Kitchen sink for the soul
August 9, 2017 11:01 AM   Subscribe

I'm on Day 3 of not being able to use my kitchen sink, and I'm getting a little desperate. Any tips or techniques a very non-handy person could try?

Timeline of my plumbing woes:

- Last Tuesday, I noticed my garbage disposal wasn't working. When I flipped the power switch, there was no response, like the unit was dead.

- On Sunday, I did a load of dishes in my dishwasher. A couple of times during the wash cycle, brownish water with bits of dark material came up from the drain in my kitchen sink, then drained away again. At most, there was about an inch of water in my sink. After the wash cycle finished, I noticed that when I ran the kitchen sink tap, water was draining very slowly. I haven't used the dishwasher since then out of fear of causing a worse backup.

- By Monday, I had mostly stopped running the tap, because the water wasn't draining at all. It's like there's a pressure differential going on, or maybe the pipe is somehow full of water, because water just sits in the drain depression and now takes a very extended amount of time to drain.

Theoretically, my apartment building has a maintenance crew to help with household problems like this, but after multiple calls over multiple days no one's come to help, or even given me an ETA for the plumbing cavalry to arrive. I can wait for a pro to fix the disposal and check the dishwasher, but not having a usable sink is driving me crazy.

So! Since I can't use anything chemical like Drano due to the whole lack-of-drainage issue, what are some physical troubleshooting things that even I, a non-handy person, can try?

Is there any truth to the idea of using a toilet plunger, and if so, how do you prevent the junk inside the drain/pipe from splashing back out at you? I'm loathe to buy a new plunger just for this, but I'm also getting desperate, so.

FYI: It's a single-chambered sink with a single drain.
posted by the thought-fox to Home & Garden (20 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
It sounds like there is food trapped in your disposal that's blocking the drain. Depending on your local renter laws, you can hire a plumber to fix this and then deduct it from your rent.

If that's not an option, find a Youtube video on how to remove the disposal and clean it out. It's not hard, there's one main screw underneath. I did this once and I'm not particularly handy with plumbing.
posted by ananci at 11:04 AM on August 9, 2017

I have this (I don't know how it's called in English). It's quite handy when the drain is blocked up to a couple meters down.
posted by elgilito at 11:13 AM on August 9, 2017

Call the apartment manager and say, "This is making my apartment unlivable, because I cannot wash dishes. Here are your choices: A) I call a plumber and take the money out of next month's rent. B) Right this moment, you give me a time, within the next 24 hours, that someone will be here to fix this. By the way, at the time you give me plus one minute, I call a plumber and take the money out of next month's rent. A or B?"
posted by Etrigan at 11:17 AM on August 9, 2017 [2 favorites]

Plungers work great; buy the cheapest one!

If you have a double sink put the plug in the side with the garbage disposal. Make sure there are a few inches of water in the sink. Grab the plunger and push it down vertically on the drain hole. Do this slowly a few times to fill the bell of the plunger with water, then give it a few HARD pushes. Let the sink sit for a moment and see if the water is draining. If it's not draining, repeat a bunch of times.
posted by gregr at 11:19 AM on August 9, 2017 [2 favorites]

elgilito: That is a snake. But it wouldn't be able to get through the garbage disposal.

If you have plastic drain plumbing parts, you can pretty easily unscrew them. Make sure you put a bowl/bucket under it so you catch whatever comes out. Get a snake or a long stick and make sure everything is clear and put it back together. It's actually pretty easy but can be intimidating.

But since you rent, it's really the apartment manager's problem. Tell them that it's "not habitable" because you do not have a kitchen and that they have 24 hours to come fix it. If you really want to push it, record the call (and tell them you're recording it) so that you can have a record of reporting the problem.
posted by ethidda at 11:19 AM on August 9, 2017

Vinegar and baking soda together will explode like a volcano, and clear your pipes just as well as Drano.
posted by benadryl at 11:20 AM on August 9, 2017

@Etrigan Most of the property managers I know would consider that deliberately antagonistic and make your life a living hell.

If your pipes down under the sink are PVC pipes, odds are VERY GOOD that they're hand-tightened. You can turn the water off at the wall (like you'd turn off a toilet), get a bucket, and unscrew the pipes and the trap. Clear 'em out, then reinstall exactly as they were (take pictures beforehand if you're not super sure), tighten as much as is comfortable by hand (don't go crazy, it's plastic), and test for leaks. Takes 5 minutes, and most clogs are in the trap.
posted by Pacrand at 11:22 AM on August 9, 2017

Nthing unscrew the plastic trap under the sink, but: (1) a good amount of water will dump out so you really need to have a bucket placed underneath the sink when you do this; and (2) you should take pictures of how it looks before you take it apart, because it can be a little bit confusing putting the PVC connections back together if you have not done it before. That said - this is really easy stuff and if you take those precautions you should be fine.
posted by Mid at 11:39 AM on August 9, 2017

In LA there are certain steps that need to happen before you can legally deduct from your rent. Call your local tenants rights org or check online.

