Kitchen Sink Hint: How To Exorcise a Demon Drain Clog

Saturday night, a full drain clog. Water standing in both kitchen sinks. How to fix it? How to exorcise the demon? Plungers did nothing, not a hint of relief. Two gallons–many times the recommended amount–of industrial strength Liquid Plumber did nothing despite their cool spelling on the current label: Liquid Plumr. Of course, Liquid Plumber has never before worked for me on any drain clog, but still. A twenty-five foot hand powered sewer snake went right through bunches of greasy clogs despite the need to crank the beast with every few inches of advanced cable…and still accomplished nothing.

Time to admit defeat. On Tuesday, I put in a call to Pete Thomas, a local and highly competent plumber here in Deer Lodge, Montana, and sat back to wait for his call back. Pete had a big job going, all of the plumbing for a brand new house in the area, but on Friday morning, he managed to fit me into his schedule.

Thank you, Pete.

It’s not like Pam and I haven’t done without a functioning kitchen sink before. Heck, we’ve managed at times without anything more than a pitched tent and a camp stove, hauling water from elsewhere (and the less said about sewer plumbing during those times, the better).

Before Pete arrived on Friday, however, I needed to have the accursed garbage disposal removed along with the rest of the under-sink piping. It would be in his way and we pretty much detest garbage disposals anyway. That lazy man’s appliance encourages cooks to dump all sorts of things down the sink, assuming the disposal will really dispose of the leftovers. Mostly that’s true, but not for grease or a woman’s long, beautiful hair if she happens to be the kind of lady who washes that hair over the kitchen sink. This drain had been excruciatingly slow from the day we bought the house last May, some eight months ago. Where there should have been a single P-trap, there were three, and the configuration left them fighting one another just to make things worse. Water and food debris pumped out of the garbage disposal often powered back up into the other sink unless the stopper was in place to block it.

In a word, the entire plumbing run was both ugly and ineffective. I really needed to rip everything out and start over. So that’s what I did.

Beginning the exorcising of the demon garbage disposal. Standing sink water was sucked up with a shop vac (more about that in another post, later), then P trap #2 (connecting disposal to the rest of the line) was removed to allow remaining Liquid Plumber loaded water fall into the green dishpan.

Now it’s time to uninstall (a) the rest of the white plastic piping and then (b) the garbage disposal itself.

Removing most of the pipe run was stupidly easy. I started to unscrew one of the big plastic coupler rings and the entire pipe run literally fell off in my hands. These connectors only need to be finger tight to work, but they weren’t really snugged up much at all. It’s a pure dee wonder they hadn’t leaked long before today.

It was about at that point when I began laughing at myself. A few years back, at the age of 66, I built the southern Arizona home we called the Border Fort single handed from the ground up, but at that time I did not know these slip-together-and-finger-tighten thin white pipe miracles existed. Nor did I find out until the Montana garbage-disposal-inspired demon drain clog stopped up nearly 40 feet of 1 1/2″ ABS pipe under our northern mobile home. Instead, I’d designed my own much heavier ABS system from scratch.

It worked just fine, but wow, this traditional system certainly requires a lot less work to set up! And thus does the 74 year old dog continue to learn new tricks.

Meanwhile, back at the clog: The retaining collar for the garbage disposal was held in place by a simple snap ring. With that out, removing the unit was simplicity itself. The offending appliance went to the garage to wait its turn for the next run to the local landfill, and we were ready for Pete to arrive with his magic power sewer snake.

With the offending garbage disposal and awkward drain piping out of the way, the ABS 1 1/2″ pipe (upper right) awaits the power sewer snake.

As always, Pete Thomas did one heck of a job, eventually running nearly the full 50 feet of cable down through the kitchen drain pipe, all the way into the main sewer pipe. His power sewer snake has a twin-jawed, serrated-toothed chopper at the front end which efficiently chewed through blockage…after blockage…after blockage…for what seemed like a small eternity. His service came at a bargain price, too. I won’t reveal precisely what he charged; that’s between contractor and client. Suffice it to say there were so many spots that “needed to be chewed through,” it probably worked out to something like $2 per grease-glop.

With the line cleared, it was time for me to re-plumb the under-sink piping. What theoretically should have taken thirty minutes ended up requiring the rest of the day, but I wasn’t complaining. Each step of the process surprised me with something new, which is par for the course:

1. The left hand sink still had the old strainer basket installed. We wanted a new one, giving us matching sinks and a replacement for the missing screw-in strainer which was missing when we bought the place. But the retaining collar wouldn’t budge. The threads were seriously jammed.

2. That meant I got to buy a new toy from R & C Building supply here in town, a marvelous Milwaukee brand angle grinder. If the straining basket collar wouldn’t budge, it would be cut open. Pam reminded me to get myself a pair of safety goggles and I went, “Oh yeah, duh! I’ll be lying on my back with showers of sparks raining down on my face. Eye protection would be good!” It didn’t turn out to be quite that dramatic, but she definitely had the right idea.

3. The grinder looked good but did not include a cutting wheel, so it was back to the store to buy one of those.

4. Only when the offending strainer basket was removed did the next detail become obvious. The piping run would start with a pair of flanged tailpieces, short chunks of pipe that connect the sinks to the rest of the piping. None of the supplies I’d purchased included those simple necessities, so this time it was off to ACE Hardware. (R & C carries them, too, but Scott at ACE volunteered to cut the pieces to the length I wanted. Yay, Scott! Not that I couldn’t wield a saw, but laziness prevailed.)

5. New strainer baskets were installed, complete with plumbers putty sealant (which might have been what froze up the old retaining collar, so I was careful with that), and the piping run was assembled…mostly. Huh. Well, let’s see…if those tailpieces were shortened a bit more, everything would fit really well. Out comes the tape measure, off we go to the garage, my “thin materials” handsaw is located, and the 4″ tailpieces are shortened to 1 3/4″ before the entire piping run is reassembled. Those simple screw-on, screw-off connections are earning their kudos now, for sure.

6. With everything finally in place and hot water running joyfully down through the drain and on toward the sewer, hopefully flushing at least some of the looser grease Pete’s power snake had chewed through, a small drip is noticed. Oops! My bad! There are a lot of connectors and I’d neglected to cinch down the first two, right below the sinks. A few quick flicks of the wrist took care of that, and we were good to go.

The end product is, to me at least, a thing of beauty. Where there were three ungainly, ineffective, fighting-each-other P traps, there is now just one graceful, pure white, dare I say pristine P trap at the end of the run collecting drain water from both sinks. There is no drain clog; the demon has been exorcised. In fact, the drains will empty both full sinks at one time with volume to spare. From left to right, the pipe slopes gently downward, encouraging flow toward the exit. When water exits the P trap and heads on down the ABS black pipe, the water level is well below the lateral under-sink, pre-P trap run, effectively eliminating the backflow problems that had plagued these sinks for the entire eight months we’ve owned the home.

There’s even a new aerator on the faucet that produces a really nice spray-flow without leaking all over the place like the old one did. I’m a happy camper and expect to enjoy bowling tomorrow because I feel I’ve earned in. My scores may not excel, but there’ll be a big, goofy grin on my face for sure.

The new, simple, beautifully effective under-sink piping run.