Photo: My cat and his multi-purpose grooming comb
Maybe it’s being the daughter of immigrants, but I’ve always tried to fix things if I can. The process can be empowering or frustrating and may or may not yield results. Last weekend I had a plumbing problem. My kitchen sink had been draining a bit slowly for a couple of months, but suddenly the flow completely stopped. Some of the water crept into the second sink and then settled ominously above both drains.
A google search found a helpful article with photos, “How to Unclog a Sink” by The Family Handyman. The first suggestion was to use a plunger. I have a great plunger with an inner lip that seems to increase the suction. After closing one sink with a stopper, I worked the plunger methodically for several minutes over the other sink’s drain. Some slippery black materials appeared as the water level rose in spurts. At least it didn’t smell as bad as it looked. I removed chunky pieces with a fork.
Still nothing. I noticed the article mentioned a gadget called “Zip-It,” a thin plastic device with tiny zipper-like protrusions that point upwards. You feed it down the drain, and when returning it upwards, the clog might come with it. Brilliant! I got one at the local hardware store for under $10. I tried it on both sinks, but nothing much came up. The clog must have been further down.
However, now I had a tool that might help with the bathtub. It had been draining too slowly for a while. Hair was the likely culprit. With other bathtubs, I could take out the stopper and remove hair with a long tweezer (about six inches or 15 cm long, from an old Biology 101 dissecting kit -- a much better use). But I couldn’t figure out how to remove this stopper, and couldn’t reach far enough with the tweezer. The Zip-It tool went down easily and emerged several times with the hairy mass. It didn't release easily on the way up, but it worked. The water moved freely!
Now back to the kitchen. I’d heard of using vinegar and baking soda as a natural way to clear drains. The article gave the recipe of a half cup of each, although I used cleaning vinegar, which is twice the regular strength. I opened the nearby window to allow fumes to escape from the bubbling chemical reaction. After a while, I noticed the water level lowered by millimeters. It was progress, but not enough.
Back to the article, I noticed that plunging was to be done “vigorously.” I upped my plunging action for both sinks. By now I was wearing eye protection due to the vinegar/baking soda mixture, and I let the water splash where it would. I would clean up later. The water level rose a couple of inches during this process and more suspicious detritus appeared.
I thought of the stainless steel comb that I use to work out mats in my cat’s fur. It worked faster than a fork to gather tiny plastic brush particles, bits of hair, and more black fungus. The water remaining was dark but devoid of particles that could cause a clog. Sadly, when I lifted the plunger and the water descended, it stopped at the same level.
After a second treatment of vinegar and baking soda, it was time to call my dad. He used to have professional equipment, including a snake or auger, but no longer. He told me that he had often cleared clogs using a hose from outside, running the water directly down the drain. The pressure from the hose dislodged the clog. It sounded worth a try.
I found an outdoor tap right under the kitchen window. I went into the crawlspace to turn it on, as it had been shut off for the winter to prevent freezing. I moved a hose to the tap, and added an old nozzle with numerous settings, including one that forced water into a high pressure stream. It also had an on-off switch, but that was no longer working. I turned the nozzle to the setting for a gentle spray and wound the hose partially into the window with the spray pointing out away from me.
Back inside, I managed to get the nozzle in without showering too much of the kitchen, and turned it to the high pressure option. I pointed it down the drain until the water level rose a few inches, when the collected water began to interfere with the pressure of the stream.
Still nothing. I called the plumber. He was just boarding a plane coming back to Canada. He wouldn’t be available until Monday.
After cleaning up the mess, weariness settled over me as I hit the couch for some TV time. Two hours later, a strange sound startled me. I muted the television and noticed the sound had come from the kitchen.
The pool of water that had sat in both sinks was gone! I turned on the tap and the water flushed easily. My dad said the hose must have done it. The plumber seemed disappointed when we spoke on Monday. I sure appreciate his work when I have a plumbing problem, but it feels great to fix it myself! Or did I? I had the help of family, the internet, a hardware store, a creative inventor, and even a household tool usually dedicated to cats.
- Irene Plett
Topics: Independence, how to unclog a drain, plumbing, plunger, Zip-It tool, The Family Handyman, cat grooming comb