The Top 5 Causes of Clogged Drains & How to Fix Them

Blocked or clogged drains are a common household issue that can wreak havoc on your plumbing system and create a major headache for homeowners. In this informative blog, we will discuss the leading five causes of clogged drains, practical methods to fix these issues, and ways to prevent them from happening in the first place.  

1. Mineral Buildup  

Mineral buildup in pipes is a common issue faced by homeowners, and if left untreated, it can lead to clogged drains and a myriad of other problems. Mineral buildup, also known as scale or limescale, is a hard, chalky deposit that forms on the inside of pipes, fixtures, and appliances over time.  

This buildup occurs when minerals like calcium and magnesium, which are found naturally in hard water, combine with other particles and elements (such as bicarbonate and sulfate) to create insoluble compounds. These compounds then adhere to the surfaces they come into contact with, gradually accumulating and narrowing the diameter of the pipes, leading to reduced water flow and clogs. 

Why is Mineral Buildup a Problem? 

When mineral buildup accumulates in your pipes, it restricts the flow of water and can cause a range of issues, including: 

  • Reduced water pressure 

  • Slow draining sinks and bathtubs 

  • Blocked pipes that can result in water damage 

  • Increased wear and tear on appliances, such as water heaters and dishwashers 

  • Aesthetic concerns such as staining on fixtures and unpleasant odors 

How to Remove Mineral Buildup and Prevent Future Clogs 

There are several methods you can use to remove mineral buildup from your pipes and prevent future clogs. Here are some of the most effective options: 

  • Vinegar and baking soda. For a more natural approach, you can use a mixture of equal parts white vinegar and baking soda. Pour the mixture down the drain, let it sit for 15-30 minutes, then flush with hot water (not boiling water). The vinegar's acidity helps break down the minerals, while the baking soda adds a slight abrasive action.  

  • Pipe descaling. In severe cases of mineral buildup, you may need to call a professional plumber to perform pipe descaling. This process involves using specialized tools to scrape away the accumulated deposits inside the pipes, restoring water flow and preventing future clogs. 

While you may be tempted to use a chemical drain cleaner, you should not. Chemical drain cleaners, while effective in clearing clogged pipes, pose significant hazards and risks to individual health, the environment, water systems, and plumbing structures.  

These cleaners often contain harsh chemicals like sodium hydroxide or sulfuric acid, which can cause severe burns and respiratory issues if accidentally ingested or inhaled. These chemicals can also contaminate groundwater and aquatic ecosystems, contributing to pollution and endangering wildlife.  

It is also important to note that the corrosive nature of chemical drain cleaners can damage pipes, particularly old or plastic pipes, leading to costly repairs and potential leaks. To mitigate these risks, safer alternatives such as enzymatic drain cleaners or natural solutions like vinegar and baking soda can be used to unclog drains.  

To minimize mineral buildup in the first place, routine maintenance is important. You should not only regularly inspect and clean your plumbing fixtures, appliances, and drains but should also schedule regular professional drain cleanings. In some cases, you might consider installing a water filtration system, as they can help reduce mineral content from your water supply. A professional plumber can advise you of your best course of action.  

2. Soap  

Using the wrong type of soap in your bathroom and kitchen sinks can have unintended consequences on your plumbing system, particularly if you're using bar soaps or soap with high levels of fats and oils. Over time, soap residue from your laundry, showers, and bathroom drains can buildup and cause slow or clogged drains, as the fatty acids combine with minerals in the water to form insoluble compounds called soap scum.  

Addressing this issue promptly is crucial to avoid more severe problems and potential damage to your plumbing system. Here are some tips on how to fix and prevent soap-related clogs: 

  • Clear the drain regularly. To prevent soap buildup, clean your drains periodically using a mixture of hot water and vinegar or baking soda. This natural solution can help break down soap scum and keep your pipes clear. 

  • Use a plunger. If you notice a slow-draining sink, try using a plunger to dislodge any blockages caused by soap buildup. Be sure to cover the overflow opening (if applicable) and use steady pressure to create suction. 

  • Switch to liquid soap or soap-free cleansers. To minimize the risk of clogs, consider switching to liquid soap, which typically has lower fat content than bar soap. Alternatively, you can opt for soap-free cleansers, which are less likely to cause buildup in your pipes. 

  • Install a mesh drain cover. A simple yet effective preventative measure is to install a mesh drain cover over your sink drains. This will help catch soap particles and other debris before they enter the pipes, reducing the risk of clogs. 

  • Contact a plumbing professional. If the other methods do not work, it is in your best interest to get professional help. For more stubborn clogs, you might need to disassemble the pipes under the sink to remove the blockage manually, which can be complicated as you will need to reassemble the pipe. An experienced plumber will also have tools and other methods they can employ to declog your drains. 

