What Causes a Drain to Get Clogged?

Unclogged drain

What causes a drain to clog?

In the realm of all things that can wrong, a clogged drain isn’t the worse thing to happen. Until you have a clogged drain anyway, then it is annoying and usually ill-timed. Why and how does a clogged drain happen anyway? We’re going to answer that question and a few on how to unclog that drain today, as well as offer advice on how to avoid it from happening. 

A clogged drain is aggravating and annoying, but it seems  that finding the problem and taking care of it should be simple. Unfortunately, it isn’t always that easy to find and fix, but what is easy is to learn the causes for clogged drains, how to keep it from happening. 

The common causes of clogged drains start with the configuration of the pipes for sewer and water draining. The pipe configuration in your home is like a tree with branches. There is the main line, like the tree trunk, the biggest diameter of all the pipes. Then there are the smaller lines, the tree branches. Anywhere within that tree, there can be a disruption in the functioning of the draining, aka, a clogged drain. 

A clogged drain can form and become lodged at any point of this drain system. Something that we don’t think about when we have a clogged drain, is that it can be affecting other parts of the branches too. So, let’s look at the most common clogged drain causes and what can be done to fix them: 

  • Tree roots: This is the #1 cause in clogged drains and blocked sewer lines. The older the home, the more likely tree roots are going to cause a problem. Tree roots seek moisture, so if there is even the tiniest of leaks in a sewer or water line, they will find it. One of the first indicator that you have tree roots closing in on your water lines is a gurgling sound. As a homeowner, you need to be observant of tree roots closing in on your pipes and take measures to redirect those tree roots. This can take the help of a professional, which may be an expense, but cheaper than having new sewer or water lines installed. Also less expensive and annoying than having a professional clear a clogged drain. 
  • Wipes: Wipes are a wonderful thing for parents, and with the pandemic of 2020/2021, we all found how wonderful they can be, except for one thing: They are advertised as “flushable”, when in fact they are not. Flushable wipes are a detriment to the branches in your home’s sewer system. The city of New York spent almost $20 million dollars within 5 years fixed clogged drains to fixed clogged drains and sewer lines caused by flushable wipes. Contrary to advertising, they do not disintegrate when flushed down the toilet. Just because something fits down the toilet, doesn’t meant it needs to be flushed. 
  • Diapers and Feminine Hygiene Products: These are two more “flushable” products that are in truth not flushable. Part of their make-up is from cotton and fibers that are not biodegradable. They are a tremendous threat to plumbing systems and cause other agents to clog drains too. Human waste is met by microorganisms that cause it to disintegrate. Diapers and feminine hygiene products are not biodegradable, and as such, they are not “flushable”, but instead, are a big problem causing clogged drains. 
  • Fat, oil, and grease: In the restaurant industry, this is called FOG, and this is why restaurants and industrial kitchens have grease traps. However, every day homes do not have grease traps and cleaning up after a meal, it is too easy to pour any fat, oil, or grease down the drain. Maybe you aren’t guilty of pouring your bacon grease down the drain, but what about other items like meat trimmings, butter, chocolate, cream, or vegetable oil? These are sticky substances and water is not going to rinse them down the drain. Instead, they are going to build up and before long, you’ll have a clogged drain. 
  • Hair: Hair is often a huge contributor to clogged drains. It accumulates, becoming a big hair ball in the drain, slowing the flow or creating a clogged drain. Our hair coming out or breaking off can’t be helped, it’s natural, but we can do things to minimize how much of hair gets in the drains. Like after each hair brushing, sweep the sink out and put the hair you collect in the trash, don’t clean your brushes and combs over the sink or in the shower either. When you notice an accumulation of hair at the drain, use the tweezers or needle-nose pliers and pull the hair out before it gets washed down the drain. 
  • Pipe scale: This is another act of nature that can cause a clogged drain from mineral deposits that water leaves behind. Those mineral deposits are from calcium and magnesium dissolving along with other metallic elements found in water. They collect in one area of the pipe, and then keep collecting and growing. Eventually you have a large mineral scale build up inside the water drainpipes. This build up will affect other appliance that use water like your dishwasher, ice maker, and washing machine, even the shower head! 
  • Food:  You never should let food go down the drain! Food chunks are often hard, sharp, sticky, or  stringy, and these things are not good for water drains and pipes. Even in your garbage disposal, be cautious what you put down them. Not all foods easily shred or disintegrate.
  • Foreign Objects: Another big culprit to causing clogged drains are foreign objects like bar soap chunks, jewelry, dental floss, condoms, and children’s toys. Remember, the only thing that should go down the shower and sinks are water and the only thing down the toilet should be water and human waste. Cat water, any pet waste, should not ever be flushed or poured down a drain! 

Is Drano really bad for pipes?

No,  Drano®  is a powerful product that can dissolved whatever is causing most clogged drains, however, it is gentle on metal and plastic pipes. The Drano® Max Gel Clog Remover product even contains a special corrosion prevention ingredient.

What to use to clean blocked drain?

Using a household plunger is always a good start, and where you have double sinks, close on up with a plug.  If the plunger doesn’t work, try a wire coat hanger, or use a plumber snake. If none of these efforts work, call a professional plumber.

How do you unclog a drain naturally?

Cleaning a clogged drain can be done with natural products that you probably have in your home already, like baking soda and white vinegar.  Simply pour hot water in the clogged drain and then baking soda followed by an equal amount of white vinegar. Cover the drain and after thirty minutes, add more hot water. 

Other natural ways of clearing a clogged drain include: 

  • Baking Soda, Salt – Pour an equal amount of both baking soda and salt, allow to sit thirty  minutes, then rinse with hot water.
  • Vinegar, Lemon, Salt – In a bowl, mix even amounts of salt and vinegar then had half that amount of lemon juice. Pour into clogged drain and wait thirty minutes for a hot water rinse. 
  • Salt,  Hot Water – Pour one-half cup of salt followed with hot water into clogged drain, wait thirty minutes, follow up with a hot water rinsing. 
snaking a drain

Can too much baking soda clog a drain?

Performing weekly drain flushing with boiling hot water mixed with a grease-fighting liquid dish soap, (Dawn is the most recommended brand) is one of the best ways to keep from getting a clogged drain. If you notice that you have the beginnings of a clogged drain, you can put in as much as ½ of the box you put in your freezer/refrigerator for odor proofing, followed up by 1 cup white vinegar, then wait 30 minutes. Finish up with a boiling hot water rinse and that slow moving drain should be clear and flowing. 

Okay, you’ve tried everything you can do to open up a clogged drain, but no success. So, now you’re going to have to call in the the professional: A license plumber. How much does it cost to clean a clogged drain?Well, first of all, try your best to work around having a clogged drain on a holiday or weekend,  because they charge double in most cases.  The national average for a professional plumber to clear a clogged drain can be as low as $130 and go upward to $180 or more. Some plumbers charge by the hour, others will have a flat rate for jobs like clearing a clogged drain. Call 828-778-2425 today for drain unclogging in Hendersonville, Mills River and Asheville, NC.