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The one thing I have tried to do about this is use those foaming and non-foaming drain unblockers regularly. That has just been money down the drain, pardon the pun.

I suspect that unblockers only work if the blockage is in trap (the first bendy bit that blocks smells). I suspect my blockage keeps occurring elsewhere, because when the washing machine flushes copious amounts of water, it has no problem coming out of the bathtub drain - so clearly that part isn't blocked.

I've also tried the plunger (which occasionally helped to unblock the pipes, and always helped get the 30 minutes daily exercise), and a snake (long bendy cable thing), which has been a complete waste.

My questions: is there anything else I can try or is it time to call a professional? Also, does this sound like some sort of a design problem with the pipes in my flat, or is this just the way drains always are? (hope not!...)


I have since learned the following things about my waste pipes, which together explain the constant blockage and glugging sounds:

  • The pipe is far too narrow for a tub, two sinks, a dishwasher and a washing machine: only 4cm.
  • There's a very sharp 90° bend near the exit from the property, which is where a huge blockage accumulates (10cm deep solid chunk of waste). Apparently a waste plumbing no-no.
  • Most of the pipework lies flat on the floor, with zero slope. There's about 1.5m of it that is visible. Apparently against all plumbing codes and a cause of blockage.
  • There was a T-junction installed "backwards" (directing incoming water from a sink towards the kitchen appliances and forcing it to reverse direction in order to leave the property). There was a humongous second blockage underneath this T-junction.
  • There is no air vent (really!), explaining the noises. (update: the noises went away once the second blockage got eliminated)

Overall, a really bad plumbing job someone did here...

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8 Answers 8

up vote 17 down vote accepted

When drain water from one fixture comes back out another fixture, it means your blockage is beyond the point where those drains meet.

You need to get a good look at the topology of your waste plumbing, to get some ideas about where the blockage is. Clothes washer -> bathtub is a common symptom, because the clothes washer drains a lot of water up high (it has a pump) and the tub drain is down low.

Snaking down a drain is really hard, because of all the curves of the P-trap. If you're lucky, you have a clean-out somewhere, like under the house or behind a wall. Otherwise, you can try removing a P-trap to get the snake in, or removing a toilet. Removing a toilet is not very hard, but can be daunting.

We had a similar problem in this house. There were a few clean-outs accessible in the crawlspace, and our landlord used a hand-held snake in them, but didn't have much luck.

They hired a professional plumber. He pulled a toilet out and ran a huge snake down the drain (not one of the handheld units, but a huge, loud, floor-standing model heavy-duty cable). After running all 75' out, he borrowed another snake from his colleague, for 150' of snaking. This is a single-story house, on a 50'-wide lot, so the snake was well in to the street!

He said he pulled out a lot of roots. This is apparently common in older plumbing. They develop a small leak, and nearby plants grow after the nutrient-rich water, and find their way in to the pipe. It took him about 4 hours.

Plumbing is simple. There aren't a lot of rules to follow. Everything works in obvious ways. You don't need a lot of expensive, complicated tools, and if you do need something big, you can rent it. Anyone can fix plumbing.

But it can also be unpleasant. Screw-on connections may be rusted in place - hacksawing is often easier. There's the spectre of old poop and hair. Things may be difficult to reach - in a cabinet behind a sink basin or in a muddy crawlspace full of rat droppings.

If the job takes a few days, and you're unaccustomed to living without plumbing, it can be a trying time. Especially if there's a whole family in the house, and they aren't sympathetic. A pro will get the job done much faster, since they arrive with the right tools, parts, and experience.

There's a lot of instructions out there, on the internet, at the library, at the hardware store. If you decide to get your feet wet (get it? ha ha) then you will be able to find the information you need.

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When a pro did one of those big snakes at my parent's house instead of pulling a toilet they went up on the roof and fed it down through one of the vent stacks. –  Loren Pechtel Mar 16 '11 at 23:01
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It sure sounds like you have an obstruction beyond the trap. You're right in that the liquid drain cleaners are not real effective on this kind of blockage. If you cannot run a snake through the trap and beyond, some disassembly of the drain system my be necessary to reach the problem area. This is not the way all plumbing drains work, they are suppose to drain! If you are not comfortable disassembling some pipes or working the snake, guess it is time to call in a pro. They will be able to find cleanout fittings and have better tools for this purpose. If some modifications are needed, you will have the right person there to do it.

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One thing I'd suggest before springing for a professional: Get a drum auger that attaches to a drill. It's a plumbing snake that is wrapped up in a drum. You attach the base to a cordless drill then it has a trigger that slowly, but forcefully spins the snake down the pipe.

I have an old house with pipes that get easily clogged and this has been a revelation. It works vastly better and is much easier to use than a hand snake. I've found that it gets around bends in pipes that i could never quite manage with the hand snake. They run around $30 or so and have certainly saved me hundreds. Plus it's strangely satisfying to pull a mass of gunk out of your bathtub drain.

