Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Procrastinated Drain

     Ever put off an onerous task for so long that it seems as if you'll never do it?

     Yeah, me, too.  Eventually there's no avoiding it.

     The kitchen drain here at at Roseholme Cottage has been slow for quite some time.  An embarrassingly long time.  When Tam was out of town for work last winter, I managed to get it pretty clear with drain cleaner, hot water and vinegar (yes, the first on the list neutralizes the last.  You don't use them both at once).  It was still slow.  A little mini-plunger action seemed to keep it running acceptably, though the dishwasher did tend to back up into the sink.  That's not good.

     It was long past time for action when, Saturday evening, the drain decided to try for Dead Slow.  Got there, too.  I promised Tam that fixing it would be at the top of the list, only Sunday I had a lot of laundry and the writer's critique group, so how about Monday?

     Monday it was, and a firm date, too.

     So last night, I got home in fairly good order with a deli-counter baked chicken, plus a container of green and black olives and little blocks of feta cheese.  I added some Mezzetta Sweet Cherry Peppers* to mine, because they're spicy-sweet and it goes with the chicken and sides like polka and an acccordion.

     Dinner out of the way, it was time to get to work.  I changed into weekend clothes, put on thin nitrile gloves with heavy, long dishwashing gloves over them,† grabbed a nutdriver, a wire coat hanger and a couple of pairs of pliers and set to work.

     The kitchen drain passes above my ham radio setup and across nearly the width of the house on a diagonal.  Nearly the entire run is modern PVC pipe, glued together; there's a 90 at the wall and a pair of 45s to zigzag around the stairs before it meets up with old iron pipe, where a pair of 45s that lead into the waste stack.  There's a hose-clamped rubber coupler at that point, the only place you can open the drain after the sink trap.  Everything else on the ground floor feeds into the stack with short, direct runs, and they have all been working okay.

     So I started taking the coupler apart.  Nasty-smelling water started to drip.  I got a buckt under it and wiggling the pipes a little farther apart, at which point flow increased to the point where it seems like a good idea to just let it run before proceeding.  I warned Tam I'd be asking for her help pretty soon and watched the gray water run.

     And run.  And run.  It slowed and I moved the pipes farther apart, which sped it back up, but finally, it was slow enough that I yelled to Tam to "glove up, get a good flashlight and come on down."  (The waste stack goes up inside one wall of the office we share, so she was only about ten feet away.)

     When she arrived, I handed her a smaller bucket and had her hold it directly under the pipe connection.  Took the pipe connection all the way apart with some effort, and got even more water out.  I picked up the bright flashlight Tam had brought and looked into the stack connection.  It was blocked with...rocks?

     Nope.  Sludge: hard-water accretions combined with grease dish soap hadn't quite grabbed, accumulated tiny food particles, bacteria and...ew.  It looked gritty, like sandstone, only black.  The unfolded coat hanger helped rake out chunks of it into the bucket Tam was holding to catch the remaining water from the drainpipe and needle-nose pliers helped me fish out most of  the remainder. I was contemplating bending the end of the coat hanger into a more useful shape when Tam spoke up:

     "Hey, Bobbi?  This bucket is getting heavy.  And you might want to look into the end of the pipe, too."

     "You'd better take that bucket upstairs and pour it out in a far corner of the back yard."

     "I was planning on it."

     While she was on that and the pipe was dripping (still!) into the larger bucket I had on the floor, I moved around to look into the pipe.  More blockage, the same kind.

     It was starting to look bad.  How far back did this extend?  I bent a better crook into the end of coathanger and proceeded to slide it up the pipe, turn it and pull back out, bringing big lumps of the stuff with it.  After the first splashes, I waited until Tam came back down to hold the smaller bucket at the end of the pipe.  It took what seemed like forever -- probably five minutes or less -- until the pipe started to clear and the unfolded coathanger wasn't finding any obstructions even at full length.  I asked Tam to dump the bucket and fetch some blue shop "rags" (heavy paper towel) from the garage, which I had forgotten.

     I cleaned off the pipe and coupler and we put the back together, a fussy job, and I cleaned up the floor while Tam went to the kitchen to run water down the sink drain.

     So far, so good: the coupler's not leaking and the drain seems to be running well.  Tonight, we'll run the dishwasher when we're both home to deal with any leaks or backups.  Here's hoping!

     Cleaned up and cleaned up and cleaned up, floor and pipes and buckets.  Scrubbed the pliers, WD-40ed them, and washed and washed my hands, arms and face.  Disgusting.  But it had to be done.
* My weakness for pickled vegetables (and raw, finger-food ones) goes back as far as I can remember; possibly farther, as my Mom used to tell of my three or four year old self begging a sip of cider vinegar and being given a taste, with the thought that it would cure me of asking for that stuff.  Instead, I gulped down a teaspoon-full and asked for more!

† There's a reason for this besides the "Ew!" factor of wanting a better barrier.  During clean-up, there's a point where you need to get rid of the filthy outer gloves but having something between you and ick-covered tools is still a good idea.  Start with two pairs of gloves and you're ready for it without fiddling around.


Anonymous said...

Nicely done. Plumbing waste lines are just NASTY to deal with. Mom habitually ran full hot water for several minutes after the dishes were washed. Seemed wasteful at the time, but the grease trap just outside the kitchen window required much less servicing over the long run.

David aka True Blue Sam said...

Plumbing is definitely a love-hate relationship.

stuart said...

Do you have a problem with wet wipes in your public sewers over there? Over here in the uk the water companies have declared them as public enemy number one, closely followed by people pouring fat down the drains.

JimBob said...

You must be a pretty good writer, cause I read the whole post about cleaning out a kitchen drain! Hah!!! Maybe I was waiting for Tam to dump a bucket of wyater in the sink while you were inspecting the business end of that pipe--not that I would want that to happen you understand. I'm just immature in a Laurel & Hardy slapstick kinda way.


John in Philly said...

Nicely done.
My wife had waist length hair for quite a while, and when the shower drain needed cleaning my saying, "A hairball the size of a Shetland pony," was an exaggeration, but it was a huge hairball.
We've cut our drain old metal drain piping in a couple of places and installed the rubber couplings you've mentioned. It doesn't make the job pleasant, it just makes it easier.
A recent addition to the plumbing tool locker was a self feeding and retracting battery powered snake. (the tool is made by a company whose name ends in the first name of a Star Wars character played by Alec Guinness)
Blackwater drain problems are a whole different level of yuck.