Why do my drains keep blocking?

blocked drain being unblocked
12 May 2022

Blocked drains can be unpleasant to deal with, and the situation can be even worse if you find yourself having to get your drains unblocked over and over again for seemingly no reason. If this is a problem that is causing you stress, you might be asking yourself why do my drains keep blocking and, perhaps more importantly, how you can prevent blocked drains in the future. Some of the causes can be dealt with at home by changing how you use your drains, but other causes will need the help and advice of a professional plumber.

What causes blocked drains?

A wide variety of different factors can cause blocked drains, and some of these will mean that your drains get blocked over and over again. To stop that from happening, it's always a good idea to take a deep dive into what may be triggering the blockage in the first place, and this can vary depending on where the drain is located.

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Kitchen sink

A drain blockage in the kitchen drain is almost always caused by drink and food particles. Fats, oils, and grease (FOG) in particular are known to clog pipes and cause a blocked drain in the kitchen.

This is because when these materials are hot from cooking, they are liquid and can easily be poured down the drain. But, as they cool, they start to harden and can get stuck. Over time, fats, oils, and grease can build up to the point where they start to clog the drainage pipes, and this is when you'll start noticing that the drain is blocked.

Other debris from cooking can also cause the kitchen drains to get blocked. These can include food waste, coffee grounds, foreign objects, etc. If there is also grease getting blocked up in the drain, then together you will really start to notice the effects of the blockage.

Signs of a blocked drain in the kitchen:

  • Unpleasant smells coming from the drain
  • Gurgling or glugging noises when the drain is emptying
  • Sink emptying slowly
  • Water coming back up through the drains

How to fix recurrent kitchen blocked drains

If the blockage is near the sink part of your drain system, then this is often something that you can deal with at home. A simple solution that is effective if the problem is due to fats, oils, and grease is simply to pour boiling water down the drain. This will unblock drains because the hot water will cause the grease to become liquid again so that it can move further down the drainage system and be taken away from the house.

For a more powerful method, you can also add some other ingredients to the boiling water to help break down and shift a variety of food-related materials that could be stuck to the pipe walls. Baking soda, vinegar, and dish soap included with the boiling water should shift most simple blockages. Another good product is soda crystals which will remove most normal blockages from drains.

soda crystals to unblock drains 2

How to prevent blockages in the kitchen

If you are dealing with frequent kitchen drain blockages, you can prevent them from happening again by being more careful about what you put down the kitchen sink. The usual suspects of fats, oils, grease, and food particles shouldn't be put down the sink. Instead, they should go into your household waste.

Make sure that you scrape your plates off into the bin before you wash them. If you have been cooking with oils, then you can wipe the pans clean with paper towels and place them in the bin before you wash the pans.

If you have tried all of this and nothing is working, it might be time to bring in a professional drain expert. Recurrent blockages can be a sign that something more serious is happening in your drainage system, such as damaged pipes. A professional plumber will be able to investigate using a CCTV survey to see if there are any problems further along the pipes.

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Bathroom sink, shower, and toilet drain

Another common room in the house where blocked pipes can occur is the bathroom. There are multiple drains and pipes in this room, all of which can be at risk of a drain blockage. And, again, there are steps that you can take at home to prevent blocked pipes and drains from happening repeatedly.

One of the most common reasons for plumbing issues in the bathroom is placing unsuitable items down the toilet. Apart from waste, the only material that should ever be flushed down the toilet is toilet paper. If you flush materials other than toilet roll down the toilet, there is a good chance they will get stuck in the u-shaped pipe or further down the pipes and cause a blockage.

This includes wet wipes and, yes, even those wipes that claim to be "flushable". They aren't flushable and you should never flush them down toilets. As well as baby wipes, you should also never flush cotton wool or sanitary products.

If you find your bath, sink, or shower drain blocked, this is most likely going to be a combination of hair and soap. Hair and soap can cling together to create a clump that can start to interfere with the flow of the pipes.

Signs that your bathroom drains are blocked

  • Bad smells coming from the drainage pipes
  • Toilet overfilling or overflowing after being flushed
  • Sink, bath, or shower draining more slowly than usual
  • Gurgling noises when the drain is emptying

How to fix bathroom drain blockages

Let's start with the toilet. If the water level of your toilet is high, this means that it is blocked. And, just like in the kitchen, a mixture of boiling water, baking soda, vinegar, and dish soap can sometimes be enough to shift the blockage. Pour the mixture in, then wait for 10 minutes before flushing.

Before you try this, however, you will need to get rid of any excess water and you will need to do this manually. If this doesn't work, the next step will be to try a plunger. And if that doesn't work, reaching out to some professional plumbers is your best bet.

If you need to remove hair from a drain, you can approach it in the exact same manner: hot water, baking soda, vinegar, and dish soap, followed by a plunger if that doesn't work. If these don't work, you can try to get in there with some tweezers to drag the hair out or remove the drain.

How to prevent blockages in the bathroom

There are lots of debris and materials that can block drains in the bathroom. An easy way of reducing the chances of this happening is to again be careful about what exactly is going down the water drains or soil pipes.

Always make sure that you only flush toilet roll down the toilet, that's easy enough. When it comes to hair and soap issues, the situation can be a little more difficult. After all, we can't help how much hair we shed, and if you are blessed with a thick head of hair you might find yourself dealing with this issue quite often.

A simple hair catcher that you can place in the plughole can stop this problem before it even begins. These are plug hole covers that have slits to let the water drain through but are too small to allow hair to reach the drains. You may be horrified by the amount of hair these devices catch, but it is easy to pull them out after every wash and throw the hair in the bin.

Outside drains

One of the most common causes of a blocked outside drain is leaves in the drain, and this is of cause an issue that is more prevalent during the autumn months. Dead leaves can get blown into the outside drain where they start to accumulate, break down, and clump together to form a clog along with mud and other debris.

Tree roots are a potentially more worrying factor that can make your outside drain blocked. Tree roots are attracted to water because that's their whole job: bringing water to the tree to help it survive.

Your drain system is full to the brim with water and is a very enticing prospect for a tree root. You might also be surprised at just how far from the tree the roots can travel, so if you don't think it's possible that a tree is close enough for this to be the issue, it just might be.

If there is even the tiniest crack in your underground pipes for a hairlike root to get in, it will do so. Over time, these roots will accumulate until they start to constrict the diameter of the drain pipe and eventually cause a completely blocked drain.

spear and jackson heavy duty outside drain unblocker 5 litre 2

How to fix a blocked outside drain

If the blocked drain is due to an accumulation of leaves and mud, this can sometimes be a problem that you can deal with yourself. Removing the drain covers and getting in there with a drain rod can sometimes be enough to break up the clog and release it into the waste water pipe.

If, however, the blocked drain is caused by tree root ingress, your only option is to call in a drainage expert. They will conduct a drain CCTV survey to check for tree roots and damage to the drain system.

If the roots are left to grow unchecked, they won't stop expanding and can eventually lead to drain collapse, which will leave you with costly repairs. A professional drainage expert will use a variety of cutting tools to remove the roots and will be able to repair the pipes and outside drains so that they won't be able to grow there again.

The bottom line

A recurrent blockage in your toilets, sinks, or outside drains can be time-consuming and unpleasant to deal with. The underlying cause is often a build-up of debris that has clogged the pipe and stopped the flow of water. Sometimes, however, the items blocking the pipes aren't something you can deal with yourself, so you will need to call in an expert. Remember that a blocked drain could indicate a problem much farther along the drainage network and could be a sign of something serious. It isn't always one of the more common causes. If in doubt, ask a professional to take a look.

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