What Causes Clogged Drains? A Complete Guide

How To Clear A Clogged Drain-What Causes It?

What Causes Clogged Drains? A Complete Guide

Clogged drains are one of the most common household plumbing issues around. They occur in all types of drain lines, which means all kinds of things can be plugging up your drain.

What works for some clogs might actually make other clogs worse! And in a worst-case scenario, you could even damage your plumbing by using the wrong tools or methods trying to clear up a blockage.

One of the leading industries experts, Hiller says they have seen just about every kind of clog, stoppage, or drainage problem you can imagine. That’s why we’ve put together this quick, comprehensive guide to help you figure out what’s stopping the water, and how to prevent future clogs.

Hair

Hair – The sticky, constant, regular mess in everyone’s drains.

Probably one of the most common causes for clogged drains in bathroom sinks, tubs, and other bathroom drainages, hair is a frequent flyer in clogs.

The hair itself can cause a blockage with enough time, but the messy tangle of hair usually catches tons of other stuff washing through the drain too. Dirt, soap, debris, oil, residue, and all kinds of other stuff will catch in hair clogs, adding to the blockage.

One of the hallmark signs of a hair clog is a steady loss of drainage over time. Slow drainage speeds are a pretty good indicator because hair by itself won’t form a full blockage unless there’s a whole wookie’s worth.

How To Stop It

Hair is a tough clog to stop. When it comes to showers or your bathroom sink, hair is kind of unavoidable with regular use, so the best option is prevention!

Covers, drain catchers, and rubber stoppers with small filters are a great way to limit how much hair gets into your drain and pipes. Depending on the magnitude of any hair-based blockage, you’ll probably be fine with physical unclogging options.

Drain snakes, your hand in a glove, or a small plastic hook can drag most drain area hair clogs out. But if you have a closed drain fixture or more severe blockage, you may want to use chemicals or rely on a professional service to avoid damaging your plumbing.

Soap

In spite of its slippery nature, bar soap is a common culprit for clogs.

Soap buildup can happen in two ways. Soap scum or general film buildup, and then physical blockages.

For soap buildup, it’s mostly in places with hard water. Soap will bind to the excess minerals in hard water, creating a tough substance that most people recognize as soap scum. While people are used to soap scum in tubs and sinks, it can actually build up in your drain lines too.

This leads to slower drainage, and it can lead to complete blockages if left unattended.

Some bar soaps are also notorious for fragmenting, particularly towards the end of their lifespan when you’ve got one little sliver of soap left. These fragments can get stuck in hair, other soap scum residue, or smaller drainage meshes, leading to a physical clog that will slow your drain speeds.

How To Stop It

Try liquid soaps. They have different properties and compositions, so they don’t contribute as much buildup.

If you’re dedicated to bar soap, keep up with regular cleaning to limit the amount of additional soap scum buildup.

Dirt

Residential plumbing lines aren’t really designed to handle large objects or tons of debris, which includes dirt and sand to some degree.

It seems like a no-brainer to get washed up in the shower when you’re covered in mud, dirt, or sand from a day outdoors, but it could be really bad for your plumbing and drain lines.

Washing large amounts of dirt or other debris down the drain in your home can cause dirt to settle in the pipes, which could lead to a major obstruction in your plumbing system. Sand has a similar effect, so it’s a good idea to keep both out of the tub when you can.

How To Stop It

The best way to avoid this kind of blockage?

Hose down outdoors.

Whenever you can wash off the majority of dirt and debris outside. A good way to gauge how much is too much?

If you’re not super comfortable walking through your house covered in a certain amount of sand, dirt, or other debris? It’s probably too much for your sinks and tubs. Have a quick outdoor rinse, or at least shake off what you can before climbing into a nice bath.

Food Waste

Taking a break from the bathroom, remember that your disposal isn’t a dispose-all.

Each year, we repair tons of kitchen clogs that come from people putting too much faith in their disposal. Not only will a disposal struggle and leak with too much high volume use, it doesn’t adequately break down some kitchen food solids.

Some foods are worse than others. Eggshells, fruit rinds, large chunks of food, or anything with a lot of grease and fat — these tend to stick in drainage systems or catch other, smaller food pieces leading to bigger and more persistent clogs.

How To Stop It

When you can throw out the food waste. Try compost, recycling, or just straight into the trash if you need to.

Otherwise, limit disposal usage and try to stick to softer foods. Or at least foods that actually break down significantly when you’re washing the dishes.

Oil

Oil and grease can be sneaky clog components, mostly because it’s rare for people to realize what they’re disposing of is composed of oil and grease.

If you’ve ever left pan drippings in a can or jar after making a nice greasy meal at home, then you know what happens when fat and oil start to cool. They turn into a big clump that looks like a really gross candle.

