Keeping drains squeaky clean can help prevent plumbing problems

Dear James:

I live in a house that is barely a year old and the drains are already causing problems. Should this happen, or was the plumbing designed improperly? What is the best way to clean the drains?

– Ken A.


Dear Ken:

The majority of the plumbing is hidden behind the walls and in between the floors, so it is difficult to determine whether or not the plumber is at fault. Too many elbows in the plumbing, not enough vertical drop or pipes which are too small can all contribute to your problems.

If you can get a hold of a copy of your old building plans, you may be able to determine how the plumbing was designed. This will help, but you still have no way of knowing for sure if the plumber followed the plans. Next time you have a house built, try to be on-site when the plumbing is being installed.

If the plumbing was not installed properly, there really is not much you can do to correct it now, so let’s focus on things you can do to keep the drains open. If these things do not help, you may decide to contact the general contractor to discuss it.

All drains, even ones sized and installed properly, will develop a buildup of a film on the inside of the pipes. When you think of all the different chemicals, soaps, foods, oils, etc. which get rinsed down a drain, it is surprising they are not always clogged.

Kitchen sinks and bathtubs are probably the worst situations. Food particles and grease form bio-films inside of the pipes. It is usually black and you may see some of it forming when you wipe out the opening to a garage disposer. Imagine how bad it is down inside there.

Bathtubs also have to deal with body hairs that get past the coarse strainer over the drain. These hairs, long and short, get caught in the sticky bio-film and can form a good-sized blockage. Over many years, it can actually get hard.

The best method to try first to remove a clog quickly is a plunger. The repeated force and then suction of the water often will blow out the clog enough to allow the sink or tub to drain. If, after trying it several times, you just see some black gunk drifting up, you will need bigger guns.

A drain-cleaning snake is generally effective to clean out the drain. You can buy inexpensive hand-operated ones. Cover the floor totally because, when you pull the snake out, it will be covered with the black gunk. If you have trouble getting it through the drains, it indicates plumbing design problems.

Once the drain is open and the sink or bathtub empties, pour some commercial drain cleaner in the drain and follow the timing instructions. Don’t be in a hurry to see if it works. If it still seems to drain slowly, try the drain cleaner again. This is probably the best you will get without professional help.

In the future, use a natural drain cleaner in the drains periodically even if they are flowing. A good natural drain cleaner uses baking soda, white vinegar and boiling water. Pour baking soda in the drain followed by the vinegar. After it foams for several minutes, pour hot water down the drain.•

Send your questions to Here’s How, 6906 Royalgreen Dr., Cincinnati, OH 45244 or visit The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author.

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