Thursday, December 4, 2008

My "How to Unclog a Shower Drain" Success Story

Within the last 12 hours or so, I have had two success stories: 1) I sold a piece of my friend's furniture from a Craig's List ad and 2) I was able to successfully unclog my tenant's shower drain. I'm mighty pleased.

Success 1 - Furniture

Last night I met Rita, the person who emailed me about the sofa table, down at the building where the furniture was stored. Rita was great and really patient with me when I had a hard time figuring out how to open certain doors (and this was after I had made a test run and everything! ...I guess you can't plan for everything.) Anyway, she looked the table over and haggled with me a little, but not too much, then she handed me the cash and we loaded it up into her car. The whole thing took no time at all and it was great fun going up to Joe and Tracey's apartment afterward and greeting her at the door with cold hard cash!

I intended to measure more of the pieces while I was there, but we sat around talking until it was fairly late, so I will swing back down this weekend. Besides, I have plans for tonight and I am working tomorrow night, so it would be hard for me to set appointments, but I should be able to get another piece going next week. In any case, I am thrilled with how this first one went! Hopefully I can get her storage room completely cleared out soon!

Success 2 - How to Unclog a Stopped Shower Drain*

Last week I went to the tenant's apartment to measure her space for supplemental heater I was going to purchase for her. On her door was a note asking me to look at her bathtub since it was draining slowly. I looked - yep, it was going slow. It wasn't unbearable, it had completely drained within an hour, but it was definitely clogged.

The tenant told me she had already tried Liquid Plumber, so I emailed a friend of mine who I knew had a drain snake. He offered to lend it to me, but also suggested a product he had had really good luck with at Lowe's. Unfortunately, they didn't seem to carry it at the one I went to, so I bought something else. I should point out at this point, after reading a whole bunch of websites about unclogging drains (links at the end,) all of them strongly recommend never pouring chemicals down your pipes. I didn't know this at the time though, so I bought another pipe cleaning product that looked like it might work and gave that a try Tuesday morning.

That same day I happened to be talking to a guy at work about clogged drains and he mentioned that he had a drain snake and could bring it in on Wednesday. It was a good thing too - because sure enough, later that day I got an email from the tenant telling me that the product I used hadn't worked and now the water was up to her ankles. ("Oh gee - it's up to my knee! Oh my - it's up to my thigh!" Anyone know the quote?) So, yesterday my coworker brought in the drain snake and gave me a fifteen minute tutorial.

I had one question though - over the drain was a metal hair-catcher grate. It just lifted off. But in the drain, about 2" down, was another grate - and it didn't look like it would come out! My coworker assured me that it must come out and was probably just held in place by gravity. He suggested using a bent paperclip to pull it out, but he had obviously never seen this drain. That second grate was welded in place, and so I did what I always do in times of trouble and despair... I turned to the internet.

Here's what I learned: The best method for unclogging a shower drain is to first just look for clogs of hair and soap. I didn't have any of those visible.

The next step is to use your handy plunger. I tried this too - no luck.

Now it is time to get out the drain snake. If you can access your pipes through your shower drain, that's great! But if you have an older tub like mine, then you are going to need to access the pipes through the overflow valve. The overflow on a tub drains into the pipes, just like the drain in the bottom of the shower. My tub had a metal plate over the overflow which was held in place by two flat head screws and was very easy to remove.

Once the plate is off you can look down into your pipes - you may be a bit surprised how much gunk is even in the overflow part, I was! Now feed about 3' of the snake into the pipe, turning it as you apply gentle downward pressure. It is going to have to work its way through the P trap, so it will take a little finagling, but not too bad. Eventually you will feel the clog. Continue to turn the snake so that the spring shaped head works through the clog - then pull it out.

I was shocked at how easy this was. In fact, I kept trying to get more gunk out the drain long after I had cleared the clog - not knowing that I had already fixed the problem! The first time I pulled out the snake it was covered in big gobs of hair and soap. This was why I brought big rubber gloves and a plastic trash bags up with me. The total mass wasn't very big, so I reinserted the snake... twice. Neither time brought up any additional goo, so I finally figured out it was time to try the drain. I cleaned up the soap scum that fell off the drain snake (no sense having it go back in the pipes) with a rag, then flushed it with hot water... it worked like a charm!!

I ran the hot water for quite awhile without any problems, the drain ran smooth! The only problem I had was putting on the overflow plate, but that was just because it was an awkward angle, once I got the screws threaded it went on easily.

So, overall I am really happy! And to think, I was able to unclog the drain without bad chemicals or calling a plumber. I think the next time I have clogging issues, I am going to go out and purchase my own drain snake. If I add up the cost of the bottles of chemicals I have poured down my drains over the years, I could have a snake several times over! Of course, in my own home I am a big believer in putting a 1/2 cup baking soda and a 1/2 vinegar down the drains once a month to keep them clear and smelling fresh. It's cheap and environmentally friendly - and prevents these kinds of problems from forming in the first place.

Here are the links I used:

DoItYourself - Unclogging Bathtub Drains

This Old House - Clear Any Clogged Drain

*Tracey - tell Joe I was successful on the drain for me!

Photo by: morbidly_obese


Catie said...

"I'm being swallowed by a boa constrictor....."

Thanks, now that will be chanting through my head all day.

Dawn said...

Exact-a-mundo! Heh, and I am glad I could make your day just a little more poetic.