Remember to never use snakes on toilets though.

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Just be warned that you might have to call in a professional if things go wrong -- I was having problems after the street in front of my house was repaved and curbs were put in ... the local water & sewer folks sent a guy with a camera to take a look ... there was too much water so he tried snaking it out. The snake got stuck. He looked at the way the plumbing ran, then asked me to flush a gallon of soap to try to lubricate it to pull free. Then they called in two bug guys to try to wrestle it free. It took a backhoe (and loss of my lawn) to fix. It seems the pipe had been crushed. –  Joe Mar 17 '11 at 2:11
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One additional quick check - make sure your vents aren't plugged (or you have proper venting for your drain plumbing)

That can cause drains to run really slow, and for drain water to back up through areas of low restriction.

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Any ideas where I might find the vents? –  romkyns Mar 16 '11 at 23:35
    
They run upwards from the drain lines, so you will generally find them on the roof. –  kkeilman Mar 16 '11 at 23:45
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I find that people who have plumbing issues also have a nearby tree and the roots are starting to make their way into the nutrient rich sewer line. Best suggestion is to cut the tree down and turn it into a nice piece of furniture.

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How can I tell which tree is causing the problem? –  Gabe Jul 1 '12 at 1:22
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I've finally managed to fix this issue for good. As mentioned in my question, at one point I found a blocked 90° bend in this pipe, but to my surprise clearing it didn't fix the problem for long: 2 months later the pipe was blocked for good again.

Eventually I found another blockage in the pipe. Moreover, this blockage was much, much bigger than the previous one: about 50cm of solid, cylindrical gunk, which I got to see in all the gory detail because I could remove a whole section of the pipe and take it outside to clean it. This was extremely surprising, because I thought the area was clear based on the fact that the snake would go right through there.

So here's my conclusion: if your pipes get blocked 1-2 months after you've "fixed" them, it's possible that what actually happened is that you made a tiny hole in a huge log of gunk, allowing water to drain. This tiny hole gets clogged up again very quickly. The snake helps make such a hole, and can be totally useless for properly breaking up such a blockage. Moreover, you might not even notice the snake going through the gunk! (I bet experience helps with noticing this, but I had none.)

Plus, once the gunk was out of the pipe and in clear sight, it became obvious that the snake, the plunger and the chemical cleaner had no chance whatsoever against it.


P.S. The gunk accumulated underneath a T-junction joining a sink to the main pipe. The main pipe was flat on the floor as I already mentioned, and the T-junction was installed backwards: it has sides sloped to seemingly force the water to flow in a specific direction, but it was the wrong direction. Due to the space being tight there and the T-junction thing being slightly asymmetric, it wouldn't fit in the "right" way, not without altering some of the existing piping. I wonder if this is what caused the problem in the first place...

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I came to this site because after living with a drain that constantly got clogged for 15 years, I finally found a quick and cheap way to clear it. The problem was the main drain that leaves the house and goes to the septic tank. No tree roots anywhere near. I gave up using my disposal a long time ago in case that was the culprit. I've tried foaming and non foaming chemicals (septic tank friendly of course), from cheap to ridiculously expensive - all ineffective.

To provide what has always only been temporary relief, I used one of the expanding rubber bulbs that goes on the end of a hosepipe (highly recommended BTW). But this drain would always get stopped up after a few days for no good reason, backing right up into the house.

I have used a product called Awesome for years, it's a degreaser that Dollar General sells and it works wonders for kitchen cleaning. A light bulb went on in my head and I bought the biggest bottle they sell. After clearing what crap I could with the bulb, I lobbed the whole bottle down the drain, let it sit and then dumped a huge pot of boiling water down after that, followed by the water from a hot laundry load. I ran the hosepipe on full for 30 minutes, and not a drop came back to haunt me.

IT WORKED!

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It depends on what is causing the blockage to come back time and again as to how it has to be fixed.

Tree/plant roots can only really be solved by digging up the damaged pipes and replacing them. A plumbing snake will only ever push the roots aside clearing a tiny hole that will quickly block up again. Where I work we had two urinals that were constantly blocking up & overflowing. In the end they took the pipes out and replaced them, and we had a 4cm diameter pipe 4 meters long with a 3-4mm hole down the middle. All the plumbing snake had been doing was making a hole (10% of the size of the pipe) through the blockage, the blockage was never actually removed.

For my kitchen sink that also served a dishwasher and washing machine, it had run clear and free for years, only to suddenly block up 4 times in a week for no apparent reason. The only solution I have found is one of the very aggressive sulphuric acid based cleaners that carry a seriously worrying health warning.

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I edited your answer to remove a possible question you were asking. SE is a Q&A site, so we have different policies from forums. See why and how are some answers deleted for more information. If you have a different question than what's been asked, use the "Ask Question" link above. –  BMitch Oct 2 '13 at 14:43
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protected by Steven Nov 1 '13 at 0:29

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