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July 13, 2012 9:54 AM   Subscribe

How can I get what is apparently a lot of gunk out of my kitchen drain pipe?

I have a drain pipe to my kitchen with either runs very slow or not at all. It takes a lot of water to fill it up, and make it back up, but when this happens, it then drains very very slowly.

After trying Liquid Plumber, and then another, stronger sulfuric acid cleaner with no improvement, I called a plumber. They snaked it all the way to the end of that particular line, to no avail. They tried to water-jet it, but apparently the fittings that hold my system together are not amenable to allowing the jet hose to where it needs to go.

They snaked through it one more time, and it opened, some, or at least got back to where it was before they came. Apparently, there is so much crap in there that it just closes up again when the snake is withdrawn.

They said that replacing the pipe is the only remaining alternative, which is expensive, and, with the size of my crawlspace, extremely problematic.

Has anyone ever tried enzyme drain cleaners? If so how did they work? We are sort of nursing this along for the next little while, but my feeling is that there HAS to be something more I can do before new plumbing is in order.

Any ideas?
posted by Danf to Home & Garden (19 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
If the gunk is grease, you might try boiling water. Fill every pot that will fit on the stove with water, get it all boiling and poor it in. I've cleared a pretty badly blocked kitchen drain doing this.
posted by kjs3 at 10:04 AM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

A plumber who came to clear the drain had suggested to use bleach to maintain an open pipe. If you have a lot of gunk, I am not sure that would help, but try anything in case it works, right? Pour an entire gallon in, wait thirty minutes and turn on the hot water to push it through.

I have not tried an enzyme drain cleaner so I am not able to give you help there.
posted by Yellow at 10:16 AM on July 13, 2012

I used drano and liquid plumber on a chronic drain problem to no avail, then tried Pequa Heavy Duty Drain Opener and it worked like a charm. YMMV, depending on your problem, but it worked for me.
posted by snaparapans at 10:17 AM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

I had a plumber out last week for a clogged drain, and he said that enzyme cleaners are best to handle organic material, but I see online that they are really best for maintenance and not for breaking down a clog. They work slowly on specific kinds of clogs.

I like the boiling water idea, so try that.

But if that fails, call a different plumber. I find it kind of bizarre that they are suggesting that the next step is to replace all the pipes. I feel like there must be a more extreme-strength pipe cleaning option available, even if your fittings are nonstandard. So I would ask around your neighborhood or check out the reviews in your area online and see if you can get a plumber recommended. Get a second or third opinion on the matter.
posted by aabbbiee at 10:17 AM on July 13, 2012

Hot water, baking soda.
posted by The Toad at 10:17 AM on July 13, 2012

I would get a gallon bottle of white vinegar and pour that down your drain and let that sit for a few hours before pouring in a big pot of boiling water.
posted by El Sabor Asiatico at 10:18 AM on July 13, 2012

If you have a high tolerance for grossness and a lot of patience, you can try re-snaking it repeatedly. You can get hand-operated snakes that are 25 feet long, which will remove a little more gunk each time you run them through the pipe. (Run the snake, pull it out, run water to flush the pipes while you clean the snake, take a break to let your stomach settle down, repeat until clear.)

I think a combination of mechanical clog-busting with a snake and chemical cleaning will be the most effective approach, but it can get pretty gross pretty fast. Also, don't run the snake right after you dump caustic cleaners down the drain, because the snake will come up covered with caustic nastiness and will drip and splash that stuff all over.

Seconding that the enzyme-based cleaners are for maintenance, not acute clog-clearing. (They don't seem worth it to me, but YMMV.) Good luck!
posted by Quietgal at 10:28 AM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

I would get a gallon bottle of white vinegar and pour that down your drain and let that sit for a few hours before pouring in a big pot of boiling water.

I would try this before anything else. It's cheap and it often works.
posted by DarlingBri at 10:33 AM on July 13, 2012

Do you have any idea what the gunk might be comprised of? Do you put large volumes of starchy stuff (e.g. rice or potato peels) into the food disposer? Do you habitually pour bacon grease down the drain?

If you have a crawlspace, why is replacing the pipe such a big deal? Is the space so small that one can't actually crawl through it?
posted by jon1270 at 10:35 AM on July 13, 2012

Response by poster: Is the space so small that one can't actually crawl through it?

Yeah. It is just over a foot from the black plastic surface up to the bottoms of the floor joists. I do not wish to go under there.
posted by Danf at 10:40 AM on July 13, 2012

YMMV of course, but before buying more drain cleaner/bleach/vinegar/etc it's definitely worth trying multiple pots/kettles' worth of boiling water. It's worked on several slow-but-not-always-totally-clogged drains for me.
posted by usonian at 10:50 AM on July 13, 2012

I've had luck w/ pouring a good amount of baking soda down into the drain, following it with white vinegar, then boiling water after the vinegar has had some time to work. It often takes 5 or more repetitions to do the job, though.

If you haven't already, get a mesh stopper to keep fibrous vegetable cuttings, hair, and bits of meat and fat from going down the drain in the first place.

I agree with aabbbiee that it's worth getting a second opinion, though. I've lived in houses with some BS, Rube Goldberg plumbing + dealt with major, disgusting clogs, and there was nothing a professional snaking (or just removing the trap and tediously cleaning it myself) didn't fix.
posted by ryanshepard at 11:27 AM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Are you sure the problem is in your paeticular pipes? Have you had your sewer lateral checked? What about the city sewer on your block?

Seconding a second plumber.
posted by purpleclover at 12:23 PM on July 13, 2012

You've cleaned out the trap, right? And gone fishing downstream of it?
posted by fshgrl at 1:45 PM on July 13, 2012

Response by poster: Yes fshgrl. It takes about a gallon or so to fill up the pipe and start the back-up. And purplecover, new, good sewer line and nothing else in the house backing up.
posted by Danf at 2:30 PM on July 13, 2012

If you own or have access to a wet/dry vac, you can try vacuuming out the gunk. I've cleared stubborn drains this way. Of course you have to try to get a really good seal for the suction to be effective.
posted by kbcostello at 7:19 PM on July 13, 2012

You can try unsweetened Lemon or Orange Kool-Aid or Wyler's. Just pour two packets in, one cup of warm water, and let it sit for a while, add another cup of warm water and wait a while, then try the sink in normal use. The "citric and/or fumaric acid" in the mix concentrated that way can dissolve some stuff, and for 25 cents for the two packs it is worth a try and maybe a repeat.
posted by caclwmr4 at 10:42 PM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

I would also try a different plumber. I've found them to widely varying in both the technician's skills/tenacity and the equipment they bring to your house, even between different calls to the same regional "roto-whatever" chain franchise. It's possible the first plumber didn't have the right size/style tip for their snake and couldn't be bothered to obtain one.

Also, one gallon before it backs up isn't much, that's less than ten feet of 1 1/2" DWV pipe (a common size for a branch drain like a kitchen sink). So this clog should be easy to get to.

Finally, if all else fails you could hire a plumber with a "see-snake" which is a snake with a video head. It won't solve the problem but will allow you to know exactly what you're dealing with, and some plumbers will deduct the see-snake charge from the cost of replacing pipes if you choose to go that route with their company.
posted by werkzeuger at 11:47 AM on July 14, 2012

Response by poster: Vinegar and boiling water for the win! After the gallon of white vinegar, it took almost to the second large (think canning jar pot) of boiling water to clear it, but clear it it did!

Thanks, everyone, for the thoughts!
posted by Danf at 8:45 AM on July 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

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