What most people don’t see is that process happening in their drainage system. Over time, fat and oil can congeal and cool in your sink lines and drain, causing blockages and catching other food items or objects along the way.

How To Stop It

Have a homemade grease trap.

Use tin cans or old jars and simply collect grease and oil runoff whenever you’re cooking. Then, toss out the jars when they’re full. That’s pretty much it!

Toilet Paper

Ah, the dreaded clogged toilet. Is there any feeling more awful than the embarrassment of clogging a toilet?

Even worse, what if it’s not your own toilet?

The truth is, that’s probably happened to just about everyone at some point. Toilet paper clogs are super common for a variety of reasons, from different toilet styles to different personal needs. Fortunately, a quick plunger attack will clear out most clogged toilets, but it’s still a major nuisance.

On the plumbing side of things, toilet paper is tricky. The truth is, it’s not ideal for your plumbing or septic system, but without a larger investment in the bidet, this is the system we’ve got. The best practice here is to avoid excessive paper use.

If you’re already staring down the barrel of a clogged toilet and the plunger isn’t working, don’t keep flushing. Not only can toilet paper and other biomatter get lodged further into the pipes, but you’ll also end up with an overflowing mess and potential system damage.

How To Stop It

Apart from reducing how much toilet paper you use, make sure all of your flushable products are actually designed for flushing. Things like paper towels, sanitary products, and other common bathroom items aren’t actually designed to break down in the water, so they’ll clog more easily.

Toilets can be surprisingly delicate, so if you run into a clog or major blockage of any kind and a plunger or simple pourable cleaner won’t work, call a professional. Replacing a toilet is no fun, and replacing one that just broke open all over your bathroom is even worse.

Small Objects

Unless you’re a major klutz, or you have children in the house, it’s unlikely that you’ll run into tons of small objects blocking up your drains.

However, in the event that you do, you should be prepared. Small objects are kind of a wild card clog, as dealing with them and the potential risk to your system varies a ton based on the object in question.

Small objects pose a particularly large risk to your plumbing because there’s no way of telling where they’ll get stuck or what effect they’ll have when they do. Something like a marble might not cause any issues at all, or it could stick in a pivotal point that prevents water from flowing properly.

How To Stop It

Just don’t let small objects into the drainage system, basically.

As a bit of advice, we do suggest at least contacting a professional plumber with the details if you do find yourself in this situation. There are simply too many factors involved with small objects to say exactly what will happen, so relying on a professional is the safest bet here.

Tree Roots

Underground water lines and drain pipes can actually attract tree roots.

Even the smallest of leaks in underground pipes can encourage root growth towards or around the broken pipe. As roots find water, they can keep growing to access the water source, which may result in fairly significant damage or blockages.

Root damage is one of the more significant and expensive repairs when it comes to plumbing, mostly because it usually involves digging up pipes and installing replacements.

How To Stop It

While there’s no way to guarantee an eternity of unbroken pipes, you can minimize the potential damage by landscaping appropriately and avoiding areas that have known pipes.

Another good preventative measure is to check for leaks frequently. If you notice changes in pressure, wet spots in the yard, or any other abnormalities, ask a professional plumbing team to check your system. Catching problems early is always going to be a cheaper and more effective way of avoiding major problems.

Mineral Buildup

Over time, hard water or general usage can lead to mineral buildup, where minerals in the water will stick and form blockages over time. You can spot hard water mineral buildup around faucets or pretty much anywhere that water is regularly used.

How To Stop It

You’ve got two common options: a water softening system, or regular cleaning and descaling.

The water softener is going to be the easiest option because it’ll actively reduce the amount of buildup you’re dealing with. But the cost or local guidelines might be prohibitive when it comes to installation.

If that’s the case, you’re stuck cleaning and descaling all your fixtures on a regular basis. It’s worth it to keep your plumbing in working order, though. You can prolong the life cycle of your fixtures, while also preventing potentially annoying or damaging blockages.

When In Doubt, Call A Plumber

If you are experiencing a problem with a stubbornly clogged drain, or have issues with recurring clogs, it may be time to call in a professional to diagnose the problem and fix it for good. With the right tools and professional expertise, a local plumbing professional can help ensure your plumbing and drain lines are blockage-free and allowing water and wastewater to flow freely.

An experienced plumbing professional will be able to help you with both small clogs near the drain and more serious blockages deep in your home’s drain lines. Fixing a small clog right away before it becomes a big problem will save you a lot of time, money, and hassle in the long run.

Matt McWilliams
matt@mcwilliamsmedia.com

Hi there! My name is Matt and I write for Expert Home Report. I enjoy writing about everything related to home improvement, home tips and DIY. In my spare time, I'm either spending time with my family, doing a DIY project or learning a new skill.