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.

9 thoughts on “Kitchen Sink Hint: How To Exorcise a Demon Drain Clog

  1. Ok, now that you know what you’re doing, do you want to come replumb mine? Looks good under the sink there. Lots of room for storing the cleaning supplies.

  2. Very nice job, Ghost. I remember an apartment some 30+ years ago in which I installed a garbage disposer, and the building’s sewer line clogged just below our apartment, and my neighbor came over to tell me that water was shooting out of her ki\tchen sink! LOL I realized that my garbage disposer was pushing pwater, which could only go out the neighbor’s kitchen sink, and we had to get a plumber to clear out the clog quickly because the upper apartment’s water was backing up into our 2 kitchens!

    Enjoy your bowling run! 😀

  3. Becky: I take it your kitchen sink situation is not entirely pleasing at the moment? Slow draining or what? If it’s slow, but the rest of the house is draining well, the septic system should still be okay but a power snake cleaning of the sink line to the main sewer line–like Pete did for us–would be needed before anything else. If/when the line is clear, I wouldn’t mind tackling the rest of it like I did here. Would need to bring certain tools with me (obviously) when we come down to Sierra Vista next time. Feel free to drop me an email if you like and we’ll kick the idea around some more.
    Manny: Wow. Yeah, I can see how that could be a super problem (pun intended) with apartments on multiple stories. Remind me to build ranch style ramblers only from now on, okay? My parents had a two story house on their second ranch, in which they lived from 1973 to 1992 or thereabouts, but thankfully there was no upstairs kitchen. The house did think about falling down, though, build with logs but badly done. I remember my dad had 4″ x 4″ braces holding up the north wall for several of those years. Fortunately, that was on the back side of the building, the one surface few people ever saw, but I’m sure it impacted the sale price when they sold it and moved back near my kid sister’s family due to failing health.

    Will do my best to enjoy my bowling run. Which reminds me. Time to chow down and then get going. 😀

  4. Fred, the kitchen and all in the house drain well, except the hall commode clogs easily. It’s the cabinet that is my problem and David is trying to find the time to get to it. The sink had water leaking down around it and it ruined the wood in the bottom of the cabinet. He knows how to do it, he just is working full time and going to school, so time is an issue. Rodger is trying to schedule in a couple of things that need done too. He has the same time crunch that he has always had. Working full time and being a single father, working side jobs to make the ends meet, and all that. He is coming out next Sat. to do some things. A few drywall repairs that still need done because Dennis had a learning curve with the electric chair, and some flooring that needs replaced. He had some of the correct type of drywall scraps that will work perfectly to fix the spots. I got a couple of boxes cheap off of Craig’s List and was going to get the laundry room floor replaced. I do not care if the flooring in there matches the rest, as long as it looks good.

  5. Manny, I lived in a 1st floor apt, and the guy upstairs put leftover chicken and dumplings down the garbage disposal, bones and all. He acted really put out that I asked him to quit doing his dishes and flushing his commode until the plumber got there several hours later. I could not get it through his head that when he flushed, his sewer water came out of my kitchen sink and overflowed all over my house.

  6. Sounds like you have it covered. As for the laundry room, I wouldn’t care if that flooring matched the rest, either. It certainly does not, and for the time being, at least, will not in our home here. There’s one style of (very cheap) tile in the laundry room, a better and totally different style in the kitchen (those two rooms being separated by a single wall only), and the new living room traffic area tile we have on order isn’t even remotely similar to either of the other two rooms.

    I know exactly what you mean about apartment neighbors who can’t (or won’t) get it through their heads about actions vs. consequences. Of the dozen or so apartments I’ve lived in since high school (avoided whenever possible but it wasn’t always possible), the majority ended up producing uncomfortable situations fueled by neighborly stupidity, to put it mildly. But Pam and I did have a cool apartment experience during the two months we lived in Reno, circa 1997. We got to watch a kitty cat romance out of our back bedroom window. The two amorous felines were deeply involved in making kittens atop a wooden fence post, but of course the post only had room for one kitty, not two, so they fell off, about 6 feet to the ground. Then climbed back atop the same post, cranked up the loving again, and again fell off. They must have repeated this cycle a good half dozen times while we cracked up, watching.

  7. Manny: I’m a firm believer in the adage, “If it works, don’t fix it.” Unfortunately (in my view), far too many of us humans don’t hold with that.

  8. Just got told by David that since the budget did not pass, I would not get my check this next month. I happen to know from last time this happened, that they are required by law to pay us VA and soc sec recipients. Last time was during Bush’s presidency and Dennis had a panic attack for the next 3 months, wondering if he was going to get his check. I had to look it up to reassure him. He still was doubtful, but he calmed down a little bit.

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