When you think about some of the most expensive home improvements and repairs, plumbing problems no doubt make the short list. After all, since the largest expense of a repair is labor and you likely have little to no plumbing knowledge, it follows that you are doomed to call in the experts and cough up the cash every time you have a clogged drain, right?
Wrong! The truth is some of the most common clogs can be cured with a few simple tools, the majority of which you already have lying around the house, and a bit of creative thinking. In fact, a few minor supplements to your existing “tool box” should do it.
Here are some DIY plumbing “fixes” that you can tackle on your own in the two places in your home where you’re most likely to find problematic pipes: the kitchen and the bathroom.
The most powerful tool in your plumbing arsenal is your good, old fashioned plunger. When you encounter a slow drain or standing water, the plunger should be the first thing you reach for – and not the phone to call your plumber.
There are two basic types of “standard” plungers:
“Sink” or “cup” plunger
With their single surface “cup,” these types of plungers are best suited for flat surfaces such as sinks. Although this is the most common plunger that people own and it’s great for de-clogging drains, it’s not the best for toilets. For those, you need…
“Toilet” or “forced cup” or “bell” plunger
This plunger is specifically designed for toilets. With its “bell” shape, the bottom portion of the plunger fits into the toilet hole and the surrounding bell overhang adds additional support for an extra-forceful (hence “forced cup”) push into an offending toilet.
There is another type of plunger that looks and works like an accordion which is just a fancy toilet plunger. If you have one of those, don’t go out and buy a bell plunger. As long as you have one sink plunger and one toilet plunger you can pretty much tackle the majority of clogs, no problem – all for the easy-to-swallow total cost of less than $20.
De-clogging and deodorizing the disposal
What did we do before the invention of the garbage disposal? It’s hard to believe that only a couple of decades ago we were stuck scraping dishes into the trash can following a meal. Now it seems like the world will end if the disposal stops spinning.
The good news is that with an investment of about $5 to $8, you can buy an Allen key/hex-shaped wrench specially designed to unjam your garbage disposal. Follow these steps if your blades stop spinning or if they begin to grind:
- Flip the switch to an “Off” position.
- Make sure you have no utensils sticking out of the disposal.
- Under the disposal, there should be a small hole – insert one end of the disposal key into the hole and work it around until the blades are not hindered.
- Remove the tool and press the little “reset” button located next to the hole under the disposal.
- Turn the water on and flip the switch.
For general drain clogs and deodorizing:
- Use the sink plunger to unclog the drain – if you have a double-basin sink, place one of your plungers over the other drain to increase the pressure of the plunge as you unclog the disposal side
- Drop a few ice cubes down the disposal, turn on the water and let the disposal run for a few moments
- Create a “fresh flush” with distilled vinegar and water with a few chopped up bits of lemon peel – don’t use curly peels as they can wrap around the disposal blades
- Turn off the disposal and enjoy the rest of your night.
Hair is your worst enemy when it comes to tub drains, but these simple steps can help you solve most bathtub clogs.
- If you have a screw-in drain, remove the cap and pull the drain out
- Remove any hair clogs that are visible from the surface
- Using the sink plunger, plunge the drain several times
- For stubborn clogs, you may need to administer a liquid “plunger” in the form of a drain cleaner. If your drain is just slow, use a safer enzyme-type cleaner that can also become a monthly clog prevention routine.
- Follow up an application of caustic-type drain cleaner with a boiling pot of water to flush. Let enzyme cleaners do their work until the next bath or shower, then plunge the drain.
- For really stubborn clogs, at this point, you should probably bite the bullet and call the experts.
Do you have any suggestions for plumbing fixes on the cheap?
Jay Harris, a Home Depot sales associate in the Chicago area, is a regular Home Depot website contributor on topics related to plumbing supplies and toilet repair, as well as other plumbing advice for homeowners.