This is making my apartment unlivable

The key word in LA is "uninhabitable." There are six or seven things that make an apartment uninhabitable, and that includes having potable water. In these instances, code compliance can issue a fix-it citation, with fines accumulting for each day over the deadline. However, you'd usually want to avoid it getting to that stage, because that can (in extreme cases) lead to an eviction, since you are not allowed to rent a place that is uninhabitable, and you can't waive your rights. that's probably not an issue with a clogged sink.

I have this problem very occasionally, but it's always connected to my next door neighbor's sink. That shouldn't be a hindrance in fixing, just an fyi if the other suggestions don't work.

Personally, I would get in touch wit a tenants rights group.
posted by Room 641-A at 11:44 AM on August 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

The garbage disposal stopped working, which you discovered after you put food down it and it failed to turn on. Now water won't drain out through the garbage disposal. Have you done the gross thing and reached in there to clear out all the garbage sitting above the disposal blades? (With the power off obviously - unplug if possible!)
posted by aimedwander at 12:35 PM on August 9, 2017

Do you hear a hum when the disposal is switched on?

Hum: disposal is jammed.
No hum: disposal is jammed AND the breaker is tripped.

Take a look at this guide on how to unjam the disposal with a hex/allen wrench, and then reset the breaker. Goes without saying to please be careful with tools and hands inside the disposal when it's live (even when switch is off).
posted by JoeZydeco at 12:41 PM on August 9, 2017 [8 favorites]

Disposals usually have a reset button somewhere on the bottom. It occasionally even works. Look for that.

If it makes a humming noise but just doesn't turn, it may be jammed. Take a broom handle and crank it a bit in the opposite direction from how it usually spins, then try again.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 12:42 PM on August 9, 2017 [4 favorites]

unjam the disposal with a hex/allen wrench

If you don't have the right size, dollar stores usually sell setS of them. After this happened a couple of times and I saw how easy it was, I told the maintenance guy that I was going to buy a set. He gave me his, and I keep it taped to the inside wall of the cabinet.
posted by Room 641-A at 1:18 PM on August 9, 2017

Responding to JoeZydeco:

Initially, when I flipped the garbage disposal switch there was a humming noise. But after a few days, there stopped being any noise at all.
posted by the thought-fox at 2:04 PM on August 9, 2017

what are some physical troubleshooting things that even I, a non-handy person, can try?
Get as much water as you can out of the sink. Boil water, pour baking soda down the drain and follow with vinegar. It will foam up and if the vinegar drains out, then hit it with boiling water.

A week without a drainable kitchen sink is "uninhabitable"! You say no one has come to your apartment, but are you even able to talk to someone on the phone? Your city or county should have a housing inspector and you might want to talk to them about this issue. Having a plumber come and deducting it from your rent is grounds for eviction in many places. You have to go through the courts in my state to "repair and deduct". Your landlord knows the law in your area, so you should, too.
posted by soelo at 2:38 PM on August 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

Update! I was literally just writing my response to JoeZydeco, when there was a knock on the door. Heart fluttering with wild hope, I flung open the door to reveal...the maintenance guy! YES!

I had made one last call to the maintenance voicemail line after posting my Ask, explaining that no one had ever responded to any of my maintenance calls, and asking for follow-up within 24 hours or a supervisor's name and direct number. I kept it very polite but expressed my frustration and need for resolution in a timely manner. The maintenance man, after arrival, told me that he received the work order on Monday, but just forgot about it *sigh*

Regardless of his organizational issues, this guy solved all 3 of my kitchen problems in less than 5 minutes. He reached down the drain, felt around, and retrieved a single, very old...cherry pit. ONE cherry pit. (I never put stuff like that down the drain; it must have been a rogue pit from when I rinsed a couple of pounds of cherries, although that was *weeks* ago). The pit was somehow blocking the garbage disposal from working; the disposal's kill switch was tripped to prevent the motor from burning out, and somehow that was preventing the dishwasher from emptying properly. As soon as he removed the pit, the sink started draining again. He hit the disposal reset switch and that started working again, and now my dishwasher is happily rumbling away, cleaning the pile of dishes that had been taking over my kitchen counter.

Full disclosure: I had been afraid to reach down the drain myself, because in the movies that's always when an evil spirit turns the disposal on and your whole arm gets sucked down the sink and you die in a dramatic fountain of blood.

Thank you to everyone who responded with helpful advice! I hope my explanation of how this got resolved helps other people who are also woefully ignorant of kitchen plumbing stuff (and who have seen too many horror movies).
posted by the thought-fox at 2:48 PM on August 9, 2017 [9 favorites]

Ha! This literally just happened to me and the maintenance man showed up, retrieved a cherry pit, and reset the garbage disposal. I could have written this word for word and I'm glad you have a usable sink again! Isn't it a relief?
posted by skycrashesdown at 3:59 PM on August 9, 2017 [2 favorites]

You know how I learned about the broom handle thing? WHEN MY DISPOSAL WAS JAMMED WITH CHERRY PITS.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 4:47 PM on August 9, 2017 [2 favorites]

WTF I had no idea cherry pits were such a scourge of the kitchen. I am learning so much today!
posted by the thought-fox at 4:57 PM on August 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

Olive pits, too!
posted by Room 641-A at 5:31 PM on August 9, 2017

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