17 Common Causes of Clogged Drains: How to fix & prevent them

There can be many reasons and causes for clogged drains, these are the main factors that can attribute to a drain clogging (keep in mind that generally, there are more than causes for a drain getting clogged):

Causes of blocked drains

hair can clog your drain

1. Hair

Human and animal hair (or even thread and dental floss) is one of the most common reasons for a drain to clog; it is easy for multiple strands to find their way past most stoppers due to how small they are, and over time they can start to clump and causes a drain to clog.

Because hair is porous, it is easy to accumulate soap scum and grease or even attach itself to other parts of the drain. Most of the stubborn clogs that I have found have had hair in them as one of the main culprits.

How to fix a drain clogged with hair

Commercial drain cleaners can often do the trick as relates to hair, however, they should be used in moderation as they can cause damage to pipes if used too often. Additionally, plunging the drain also has beneficial effects, and a plumber’s snake can also help.

Alternatively, you can make your drain cleaner that is free of chemicals and other harmful substances by mixing baking soda and vinegar.

How to prevent hair from blocking your drains

The most obvious way to prevent hair from clogging your drains is to prevent hair from reaching them. This can be done by using strainer guards in your sinks and tubs or showers.

2. Soap

Soap scum and residue can build up over time, and is another major contributor to clogged drains.

This is especially true in showers, tubs, sinks, and laundry room drains.

Soap residue can also cling to hair in the drain to create an even bigger problem for your pipes.

How to fix a drain blocked with soap

Because soap scum is so clingy, using a drain cleaner is probably not your best option; instead, you should opt-in for pressure cleaning your pipes to remove all of the soap scum and buildup.

How to prevent soap from clogging your drains

The best way to prevent soap scum and residue from building up is to use cleaners that are safer for your pipes, such as those that are soap-free.

3. Dirt

One of the most common misconceptions as relates to drains and pipes is that dirt will just wash down the system, and you don’t need to worry.

This, of course, is not the case and dirt can build up over time and contribute to clogged drains, especially if mixed with other factors such as soap scum or hair.

If you think about it, when the dirt is mixed with water it becomes mud, and if there is not enough water to fully push it through the drain, then it can become a sludge that can have negative effects on your drains.

How to fix a drain blocked with dirt

Common fixes for dirt clogs in your pipes are: commercial drain cleaners, or using a tool like a plumbing snake.

How to prevent dirt from clogging your drains

Simply, the best way to prevent dirt from clogging your drains is to limit the amount of dirt that is pushed down the drain.

This can be done by rinsing off dirt before showering if you have been gardening or performing yard work outside.

mud can be the cause of a blocked drain

4. Oil, Grease, and Fat

Fat and grease can have very harmful effects on your drains, especially if accumulated over the years.

While oil may appear to be a liquid that is safe for your drains when it has been heated, once it cools it will turn into a solid again and this can cause severe blockages in your pipes.

A common misconception is that oil, fat, and great can safely be poured down the drain as long as there is hot water running for a set period; which is not entirely true. Fat can still be harmful to your pipes and drains.

How to fix a drain blocked with oil, grease or fat

Plunging has been found to work in a lot of cases, however, if that does not seem to do the trick, then the next course of action would be to mix detergent and hot water and pour it down the drain.

The heat and detergent will work together to liquefy the oil in theory.

That said, if that does not work for whatever reason, a commercial drain cleaner should do the trick.

How to prevent your drain getting blocked with fat, oil or grease

Simply put, to avoid oil and fat from clogging or damaging your drains, don’t allow it to go down the drain in the first place.

While small amounts, such as leftover fat from sauteeing is alright, the bulk of fat should either be thrown in the trash or wiped out of a pan or other cooking appliances.

5. Food Waste

Generally only found in kitchen sinks, food waste clogs can be a problem regardless of if you have a food disposal or not.

Some foods that don’t break down and can get past the disposal are especially bad, such as coffee grounds or potato peels.

How to fix a drain blocked with food waste

For the most part, this is not a very detailed fix and can be done easily by either plunging, using a commercial or homemade drain cleaner, or by using a plumbing snake.

However, if you have a garbage disposal that could be part of the problem instead of the solution. If you do have one, but still find that food remnants are clogging your drains then it may be time to take a look at the disposal.

Determine what it is working properly, and if it has been cleaned and still the issues persist, then it may be time to replace.

How to prevent your drain getting blocked with food waste

By setting up a compost bin for food waste, you are not only helping the agriculture in your community but are also eliminating the chance for food waste to clog your drains. 

Also, compost is great for your garden.

6. Wipes and Diapers/Nappies

Believe it or not, wet wipes and diapers have been the cause of many blockages and clogs in drains.

Toilet paper is the only man-made substance that should be going down the toilet, as anything else is not septic safe.

Even thick or quilted toilet paper can cause an issue if used in excess.

How to fix a drain blocked with wipes or nappies

I most cases, plunging or using an auger such as a piping snake will take care of the issue.

How to prevent your drain getting blocked with wipes or diapers

Simply, don’t flush anything except for septic-safe toilet paper down the toilet.

nappies and wipes can block your drains

7. Small Solid Objects

When children are playing, they have been known to try to flush small toys down the toilet, which will, of course, lead to a clog.

Even small objects in the bathtub can find their way into the drain if it is unprotected by a guard.

How to fix a drain clogged with a solid object

In some cases, trying to retrieve the object is the best course of action.

However, if this is not possible then the services of a professional plumber may need to be used.

How to prevent your drains being blocked with a solid object

Education and parental guidance are your best friends in cases such as these, and care should be taken to avoid flushing anything down the toilet except for toilet paper.

