It’s unlikely that any part of your property is exposed to more germs than your bathroom drains. They are tasked with allowing dirty water to flow away from your sinks, bathtubs and shower trays and come into contact with all the germs and dirt that our hands and bodies accumulate throughout daily life. Despite their important function, it’s easy to forget about our wastes as they quietly perform their task, largely ignored. It’s often only when we notice them failing to perform their duties that we pay any real attention to them, as our showers and sinks take longer and longer to drain. Unblocking a clogged waste can be a time consuming and potentially disgusting task, so it’s worth remembering to clean them regularly, before they become a problem. If you want to keep your drains functioning properly or you’ve noticed water draining more slowly, this article should give you a good sense of how to clean your bathroom wastes.
If water is no longer quickly draining from your sink, bathtub or shower tray, it’s likely because of a blockage in the piping. There are two probable reasons for this: either an accumulation of grease over time when you wash your hands, take a shower or bathe, or a clumping together of fibres, most often hair. It’s natural for these materials to stick to the underside of the waste or the pipes immediately below, which is why it’s important to keep them as clean as possible. If your water isn’t draining at all, you probably have a complete blockage, which is usually caused by a collection of fibres rather than grease. In either case, cleaning your waste and pipe is an uncomplicated process, as long as you know what you’re doing.
The easiest way to unblock your sink is to use drain unblocking fluid, which can be purchased at any DIY shop and most supermarkets. Using fluid means you shouldn’t require any other tools and the formula will continue to work on your pipes as it passes through your system, meaning it has a longer reach than any other option. Many modern unblockers don’t use dangerous chemicals, instead containing gas that reacts by expanding when it touches water. The resulting expansion pushes water through the system, dislodging blockages as far as twenty metres away. You’ll need to follow the specific instructions on the product you choose but it shouldn’t be any more complicated than pouring the fluid down your waste and then running some water to activate and rinse it.
Unless you’re a plumber or cleaner, it’s quite likely that you’ve never used a plunger. As well as providing arms for homemade Dalek costumes, plungers remain one of the most effective ways of unblocking your waste, especially in situations where it’s completely blocked. You’ll need to fill your sink, basin or shower tray with some water (this might already be the case if it’s completely blocked!) and then seal any overflow holes with a cloth or something else that will prevent loss of pressure while you’re working. It’s then a simple matter of placing the plunger head over the waste and pumping the handle up and down. This will force the water through your pipes with far more pressure than usual, hopefully breaking apart any blockages and then flushing them through your system.
If you’ve been unable to dislodge your blockage, it’s time to open up your waste and do it the old fashioned way. For wash basins, this should be a straightforward case of placing a bucket beneath your waste trap (the large piece that is screwed onto the drain pipe directly beneath the waste), then unscrewing it. Waste traps are intended as a way of easily removing the worst of the dirt and grime that collects beneath your waste. Make sure you remember to shut off any taps before you start, to avoid a flood. You should be able to remove any clumps of dirt easily with your hands (ideally wearing rubber gloves). Shower tray wastes should be an even simpler process, as a modern waste cover will usually be designed to easily unscrew and lift out. When you reassemble your trap, remember to return washers or o-rings to their original positions to keep things watertight.
If you don’t find any obvious blockages here, you’ll need to probe deeper into the pipe with a drain auger (commonly known as a plumber’s snake) and drag any filth out. These are quite straightforward to use, a simple case of pushing them into the hole until they reach a blockage, twisting them to hook onto the obstruction and then pulling it back out. A long auger should be sufficient to reach and remove all but the most stubborn blockages and there’s very little risk of any negative effects. Just be careful and take your time while extracting the tool; you don’t want to end up having to remove a giant lump of drain gunk from your bathroom floor.
If a plunger fails to dislodge your blockage, chemical drain cleaner is the easiest remaining option. Chemical cleaners require more care than non-chemical cleaners, due to their increased toxicity. You’ll need to wear rubber gloves and ideally goggles and a mask to protect your eyes and lungs from any nasty fumes. Chemical drain cleaner should not be combined with other bathroom cleaners, such as bleach, under any circumstances as the mixture can create potentially lethal gases. Try to pour the fluid directly down the drain as more powerful cleaners can damage the metallic finish of your waste. For further protection, rubbing petroleum jelly (such as Vaseline) on the rim can help look after its metallic finish until you rinse away the chemical cleaner. Powerful chemical cleaners should really be your last resort and used sparingly as repeated use will eventually corrode your pipes and potentially lead to much greater problems.
If all else fails and you don’t have any expert family or friends, your only remaining option is to call a professional plumber. It may seem like overkill to hire somebody to unblock a drain but it’s preferable to taking pipes apart and potentially causing a flood. In a bathroom situation, calling a plumber is usually the easiest solution, even if it isn’t the cheapest one.