A Few Helpful Hints from Plumberologist

Samantha Baldwin
Dec 20, 10:24 AM
This post is part of our series: 10 Things Women Should Know About Plumbing.

When washing dishes or cooking dinner, some people have a tendency to throw any and every last thing down the garbage disposal. If you are one of those people, STOP DOING IT RIGHT NOW! You are shortening the life of your disposal and setting yourself up for an expensive repair.

FYI: Garbage Disposals Can Only Take So Much

During the holidays, plumbers get more calls for clogged or broken garbage disposals than any other service, because people don’t realize there are limits to what can go down them. Garbage disposals were built for remnants of food left on plates, not full meals. Their blades aren’t very sharp. They are only meant to grind up small bits of soft foods. The key word there being: small. A plate full of mash potatoes is as bad for a disposal as a plate full of chicken bones. Put either one in, and you’ll be calling a plumber because you broke the blades.

Which Foods are Bad for my Disposal?

The rule of thumb for foods that should go down a disposal: anything that doesn’t dissolve quickly in water. So, right off the bat, grease and anything oily, like gravy or salad dressing, is out. You’re probably wondering why not, doesn’t it just flow right down the drain? No, it doesn’t. Even if it’s hot and fluid when you pour it in the drain, it’s going to cool almost instantly and coat the inside of your garbage disposal and drains. The coating will trap anything solid you put down the drain and before you know it, you’ll have a clog.
A sewer pipe that is more than 50% blocked with rancid, orange, black and grey gelatinous grease.Now, your drains are going to end up coated with oily deposits one way or another from the soaps and detergents you use. (Still, there’s no reason to help the process along by dumping greasy foods down there.) The oil traps anything solid, so things like coffee grinds, egg shells, and nuts are also a no-go for the garbage disposal. That’s because any one of these will cause granular waste, a.k.a. little bits of hard stuff that are going to get stuck,  causing your drains to slow and eventually clog.
The foods that’ll probably surprise you that you REALLY shouldn’t put down the drain are really starchy foods like desserts, potatoes, and cereals. These are actually some of the most damaging foods you can put down the drain. Why? Well, in water, starches turn into sugars and sugars are sticky… really sticky. In a disposal, if that sticky residue builds up on the blades they’ll stick together and fail.

How Not To Clean A Garbage Disposal

Rule #1: NEVER clean a garbage disposal with chemical drain cleaners.
Drain cleaners are usually made to stick to the insides of pipes so they can dissolve whatever else is stuck there. Remember that sticky = bad for garbage disposals. So sticky cleaners = very bad. You could end up having to fish all the highly caustic chemicals out by hand, which we promise you will not enjoy having to do.
Drain cleaners are also highly, HIGHLY caustic. Most are powerful enough to actually dissolve the inner parts of your garbage disposal. It’s not like they’re going to melt the machine our from under your sink. You’ll likely get away with using them for a while. But, they are going to make all the gears and fittings just a little bit smaller every time you use them. Over time, the parts will start to loosen and before you know it, gears are slipping, breaking and your disposal isn’t working.

The Right Way To Clean A Garbage Disposal

The best way to clean your garbage disposal is to simply run cold soapy water through it.

  1. Put the drain stopper in.
  2. Fill up the sink with cold water.
  3. Dump in a bunch of dish detergent.
  4. Mix it up so all the water is soapy.
  5. Throw in a handful of ice cubes to help clean the blades.
  6. Then, pull the plug and hit the on switch.

The soap is mild enough to gently clean without harming the inner workings of the machine. If the drain still smells a little funky after you finish running the soap through it, you can throw some citrus fruit peels in with a few more ice cubes.

In the end, your garbage disposal is just like your car…

The better you take care of it, the longer it will run. Anything bigger than a “scrap” should go in the garbage. The only thing you should clean it with is cold soapy water, ice and maybe a citrus peal. Follow these two simple rules and your disposal should give you years of reliable service.

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Samantha Baldwin
Dec 12, 12:00 PM
This post is part of our series: 10 Things Women Should Know About Plumbing.

