Unclogging gurgling toilets and bathtubs can be an unfortunately common rite of passage for many of us living in homes.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Ideally, our bathroom pipes run smoothly without distressing noises or smells.
HuffPost reached out to plumbers about the common mistakes they have seen residents make and what they would personally never do in a bathroom after their years of experience.
They shared their biggest “won’ts” as lessons for us all:
1. They won’t put flushable wipes down a toilet
Just because a product says it is flushable does not guarantee it actually is.
“Flushable wipes are a huge no-no,” said AJ Jenkins, an Oklahoma City-based plumber.
Philadelphia-based plumber Kelly Ireland also warned against using flushable wipes, because then you will then “pay $10,000 to have your front yard ripped up. That’s your other option when when it’s old plumbing systems,” she cautioned.
“To say ‘flushable’ just means it’s going to go through your toilet. But what it does to your plumbing system, especially if you have older pipes, is if you have, like, cast iron, the wipes don’t disintegrate,” Ireland said.
“I’ve had instances where I spent [an] entire two days drain cleaning and you get to a point where you’re like, ‘Now we have to just dig this whole pipe out.’ And then you’re dealing with a dig-up in your front yard or in your basement. And that obviously is super costly.”
If you do use flushable wipes, put them in a bin, not in your toilet, Ireland said.
2. They won’t flush tampons down the toilet
Similarly, stay away from flushing tampons and menstrual products down your toilet to avoid dealing with future drain clogs.
“Have you ever stuck a tampon in water? It literally just expands,” Ireland said.
3. They don’t use drain cleaners as their only unclogging method
Pouring heavy-duty chemical drain cleaners – like Drano – down your bathtub to deal with hair clogs can do more harm than good.
“What Drano will do ― if you don’t know your plumbing system and you have old pipes ― is it will actually eat through the old pipes. So, sure, it’ll get rid of the clog, but it’ll also start raining in your living room,” Ireland said.
She added that another problem is that the cleaner can move the buildup in your pipes to another area that’s harder to reach. “If it sludges into a hard turn, then you have a major clog,” she said as an example.
Similarly, Jenkins cautioned against using the popular DIY solution of baking soda and vinegar on sink pipe clogs. “You should also never use baking soda and vinegar to unclog a bathroom sink because it can eat away at the rubber gasket used to put the the sink drain together,” they said.
“The best method to unclogging if possible is plunging. It’s the safest,” Ireland said.
4. They won’t install an adjustable P-trap
“One item I would never install in a bathroom is an adjustable P-trap. P-traps are often advertised as a convenient plumbing solution for DIY homeowners, but they can cause more problems than they solve,” Jenkins said.
“The ridges on these traps tend to collect buildup and catch hair, leading to frequent clogs, and they’re difficult to unclog without needing to disassemble the entire drain,” they said. “Using the right materials from the start will save you time in the long run and avoid the hassle of having to frequently unclog your drain.”
Hardware stores offer a variety of different fittings to connect a sink drain, and Jenkins recommended a standard slip nut washer trap over an adjustable P-trap for your sink.
5. They don’t leave the water on while working on a leaky pipe
Before you start working on a pipe or fixture you suspect is leaking, turn off its water supply to stop the flow of water — or else you will be risking water flowing into your bathroom.
“I would never work on a fixture that doesn’t have reliable and working shut-off valves,” said Carly Carey, a Minneapolis-based plumbing apprentice for Erik Nelson plumbing. “If you are working on a fixture or there becomes a problem with a fixture like it starts to leak, a broken or failing shut-off won’t hold.”
If a fixture doesn’t have its own shut-off valve, look for the main one in your house before doing any plumbing. It’s typically near a hot water heater, your basement, or near the foundation of your house outside.
6. They won’t use bleach tablets to clean the toilet
A toilet brush and a spray cleaner may take more hands-on effort than dropping a cleaning tablet into your toilet tank, but at least the former is less likely to destroy your toilet.
“Those blue tablets and bleach tablets people keep in their tank are horrible for the toilet. They break down the tank parts and constantly need replacing,” Ireland said.
The longer that a cleaning tablet sits in your toilet, the more likely that it will dissolve the plastic and rubber gaskets, washers and pipes around it.
“The longer the tablet sits, the longer its chemicals chip away at your toilet’s materials. Your toilet pipes will eventually begin to leak often, and your toilet won’t flush properly,” explains a blog post for Mr. Rooter Plumbing company of Columbia, Missouri. “Instead of dropping a couple of tablets in your toilet and letting them sit for months, use distilled white vinegar and get rid of stains in an effective, yet valuable way.“
Ultimately, everyone wants to keep their toilets, tubs and sinks fresh and clean. When in doubt, double-check what kind of bathroom materials you have to see which cleaning products you should use. And know when to call in professionals for help.
“If all else fails, that’s why we have professional plumbers!” Jenkins said.