5 Do-it-Yourself Plumbing Hacks

by James Florence
unjamming a garbage disposal

Many plumbing problems have simple solutions that can save you a lot of money and trouble if you know them. Photo: American Ratings Corporation © 2020

Does your home’s plumbing system confuse you? Don’t worry—you’re in good company. When faced with a strangely behaving sink, toilet or garbage disposal, most homeowners instinctively respond by calling a plumber. While this may be a surefire way of resolving a plumbing problem, it isn’t always necessary. Many plumbing problems have simple solutions that can save you a lot of money and trouble if you know them. Consider the following examples.


1. Clear a clogged kitchen sink

If you have a double bowl sink and it gets clogged, Luis Barrera of Advanced Plumbing & Drain Master has a simple solution. “Simply cover up the clogged drain hole and turn on your garbage disposal,” he instructs. “When the disposal comes on, it’ll create air in the pipe, which should generate enough force to remove the clog and allow the opposite basin to drain.”

While this should solve the problem, if you experience recurrent clogs, your drain line probably has a lot of buildup inside. Rather than allowing this condition to worsen, consider hiring a professional plumber to hydro jet the line. Hydro jetting is a form of drain cleaning that uses high-pressure water to clear pipes of buildup. Since drain lines tend to accumulate grease and other buildup over time, hydro jetting yours once a year is a worthwhile measure for avoiding future issues.

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kitchen sink drain

2. Keep your sink drains clean

Some plumbing hacks are less about solving problems than preventing them from happening in the first place. For example, to prevent the aforementioned clogged sink issue, you can routinely clean your drain lines using a combination of dish soap and hot water. Whereas store-bought drain cleaners like Drano® can eat away at your pipes over time, this homespun drain-cleaning combination effectively removes buildup without the need for corrosive chemical ingredients. Here’s how to apply it:

  • Insert approximately 12 ounces of dish soap into the drain (make sure to use a high-quality dish soap that provides maximum cleaning power).
  • Wait five minutes. If you rinse too soon, you’ll have a massive amount of suds coming out of your drain.
  • While you’re waiting, boil a kettle full of water.
  • When the water reaches the boiling point, pour it down the drain. The combination of boiling water and dish soap will strip grease and grimy buildup off the inside of the line.

Performing this simple maintenance measure every six months will help keep your drains clean. Keep in mind that this hack is most effective when the drain has already been cleared of substantial buildup—otherwise, it’ll just be a bandage on a more significant issue.


p-trap under sink drain pipe

3. Retrieve a ring lost down the drain

If you wear a wedding and/or engagement ring, you might worry about accidentally losing it down the sink drain while doing the dishes or washing your hands. However, if this happens to you, don’t panic—with a few simple steps, you can retrieve your lost ring.

First, turn off the water immediately—this will keep your ring from being washed too far down your drain pipe. Next, open your under-sink cabinet. Directly beneath the sink basin, you’ll see a curved pipe. This is known as a “p-trap,” and it’s designed to catch debris and keep it from forming deep clogs within your drain pipe. In the case of a lost ring, this p-trap is your saving grace.

To retrieve your ring, remove the p-trap by unscrewing the rings on either end (you should be able to do this by hand). It’s a good idea to place a small bucket beneath the p-trap as you remove it to catch any water that comes out. Once you’ve removed the p-trap, just tip it over and your ring should come rolling out. Replace the p-trap to its original position and screw the two rings back on. These only need to be hand-tightened, but make sure they’re good and tight to prevent a leak.


plumbing hack to unjam a garbage disposal

4. Unjam your garbage disposal

Garbage disposal issues are among the most common plumbing problems that homeowners experience, but they’re also some of the easiest to resolve. In some cases, all that needs to be done is pressing the “reset” button at the bottom of the unit. If the disposal is jammed, the fix is only slightly more involved.

After shutting off power to the disposal, insert a quarter-inch Allen wrench into the center slot on its underside. Rotate the wrench back and forth—this motion will turn the disposal’s grinding unit and dislodge what’s caught in the teeth. If you don’t have the right sized Allen wrench, Gifford Teeple, owner of A Reliable Handyman, offers an unlikely hack. Spray some WD-40 into the disposal to loosen it, then insert a broom handle and use it to manually crank the grinder unit. Restore power to the unit, turn the water on and test the disposal (you may need to press the reset button again).


5. Fix a weak toilet flush

Weak flushing is a common issue with older toilets, and in most cases the culprit is sediment. “A toilet bowl has jet holes that initiate the flushing action by shooting water from the tank down toward the drain,” explains Mostafa Sowadah, owner of One Source Plumbing and Rooter, Inc. “Over time, these jet holes can get clogged with small bits of sediment, which diminishes the power of the flush. It’s still flushing the same amount of water, but it’s doing it at a much slower rate, with a reduction in pressure that results in the need for multiple flushes.”

While sediment is an unavoidable issue with toilets, Mr. Sowadah provides a helpful hack for remedying the situation. “Use a safety pin, pencil or similar fine-pointed tool to clean the sediment out of the jet holes in your toilet bowl,” he instructs. “By doing this a couple of times a year, you can keep your toilet flushing like it’s supposed to.”

Learn more do-it-yourself home maintenance tips:

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