care should be used to avoid injury (using proper gloves and eye protection usually helps). Always read the entire safety precautions when using acid products. Most of the time the trap must be removed in order to access the bathroom sink drain line, and cleared with a drain cleaning cable. After the line has been cleared, and the drainpipe put together, test the line by filling the basin up with water and draining it in one shot. If you cannot clear the line and have used acid, please advise the service person, of the existence of acid so they can take the proper safety measures.

Toilet Blockage

Toilets get clogged by putting foreign objects into them, or overloading them with too much waste:

  • Nose tissues.
  • Paper towels.
  • Dental floss.
  • Cotton ear cleaning tips.

Clearing a toilet clog can be as simple as using a closet auger to hook and drag back or push the object(s) through into the main sewer line. In other instances, it can be a bigger problem requiring the toilet to be removed so the item can be removed from the water trap within the toilet casting. There are times when a blockage can be past the toilet trap somewhere between the closet flange, and the main house sewer line, requiring a main line sewer cable/ sewer camera to identify and pinpoint the exact location of the obstruction for removal. If the toilet is on the ground floor and there is not a shower or bathtub in the same bathroom, it is possible you have a Main Sewer Line Blockage, and the toilet holding water is the symptom.

The best way to verify this is to:

  • Run water from another location to see if the water level in the toilet bowl rises.
  • If there is a tub or shower on the same floor and there is water backing up from one of these drains, then the problem is a main line problem.
  • If you do not have a main line clog, use the toilet auger to clear the toilet. (When buying a toilet auger make sure to buy one that extends an extra 3′ beyond the toilet trap.)
  • After clearing the toilet, do a load test with toilet paper and water. If the toilet clogs again when you put solids in, and it can be cleared again with the auger, then there is something stuck in the outlet.
  • In this case, the toilet will need to be pulled to remove the obstruction.
  • If auguring the toilet does not work, you may try to plunge the toilet.
  • If neither plunging or auguring works, refer to Main Sewer Line Blockage.

Anytime there is a toilet clog that has been cleared, the toilet should be flushed several times with a load test to verify it is still flushing and the wax seal has not gone out.

Bathtub/Shower Blockage

Your bathtub drain has an overflow drain that is designed to allow water back down into the drain line if the water level gets too high. This acts as a safety feature in the event the stopper is engaged and water is still filling up the tub. Unfortunately, the overflow design cannot handle the maximum flow rate while the stopper is engaged, so this safety feature is not effective for draining the full volume of water that can be produced from the tub spout. Another important element of the bathtub overflow is to provide drain cleaning access for clearing the drain. Attempting to clear the clog with a snake cable through this opening will only be effective if the stoppage is local and blocking the bathtub drain line before the waste water reaches the mainline sewer. The local drain piping for the tub is known as the “waste and overflow.” If you have a bathtub that is holding standing water:

  • First check that the drain is in the open position.
  • Use a faucet or a sink close by and flush the toilet to see if the water comes back into the tub.
  • If water comes up from the other drain usage into the tub, refer to Main Sewer Line Blockage.
  • Provided you have concluded there is a bathtub drain line stoppage:
  • Remove the face plate for the overflow, and run an electric or non-electric 1/4,” or smaller, cable through the face plate access. A non-electric powered hand drill snake can do the job just as well.
  • After clearing the line make several passes with the cable, and run plenty of water.
  • Make sure to correctly re-secure the face plate to make a good seal.

Clearing a shower drain is done with the same size drain cables. With a shower stall you remove the plate over the drain and cable from there. An inflatable rubber bag that attaches to the end of a garden hose can clear the shower drain if the problem is before the vent branch.

Kitchen Sink Blockage

Your kitchen sink has several possible drain line configurations depending on when it was built, the number of basins, whether a garbage disposal/dishwasher is installed, etc To properly diagnose a kitchen sink stoppage, you are going to have to identify what you have in place. Look under the sink and see how the drain lines connect from under the sink to the wall.

If you have a two-compartment sink with a garbage disposal installed, the sink drains together into one trap using a tee fitting.

If there is standing water in the garbage disposal side of the sink, while the other sink basin flows, then you have an obstruction in the tee. Or the disposal is clogged. Please refer to the Garbage Disposal tips to clear the disposal. If this does not work, the tee will need to be removed, cleaned, and reinstalled.

If you have standing water in both sinks, then you have a stoppage starting from the bottom of the tee forward to the point where the kitchen drain line branch ties into the main house sewer line. The same is true for a single sink basin except you do not have to determine if the problem is in one sink or the other. If you have a sink clean-out access somewhere downstream, open it:

  • See if water comes out.
  • If the drain is full of water at the clean-out access, then the line can be cleared from this point forward.
  • If no water comes out, then the problem is between the kitchen sink and the clean-out access you just opened.
  • You will need to get a bucket to bail the water, and a pair of large channel locks to remove the trap from underneath the sink.
  • When the trap is removed, verify the water flows from the sink basin before running a cable down the drain outlet.
  • After the line has been cleared, put the drain back together and run plenty of water to verify it is running.
  • Also, fill both sinks and allow the water to flow all at once to look for any signs of leakage.