3. Food Waste 

Clogs in pipes occur when solid materials accumulate and obstruct water flow. Food waste is a primary contributor to these blockages, as small particles can build up over time, leading to slow-draining sinks and potential water damage.  

Properly disposing of food waste reduces the risk of clogged drains and prolongs the life of your plumbing system. By properly disposing of food, you can also help to minimize unpleasant odors, prevent pest infestations, and contribute to a cleaner, more environmentally friendly home.  

Here are some guidelines for proper food waste disposal:  

  • Scrape dishes before washing. Remove as much food waste from your plates and cookware as possible before rinsing them in the sink.  

  • Use a sink strainer. Install a sink strainer to catch food particles before they enter the drain.  

  • Collect grease, fats, and oils. Instead of pouring them down the drain, store them in a container and dispose of them in the trash once solidified.  

  • Compost. Consider composting appropriate food waste, like fruit and vegetable scraps, to reduce the amount of waste entering your plumbing system. 

Some types of food waste are more likely to cause clogs than others. Here are a few examples: 

  • Grease, fats, and oils. These substances can solidify and stick to the inside of pipes, creating blockages that are difficult to remove. 

  • Coffee grounds. They can accumulate in pipes over time, forming a sludge-like substance that impedes water flow. 

  • Eggshells. Small fragments can get trapped in pipe bends and create a foundation for other debris to accumulate. 

  • Pasta, rice, and starchy foods. These items can expand when wet, potentially causing blockages. 

  • Fibrous vegetables. Stringy or fibrous foods, like celery or corn husks, can tangle and create obstructions in pipes.  

4. Hair & Dirt 

Hair and dirt can easily enter your drains during daily activities like showering and washing hands or dishes. Over time, these materials can accumulate and become trapped in the pipes, binding together with soap scum, grease, and other debris to create blockages that restrict water flow. As the blockage grows, it can cause slow-draining sinks, unpleasant odors, and even water damage if left untreated. 

How to Address Hair & Dirt Clogged Drains 

Here are some common DIY techniques homeowners can use to clean out hair and dirt blockages using simple tools and household products: 

  • Manual removal. For easily accessible blockages, like those near the drain opening, use a pair of tweezers or needle-nose pliers to manually remove the hair and dirt clump. 

  • Bent wire hanger. Straighten a wire hanger, leaving a small hook at one end. Insert the hooked end into the drain to catch and pull out the blockage. 

  • Plunger. Use a plunger to create suction and dislodge the blockage. Ensure you have a tight seal around the drain before plunging. 

  • Drain snake or auger. A drain snake or auger is a flexible, long tool that can be inserted into the drain to break up and remove blockages.  

  • Natural drain cleaner. As we mentioned, a white vinegar and baking soda mixture is a great natural solution for declogging drains.  

If clogged drain issues persist despite your DIY cleaning efforts, it may be time to call in a professional plumber. A plumber has the expertise and specialized tools to diagnose and resolve more complex blockages that may be located deeper in the plumbing system. 

Tips for Maintaining Drain Cleanliness 

To prevent hair and dirt accumulation in your drains: 

  • Use a drain cover or strainer. Install a drain cover or strainer in your showers, bathtubs, and sinks to catch hair and debris before they enter the pipes. 

  • Clean your drains regularly. Periodically remove any visible hair and dirt from the drain opening and use the natural drain cleaner method mentioned above to maintain clean pipes. 

  • Brush or detangle your hair outside of the shower. Brushing your hair before showering can help reduce the amount of loose hair that enters the drain during washing. If you do brush or detangle while showering, try to gather your hair rather than letting it wash down the drain.  

5. Tree Roots  

Tree roots naturally seek moisture and nutrients, which can lead them to grow towards underground sewer lines. Small cracks or loose joints in the pipes can allow water to seep out, attracting tree roots. 

As the roots grow and infiltrate the pipes, they can create larger cracks, allowing more roots to enter. Over time, the roots can form a dense mass that obstructs the flow of wastewater, leading to a blockage. 

There are several methods for addressing tree root problems in sewage pipes, depending on the severity of the issue: 

  • Mechanical auger or rooter. A mechanical auger or rooter is a specialized tool with a cutting head that can be inserted into the pipe to cut away the roots. This method is effective for moderate root intrusion but may require professional assistance. 

  • Hydro jetting. Hydro jetting uses high-pressure water to blast away roots and debris from the pipe walls. This method is highly effective for removing stubborn blockages and cleaning the pipes but should be performed by a professional plumber to avoid damage to the pipes. 

Reach Out to Our Plumbing Professionals Today! 

Regularly scheduling professional inspections and maintenance can also help prevent future drain issues and prolong the life of your plumbing system. At Evergreen Plumbing & Mechanical LLC, our team offers our customers affordable drain cleaning services. Whether you need a sewer camera inspection, a drain snaked, old piping replaced, or a clogged drain fixed, you can count on us.  

To schedule a service, give us a call at (503) 714-7004 or reach out online.

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