Of clogged drains and COVID-19
March 24, 2020 6:43 PM   Subscribe

Our sink drain is clogged. Plunging it didn't work. Snaking it didn't work. In normal times, we would call a plumber at this point. However, my husband was exposed to COVID two weeks ago, and every family member has had a mild fever and dry cough over the last week. What do we do now?

Details: Plunging has been vigorous. My husband uncoiled 25 feet of snake without meeting resistance that he recognized. No improvement is visible. We have enough enzymatic drain cleaner on hand to try that precisely once.

We're all feeling much better, illness-wise, but are still self-isolating like reasonable people. The house is, presumably, a lively petri dish.
posted by eirias to Home & Garden (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Next step is to try some liquid drain cleaner product. Amazon has prime delivery for liquid or gel drain cleaners.
posted by RoadScholar at 7:00 PM on March 24, 2020

I literally just had this happen this weekend. My guess on mine was that it was a grease clog. Grease is hard to snake, because the snake just punches through then the clog “heals” when you pull it out.

What worked was slowly feeding the snake in small segments and vigorously spinning it along the way. Any resistance at all got a course of feeding it in, then repeatedly pulling it back out.

I left the plumbing in under the sink so I could run water. As soon as it started draining at all, I dumped pots of boiling water through, then the hot tap until it ran cool.

Once it drained pretty well, running the dishwasher with it’s detergent waste water cleared it the rest of the way.
posted by hwyengr at 7:04 PM on March 24, 2020 [5 favorites]

Update: it is not the sink. It is the main drain to the house. This is no longer a convenience issue, this will shortly be a raw sewage issue.
posted by eirias at 7:09 PM on March 24, 2020

Can you get the Green Gobbler Dissolve stuff and try using it overnight?
posted by ldthomps at 7:16 PM on March 24, 2020

Otherwise, my brother called a plumber who was able to access their basement via their bulkhead (cellar, here in New England) outside doors, and thus was able to replace their hot water heater without contacting anyone in the main living area of the house (and then he left a bill for them in the basement). So maybe contact a service and see what they can do without coming in close contact with anyone in the house?
posted by ldthomps at 7:18 PM on March 24, 2020 [4 favorites]

I know this to work well with indoor clogged drains, and it may be worth a try for your case: do you have, or could you obtain, a good quantity of dish soap? Even better if you also have white vinegar and baking soda?

If you do, pour in vinegar + baking soda, then a generous squirt of dish soap (which helps with the grease), then, several minutes later, a kettle's worth of boiling water, and the drain should clear.

My husband would prefer to use straight-up sulfuric acid (which does work, but...). I think he just likes feeling macho while donning full Breaking Bad protective gear. It is available for commercial use, if you aren't finding success with other methods.

And also, surely in these times, household plumbing services know they're essential and likely to be exposed to all kinds of germs, including Covid-19. They should have some ideas about protecting their workers while still providing services.
posted by witchen at 7:20 PM on March 24, 2020 [2 favorites]

A problem in the main drain could actually be a blessing, as the right place to fix it may be the sewer trap, which may be in the front yard. I would call a plumber and see what they think.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 7:28 PM on March 24, 2020 [22 favorites]

If it's the main drain, the good news is it is most likely going to be attacked from the street, rather than from inside the house.
For instance, the last time I had a main drain issue, it was that a root or branch had partially grown through a pipe, and some flushed materials (diapers?) had clogged it.

Plumber pulls up to the curb, locates the external drain / sewer connection. Sticks a roto-rooter industrial power snake up the pipe, 10 minutes later chopped up roots come out. We yell back and forth out the windows to confirm everything's draining. We get an emailed invoice, the guy waves and drives off.

Quarantine (not active at the time, but hypothetically) preserved.
posted by bartleby at 7:31 PM on March 24, 2020 [7 favorites]

Also came here to suggest dish soap. Recently in a bought of frustration I said f it and dumped a good half bottle of it down the drain and went to bed. Next morning some very vigorous plunging broke whatever it was free.
posted by cgg at 8:21 PM on March 24, 2020 [2 favorites]

Call and have this discussion with the plumber; they are most likely to have correct answers.
posted by theora55 at 8:24 PM on March 24, 2020 [14 favorites]

Call a local plumber and describe the situation just as you did here. Let her tell you how to proceed. She will either come out with protection or see if it can be addressed from the outside. If it is a raw sewage issue, that is a major health issue.
posted by AugustWest at 8:25 PM on March 24, 2020 [8 favorites]

What theora55 said.
posted by AugustWest at 8:26 PM on March 24, 2020 [1 favorite]

I'm not suggesting your family did this, and it certainly wouldn't be shameful if you had, but with shortages of toilet paper and everyone home, there apparently are much higher rates of sewer line clogs around the country right now due to flushing unsuitable paper products.

One article I saw went so far as to call them "gridlocks" in some cases, which is alarming and evocative, but I'm not sure what it would mean in detail, though it does seem to hint at problems caused by one sewer line affecting other nearby lines with a separate connection to the main line.

But I don't think commercial enzymes are much good for cellulose, though lye might be, and I think oxobrite might be, since a large old cork I was once trying to clean with hot oxobrite dissolved down to a tiny nubbin before I knew what was happening.
posted by jamjam at 9:25 PM on March 24, 2020 [1 favorite]

A local repair firm is advertising"no-contact" visits and they do plumbing. I would call around and see what can be done.

You can keep your folks out if the way and talk to them via cellphone if needed.
posted by emjaybee at 9:29 PM on March 24, 2020

This is only if you're on sewer, not septic. Main drains can be snaked from the street. Call your local sewer department. They may even help you for free. If not, any plumber will be comfortable cleaning a main drain.

This likely won't be a raw sewage issue for some time, but better to keep an eye on sinks in the lower levels of the house in case stuff starts to back up.
posted by Geckwoistmeinauto at 4:46 AM on March 25, 2020

And whatever you do, DO NOT USE HARMFUL CHEMICALS. It just makes it harder for plumbers later on, and they don't work well with total clogs because there's not enough surface area.
posted by Geckwoistmeinauto at 4:46 AM on March 25, 2020 [4 favorites]

Call call call don't try to fix it yourself with any method.

A. Probably won't work; B. could make the problem worse; C. you have enough on your plate at the moment and should concentrate all efforts on a happy and successful convalescence back to full and blooming health, with which best wishes to you all.

Feel free to seek all available assistance.

Plumber is a professional, has likely thought this through, knows the risks best, and will have protocols in place to protect plumber.
posted by Don Pepino at 6:54 AM on March 25, 2020 [5 favorites]

Calling a plumber is the using the right tool for the job. I wanted to mention that not every city sewer system has street access to drains. Where I live 99.9% of drains go straight from the house into the main sewer line in the street with no clean out access. A blockage means running a snake from the clean out in the main stack in the house. So the person you call may need access to your sewer stack. If you know where it is it would be a good idea to clear out the space around the clean out and clear a path for a two wheel cart so the plumber can get in quick and get to work with a minimum of fuss and interaction.
posted by Mitheral at 8:28 PM on March 25, 2020

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