Dishwasher Drain Blockage

Your dishwasher drain line connects underneath the kitchen sink to the bottom of the anti back flow device called an, air gap. This device mounts, both above and below, your kitchen sink and is best known as that cylindrical chrome covered part that mounts into one of the kitchen sinkholes. It has an opening that points toward your sink drain. The air gap performs a very important function by creating a high point between the top flood rim of your sink basin, and the actual opening inside the sink. This feature prevents the discharging dishwasher water from coming out of the front door of the dishwasher onto the floor,if the drain is clogged. Not good if you do a load of dishes before going out of town and you have (had) a nice hardwood floor. With an air gap, the water from a clog will shoot into the sink. A very small amount of discharge water from the air gap during the very beginning of the dishwasher discharge cycle is acceptable.

If the water continues to drain from the air gap during the drain cycle of the dishwasher, it is likely the problem is a kinked or blocked hose from the garbage disposal hose to air gap. The bottom of the air gap has two connections, one connects the dishwasher drain line to the air gap, and the other larger hose connects to the garbage disposal inlet to the air gap. When this larger hose that connects between the air gap and the garbage disposal gets clogged, the drain water from the dishwasher cannot enter the garbage disposal and therefore pumps out of the air gap opening. This can be caused by improper installation of the garbage disposal hose. When the hose is not installed to follow a downward slope, the resulting sag in the hose will create a trap effect, and after several months or years the hose becomes more and more obstructed resulting in water coming out of the air gap.

This repair requires a moderate amount of mechanical skill with high dexterity. You need a 5/16″ nut driver to remove the hose and a cutting device to shorten the hose, if need be before reinstalling it. Test all work after for leaks.

Washing Machine Blockage

A washing machine discharges into a standpipe or a utility sink. A utility sink – provided the discharge hose is weighed down so it does not jump out when the machine is discharging – is preferable. If there is a standpipe, you should look for a clean out access to cable the line. If no clean out access is available, then cable the line through the standpipe.

The standpipe is connected to a trap that is often buried inside the wall, so you cannot see it. If there is a clean out-access after the trap, verify the line is clogged after this location by pouring a moderate amount of water down the line to see if it backs up at the opened clean out-access. If so, then you should cable from this point forward. If not, then the problem is between the standpipe and the clean out location.

When the drain is running indirectly into another basin, verify there is nothing blocking the strainer. If there is nothing blocking the strainer, take off the trap and shine a light down the line from the strainer to make sure there is no obstruction between the strainer and trap. If the blockage is neither in the strainer or trap, then the line needs to cabled from the wall drain outlet forward, to the main line connection. After the line has been cleared, fill the basin up with water and test the drain for leaks while letting the basin drain.

Main Sewer Line Blockage

Your mainline sewer design and construction will vary greatly by:

  • The year your home was built.
  • The type of material used in the sewer line itself.
  • The plumbing and building codes that were in effect for your area at the time of construction.
  • And whether you are tied into the city sewer system, or utilize your own privately owned and maintained septic system.

If you are using a septic system, you will have to check to see if the tank is full, if so, it will have to be pumped out. In some cases there is a sewer ejector to which there can be a host of different issues. If you do not know what you are doing on a sewage ejector system you should not work on it because serious electrical shock can occur. For those of you connected directly into the city sewer service, when you have a mainline sewer stoppage, you will be looking for a clean-out access to use the equipment needed to clear the line. Most mainline sewers in residential drain/sewer systems have clean-outs installed.

The sewer line cannot reasonably be cleared until proper access is available. The minimum size needed to clear a main line is through a 3″ pipe. Many buildings built before the 1960’s do not have a proper mainline clean-out access. In years past, the mainline would have been accessed through the toilet. Cutting in a clean-out access is a complete must, unless there is no other option. If no clean-out exists, one should be installed to save you time and money.

A big concern is in determining the most reasonable location to install a clean-out access. Pulling the toilet will usually allow access to the main sewer line. There are a lot of negatives to this practice, including:

  • The bathroom will become a mess when the cable drum is spinning.
  • Excess water on the cable will cover the walls.
  • The house will stink like sewage for days and possibly expose you to bacteria.
  • The cost of removing and re-installing the toilet is often as expensive as installing a clean-out.
  • If the toilet has been pulled in lieu of installing a clean-out, when the problem occurs again you are back to square one.

The only time it is reasonable to pull a toilet is when it is the most logical decision for an experienced drain service person to make, because it is the only access in an emergency to avoid water damage by opening the drain in a lower area. Bringing a mainline sewer machine into your bathroom can easily result in some form of property damage. When access to the main line has been obtained, run water from another location and verify it is coming out of the clean-out. It is important to be aware that if the sewer main is holding water, the contents will dump when you open it. This would be especially true if pulling a toilet and there is water sitting in the tub or shower drain indicating there will be a mess if you pull the toilet. If there is not a tub or shower to help assist in making this decision, enter with caution because there may not be any other indicator except the volume of water in the toilet, which is throughout the underground drainage system up to the abnormal toilet water level.

Here at O’Grady Plumbing, we do not recommend homeowners attempt to clear a mainline. Even the easiest clogs are impossible if you do not have the correct equipment to clear the blockage. Often the problem is grease, roots, broken pipes and a host of other issues that a novice should not touch. Should you feel lucky, and you have the right size cable (1/2″-3/4″ only) try the trouble shooting steps outlined above and proceed with caution. If you can clear the line, it is important to run plenty of water to test the line and flush all of the toilets on the same level as the main line clog, to verify the wax seal is still good, and there are no leaks. Also, check all secondary drain lines on the same level to verify no back flow of solids from the larger clogged main did not back up and cause a secondary blockage in a smaller drain. This happens from time to time.

If you cannot clear the line, call a professional to get the job done right.