8. Feminine Products and Cotton Swabs

Another culprit that a lot of people may not just know better than to flush, feminine products should never be flushed down the toilet.

Tampons are especially bad, because when they are in water they can swell up to 10x their original size, and can cause a clog that is hard to take care of.

Other feminine products as well don’t break down over time.

How to fix a drain clogged with feminine products

Plunging or using a plumbing snake can work in most cases, but if unsuccessful, then a plumber may need to be called.

How to prevent your drains being blocked with feminine producs

Avoid flushing anything besides septic-safe toilet paper down the toilet.

9. Cat Litter

Cat litter is another man-made product that is terrible for your drains and plumbing system. It is comprised of clay, silica, and sand; all of which are designed to absorb moisture and create clumps.

How to fix a drain clogged with cat litter

While in some cases, using a commercial or homemade drain cleaner can work, I have had the best success by using a combination of both plunging and using a plumbing snake.

How to prevent your drains being blocked with cat litter

Never allow cat litter to be flushed down the toilet, or washed in the sink or tub. Instead, bag what you can and wash the pan outside with a hose.

10. Offset Pipes

Over time, the foundation and ground can shift and settle. While this is a normal part of nature, it can have negative effects on your pipes and plumbing system. This can push the older pipes upwards, which intern affects the water flow from the home to the sewer system.

How to fix offset pipes

Unfortunately, short of calling the professional help of a plumber, there is little that can be done.

How to prevent offset pipes

There is not a lot that you can do to prevent this, as you are at the mercy of mother nature and gravity.

11. Tree Roots

Another act of nature, tree roots can also can problems in your pipes.

Even a small crack in the pipes can allow for tree roots to being to grow towards the inside of your pipes, and once inside they will continue to grow, which can cause damage and lead to water not being able to properly flow.

How to fix tree roots blocking your drain

There is not much that you will be able to do on your own for this, and you will most likely need to call in professional help. Please note this can get costly, and in some cases excavation and tree removal are necessary.

How to prevent tree roots blocking your drain

Understanding the root structure of your trees as well as your plumbing design is the best preventative measures you can take. 

Avoid planting trees that are known to have wide-spread roots too close to your home, and replace old pipes as needed.

12. Plants and Leaves

External drains are prone to being clogged by plants and dead leaves, especially during the Autumn/fall.

How to fix plants and leaves blocking your drain

If the issue has not gotten to be unmanageable, you can take care of it by removing the debris from the drainage system either by a plumbing snake or by hand; however, if the problem has begun to get too deep, you may need professional help.

How to prevent plants and leaves blocking your drain

To ensure proper drainage, make sure that the drains are kept clean and tidy, and use the appropriate guards to prevent debris from entering.

13. Mineral Build-up

Minerals can cause blockages and clogs over time, especially if you live in an area with an abundance.

This can reduce the flow of water, as well as cause back-ups in your pipes.

How to fix mineral build up from blocking your drain

To remove any mineral build-up, the pipes will need to be descaled; which is done by a professional plumber.

How to prevent mineral build up from blocking your drain

Installing a water softener in your home can prevent hard water buildup, and will also eliminate the presence of harsh minerals that can cause damage to your pipes.

14. An Excess of Toilet Paper

Although toilet paper is septic safe and can be used without any real fear of lasting damage to your plumbing system, when not used in moderation (as in an excessive amount), it can cause your septic system to be plugged.

This is especially true of the thicker types of toilet paper, or the quilted versions.

How to fix excess of toilet paper from blocking your drain

A common problem, in most cases a clog caused by toilet paper will not have any long-lasting effects on the drain and can be taken care of with a plunger or a plumbing snake.

How to prevent excess of toilet paper from blocking your drain

Use no more toilet paper than is needed, and if necessary flush the toilet more than once.

15. Bad Pipe Installation

Bad pipe installation has a variety of negative results, and will always end up costing you time and money down the road.

While DIY is a great way to save money, as relates to plumbing it is never a good idea; incorrect installation of plumbing can lead to costly repairs, not to mention water not flowing correctly.

How to fix bad pipe installation

This is a job for a professional plumber.

Always have a plumber install your new pipes and drains; this will put your mind at ease knowing that everything is installed correctly and to regulations or city codes.

How to prevent bad pipe installation

By using a certified and reputable professional plumber, you can avoid any issues down the road as relates to faulty plumbing installation.

16. Poor Water Flow

If there is an issue with low water pressure or flow, this is a tell-tale sign that something is blocking the water from flowing properly.

Not having adequate water pressure or flow can lead to a myriad of issues down the road, and it is best to get it taken care of as soon as possible.

How to fix poor water flow

Another issue wherein prevention is key, having a plumber install your piping system will help to avoid any issues with plumbing, as well as maintaining your pipes to avoid this issue.

By cleaning your shower heads and water fixtures regularly, you will be removing any type of debris or blockages that can occur.

How to prevent poor water flow

By keeping your water outlets clean and free of debris, you can avoid this issue altogether.

heavy rain and storms can lead to blocked drains

17. Heavy Rain and Storms

During rainy seasons or if you have experienced a monsoon, heavy rainfall can lead to your drains becoming blocked, as they are not designed to accommodate too much water in a constant flow. 

While this can be a common problem, some steps can be taken to limit the amount of damage inflicted.

How to fix blocked drains from heavy rain and storms

During monsoon seasons, ensure that your outdoor plumbing is clean and free of debris.

That said if you are experiencing and plumbing issues caused by heavy rainfall you may need to hire a professional plumber to diagnose and fix the problems.

How to prevent blocked drains from heavy rain and storms

By making sure that your drains and gutters are clean and free of debris, you can effectively limit the amount of water that becomes standing

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