Easy Ways to Avoid Plumbing Issues

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You might not think much about it when you throw something down the toilet – after all, you have a plunger handy, right? – but these seemingly harmless things can cause irreparable damage to your home's pipes. And while these types of repairs aren't cheap, money may be the least of your problems if it causes your home to flood.

To avoid a costly headache, we asked a plumber to tell us about the most dangerous things homeowners do. Here's what Doyle James, president of Mr. Rooter Plumbing, a neighboring company, had to say.

Throw cat litter in the toilet

There's more to cat litter than just your cat's waste, says James. It also contains clay and sand, which are extremely problematic for any plumbing system. “The clay and silica clumping litter is designed to absorb moisture and form clumps that turn into large clogs almost immediately once they get into your pipes.”

Rinse hair down the drain

You probably already know that showers clog easily due to hair buildup, but the same thing can happen to your sink or toilet if you regularly sweep stray hairs down the drain. When hair gets into the drain, it can form knots and clumps, trap odors and cause serious blockages in the pipe, says James. The same goes for other fibrous items like dental floss.

Pour medication down the drain or toilet

“While prescription medications, over-the-counter medications, and other substances won’t necessarily mess up your plumbing, the ingredients in pharmaceuticals can pose a threat to your water supply,” says James. Dispose of medications responsibly through your local pharmacy or medication disposal program.

Rinse tampons or sanitary pads

The cotton in these items can easily snag and cling to almost anything, causing clogs and damage to machinery, says James. And because these materials do not decompose, they must be physically removed from the waste stream by the workers processing the waste and then disposed of in a landfill. It is much better to bag these products at the beginning and then throw them in the trash.

Pour fats and oils into the sink

“In some ways, pipes are similar to arteries,” says James. “As fats wash through the pipes and cool, they freeze and solidify, accumulating like cholesterol in the arteries. After a while, the clog can become too big and cause a proverbial heart attack in the pipes.” Allow these items to solidify and then dispose of them in the trash.

Yes, even the ones marketed as “flushable.” “Wet wipes are very popular, but don’t fit well with aging infrastructure,” says James. “They don't break down as quickly as toilet paper, which can lead to a clog in the sewer pipe.” The risk is greater in older neighborhoods, such as the northeastern United States – but it's still a costly solution that just isn't worth the risk says James.

Taking on DIY plumbing projects

No matter how diligently you follow the above rules, accidents do happen. But now isn't the time to start tinkering – there's a difference between replacing a shower head (very beginner-friendly!) and trying to take the pipes apart. “Plumbing systems are an area where maintenance work should mostly be performed by licensed professionals, no matter how simple certain repair tasks may seem in a DIY plumbing guide,” says James, who recommends leaving broken pipes, water pressure problems and appliance installation to the professionals. Trying to handle such things yourself can lead to numerous problems that can lead to your wallet being drained and the value of your property decreasing.

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