If you have little ones, you have little toys. Kids love playing with their toys anywhere and everywhere but when G. I. Joe wants to go for a swim in the toilet, there’s more to worry about than just germs.

Toys: A Leading Cause Of Clogged Sewer Lines

A sewer pipe that is more than 50% blocked with rancid, orange, black and grey gelatinous grease.Sewer pipes clog when their insides become coated with oily deposits that in turn trap solid objects that try to make their way down the drain. The bigger the object that gets stuck, the more surface area the oily deposits have to stick to, the faster the sewer lines end up clogging.
Toys that go down the toilet are a big help to the clogs. They’ve got lots of surface area for the grease to stick to. Once they’re embedded in the grease, they’ll start snagging all the other things that go down the drain, like toilet paper and tampons, and before you know it, your pipe is clogged and raw sewage is backing up into your basement. Once that happens, the 99 cent toy you bought with their happy meal is now costing you thousands of dollars to clean up after.
So even if your toilet isn’t immediately clogged, a child flushing a toy down the drain is still a big problem. So what now? Well, the good news is, your toilets, sinks, showers and tubs are all going to keep working for the time being. The bad news is, if a toy is stuck in your sewer line, nothing short of hydro-jetting is going to move it out.

A Plumbing Snake Just Isn’t Gonna Cut It

plumbing snake, which is essentially a long wire with a spatula on the end of it, will scrape the toy off the inside of the pipe once it becomes stuck, but it won’t push it down the line. You’ll likely have to have the line snaked several times before the toy makes it to the county sewer where the pipes are larger and a clog is the county’s problem, not yours.
The Spartan Warrior Sewer Hydro-Jetter being used by a Frugal Rooter Plumber to clean a residential sewer line.Hydro-jetting, which uses high-pressure water to scour the inside of the pipe will push everything down the pipe, will clear the toy all the way down on the first try. It costs more than snaking the line, but it gives you the benefits of knowing the line is completely clear and, because it cleans all the greasy deposits off the inside of the pipe, it will actually have the long term benefit of preventing future clogs. The one downside to hydro-jetting is there is the potential for it to backfire, almost literally. If a clog is big enough, it may take the jetter time to break through it. With 18 gallons a minute flowing into the clogged sewer pipe, the time it takes the jetter to break through may be too long, and all the water it shoots down the pipe can very rapidly back up into your house. A good plumber will actually have you sign a waiver acknowledging the potential for this to happen.
In the end, the #1 rule when it comes to children’s toys and toilets is prevention. Once the toy is down the drain, you’re stuck. Keep the toys, and any other foreign objects for that matter (including feminine sanitary objects), out of toilets at all cost.

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Samantha Baldwin
Dec 5, 4:43 PM
This post is part of our series: 10 Things Women Should Know About Plumbing.

A blonde woman is singing, using the detached shower head as a microphone, while washing her hair in the shower.Every girl has been in the shower, and realized after a minute or two that they’re standing in a foot of backed up, soapy water. We’ve also all dealt with the ring that standing water can leave in your tub. When your tub or shower doesn’t drain properly, a lot of things could be wrong, but typically the problem is hair.
Now, a lot of men like to automatically blame a clogged drain on our “girly” locks. Well, that’s not entirely fair. In fact, hair doesn’t have to be long to clog a drain. If the inside of the drain has become coated with soap scum and body oils, it’ll trap any hair that goes down it, no matter how long or short it is.
If you notice your drain is slow to drain, stop. Don’t call your boyfriend, husband or even a plumber yet. First, check and see if it is full of built up hair. Don’t stick a coat hanger down the drain. That can actually make matters worse. They actually make a great tool just for this, called a Zip-It Drain Cleaning tool. You can find it at Lowes and Home Depot. You can even buy it on-line from Amazon.
Once you’ve got the hair out of your drain, you can keep it with a drain hair trap that’ll catch the hair before it gets stuck too far down your drain. And voilà, no more clogged drains.