By Nick Sergi
Here's an unbelievable story: I fixed my sink. Yes, it's true. I am not at all a handyman. If I'm lucky, I might find a screwdriver or some nails scattered around my house, but I don't own a toolbox. I had to 'Google" pliers. I knew they were an important tool, but I wasn't sure exactly what they looked like or that not all pliers are alike. Needle nose pliers are not the same as regular pliers. I'm known for sitting behind a computer and hoping that I don't get the dreaded 'blue screen of death." When it comes to household maintenance, I definitely need help.
Yet, I'm also not interested in shelling out the money needed to call a contractor or anyone whose an expert on any specific problem that may need fixing.
My kitchen sink wasn't draining properly for the past two weeks, and both sides were filling up with water. I had one of those plastic snakes (about a foot long, with teeth), and I tried to run into the drain basket, thinking maybe there was food near the top clogging it. Water was still collecting in the sink. I tried to use my sink plunger, but all that was happening was that the water would slosh around. I bought a cheap twenty-foot snake for about seven dollars to deal with this problem. The snake was metal and flat and could bend from its own weight (imagine a tape measure, because that's precisely what it was like), and it had a tiny spring-like coil at the end. This coil made it difficult for me to fit it into the small holes in the drain basket of my sink. It took many tries to get it in there, but once I did, I fed as much of the length of the snake as I could into the drain, hoping it would disperse the clog, and I naively thought that I could take the snake out as easily as I had put it in.
Well, the snake got hung up pretty quickly, and parts of the snake that I could grab were too slippery to hold. Since it was flat, like a tape measure, I was also afraid that I'd cut my hands trying to tear at it. After a few minutes of trying, I figured it wasn't coming out because the spring coil at the end didn't fit through the drain basket. That theory would not hold up to scrutiny because most of the length of this snake was still in there. I hastily called a friend nearby, and he came over late at night. He went under the sink and took the connection to the P-trap (that curved piece of pipe right under the sink) off one end that would lead to the ground and could see the spring coil end of the snack sticking out of the P-trap. It took some doing, but he helped remove this $7 snake from my sink, and then he refastened my P-trap after we checked for food buildup.
I was glad for his help, but the sink was still filling with water. Wherever the clog was, it was further down the trap. I figured it was in the horizontal area just behind the P-Trap connected to the pipe that leads into the ground. With the help of another friend, I removed the P-trap again and tried to use the snack through the horizontal line. I found pieces of steel wool soap pads had collected on the spring coil. I figured: no wonder the drain was clogged. In moving pipes around, I realized that one of the drain baskets had cracked from the pressure, and water was getting everywhere. Reassembling the connections underneath the sink was a problem at first because not everything was tight and the vertical pipe going to the sink was crooked. So I had to loosen the entire assembly under the sink and assemble it again.
Calling a plumber was still not an option I wanted to consider. I bought another drain basket for about $10 and was able to replace the damaged one with relative ease, using an instructional YouTube video as a guide. Since I had removed the remnants of the steel wool soap pad from the pipes, I was fairly certain that my problems were solved!
Nope. The drain was still filling up rather quickly, and both friends were unavailable to help. The "Drain Defense" liquid (a more potent form of liquid drain cleaner, like Drain-O) wasn't helping either.
The following day, I went back to the sink and reconsidered how bad my situation might be. From the horizontal pipe, new water must flow into that vertical pipe that leads into the ground, so I deduced that the problem must be in that pipe. I studied the line as carefully as I could with a flashlight and realized that there was a cap on the top of the pipe and that I could remove this cap. This cap, which has air holes in it, is meant to, I suppose, vent the entire system, so there isn't a complete vacuum.
I was tired of using the cheap, tape measure-type snake, so I went back to the store and purchased a better snake for about twenty dollars. It was thicker, round, and had a plastic case with a reel, and I knew it would be more effective because I saw another instructional YouTube video of someone who created a video showing how to fix such problems. I took the vent cap off the pipe and lowered the snake down into the pipe. Eventually, the snake came off the reel, but I was determined to go even lower. I was determined to use every inch of the twenty-five-foot snake and go far past the vertical section of the pipe to hopefully get as close as I could to where the pipes from my house join the sewer lines for my small community. Then I went back and forth, trying to clear something I could not see. I took the entire length of the snake out three times. I was getting somewhere, and the water was flowing.
By this time, my friend was able to stop over, and we also replaced the drain basket on the other side of the sink, so it did not have to be done later. Now, the sink looks brand new.
The moral of the story: all the experts had to start somewhere. There is no reason we cannot learn the basics of how something works. There are YouTube videos that cover pretty much everything you could fix on your own. Once you evaluate the problem and how to fix it, you must make that judgment call on whether you can do it yourself or call a contractor. I can say that I'm happy to have gained some basic knowledge about how my sink drains work, and I feel great that with a bit of help, I was able to fix the problem on my own.