7 Solutions to Common Holiday Plumbing Problems

The holidays are upon us once again! And while we love opening our homes to our family and friends, we can agree that few things put a damper on a festive get-together like an overflowing toilet. Plumbing problems are real. They can be a huge hassle.

So what are you going to do when Uncle Mike casually mentions that the bathtub won’t drain? Don’t panic – there are some simple solutions that can sometimes solve your problems without professional help. That’ll give you time to figure out why Uncle Mike was using your bathtub in the first place.

Your solutions to common holiday plumbing problems

1. The toilet won’t stop running.

Sometimes, when your toilet is getting heavy use, you start to notice that it takes a few extra jiggles of the handle to get the bowl to fill. After a while, even that doesn’t seem to work. What to do?

There are usually two solutions to this common plumbing problem: closing the flapper and adjusting the float.

Closing the flapper: Take the top off the back of your toilet tank. See the little arm with the chain? The chain is attached to the flapper. If the flapper is stuck open, your toilet is going to run…and run…and run. Check and see if the chain is kinked or hung up. Wikihow recommends threading the chain through a plastic straw if this is the problem.

The flapper may also be slightly misaligned – a simple adjustment may allow the flapper to land on the opening cleanly, creating the necessary seal.

Adjusting the float: The float is the balloon-looking plastic piece that floats on the water in your toilet tank. If the float is the problem, troubleshoot these possible solutions:

  • Make sure the float is set to the right level. If it’s floating too high, it will allow water to seep through the flapper.
  • Make sure the float isn’t rubbing against anything. If the flapper is touching other pieces of the flushing mechanism, it may not be able to work properly. Check the fill tube, too – if the fill tube is filling the toilet over the float, the water pressure may be preventing the float from, well, floating.
  • Make sure the float is still in working condition. A waterlogged float or a float assembly covered in limescale are signs that you need replacements. You can buy replacement parts at a hardware store or call a plumber for a quick fix.

2. The toilet won’t flush.

Oh, boy – this can be one of those plumbing problems that cause nightmares, especially when the toilet stops flushing when you’re visiting a friend or, worse, a potential romantic partner. Don’t panic! Lift that back lid and takes a look at what’s going on.

Is water running but nothing’s happening? There’s probably an issue with the flapper. It may not be properly seated due to an issue with the chain. Jiggle the handle a couple times or, if needed, manually reach into the tank and adjust the flapper until you get a clean flush. Phew!

No water running? Time for desperate measures. If there is a plastic wastebasket in the room, fill it with water. Dump the contents into the toilet in one swift pour – this should force the toilet to flush away your shame.

If this does not work, or there is no wastebasket handy, bad news – you’re about to have an awkward conversation with the homeowner.

3. The garbage disposal isn’t working. 

You’ve peeled a bunch of potatoes in the sink. You flip on the garbage disposal and you realize you have a problem. What to do?

Do you hear anything? If there is no noise, your issue is electrical. Experts recommend making sure the disposal is plugged in (of course). If you have power, hit the Reset button and see if the disposal comes back to life.

Nothing? Check and see if there is a circuit breaker issue and, if so, reset the breaker in the electric panel.

If this is not the issue, you may need to replace the switch, which is doable but may require the help of a professional electrician if you’re not comfortable doing this kind of work.

If there is noise – ‘humming’ – something is likely stuck or jammed. After unplugging your garbage disposal, there are several things you can try:

  • The DIY team at Remove And Replace suggests that you ‘go under the sink, find the hex head wrench tool (Allen wrench), stick it in the hole (breaker socket) on the bottom of the disposer and turn it back and forth. This is to get the flywheel to ‘unjam’ itself and turn freely.’
  • Look in the sink – is anything visibly obstructing the disposal blades? Reach in (you unplugged it first, right?) and take the object(s) out.
  • Hit the Reset button – you may have overworked the disposal and it is simply overheating. Go easy next time!

By the way, if you peel potatoes in the sink, dispose of the peels in small, regular blasts so you don’t have a massive pile of pasty starch that can clog your garbage disposal at the end.

4. The bathtub won’t drain.

A bathtub drain can clog when too much hair, soap and other gunk conspire to seal the pipe shut. This is usually a pretty easy, although occasionally kind of gross, DIY fix. Remove the strainer or stopper from the drain (you’ll usually need a screwdriver).

You might be able to solve your problem right here – sometimes the strainer or stopper accumulate gunk, and once you clean these implements, your plumbing problems are solved.

If not, use a drain stick – which you can purchase at a hardware store for $5 to $20, depending on the model you choose – and shimmy it into the drain until you find the clog. Pull it right out. Throw it in the trash. Well done.

A toilet plunger can sometimes help, too. Fill the tub with a small amount of water, then plunge the drain until water begins to flow.

For particularly nasty clogs, a chemical product like Drano may be necessary. Remember to follow the instructions closely, and keep children and pets far away from the bathroom until the clog is cleared and the tub is cleaned.

5. The dishwasher won’t drain. 

You need the dishwasher to work! You have a full load of Thanksgiving dinner dishes coming in hot, and you haven’t even served dessert. What gives?

In all likelihood, you have food waste blocking the drain. Here’s what you need to do, according to home improvement blogger Lynette Walczak:

  • Bail out the water. Sorry, this will not be fun.
  • Remove the screws from the drain basket. Pull out the basket and the flapper, if one is present. You’ll probably see the problem right here.
  • Clean the basket and dishwasher interior. If the basket is covered with food waste, clean it well. Make sure you get the area inside the dishwasher where the basket rests, as well. This will likely take some twisting and turning. Remember to rinse your dishes from now on!

6. The kitchen sink won’t drain. 

Now the sink won’t drain? You’re having some serious plumbing problems, friend!

Cleaning a kitchen sink clog can take a bit more work. You can, however, try running hot water mixed with a drop of dish soap directly into the clog until the water begins to flow. Again, Drano may be a doable option.

If you’re feeling particularly aggressive, The Family Handyman can show you how to use a metal coat hanger as a drain snake, take apart your garbage disposal or remove your sink trap. If not, you’re going to have to call a plumber.

7. The toilet is clogged.

The first step, of course, is to get out the plunger. But what if no plunger is present? Instead of leaving an embarrassing surprise for the next visitor to the bathroom, try Suzy Strutner’s advice:

  • Pour a lot of shampoo or dish soap into the toilet.
  • Dump a gallon of hot (not boiling, Strutner notes, so you don’t have to sneak into your host’s kitchen) water into the bowl.
  • After a few minutes, the clog should open up and your business should move down the pipe. You may need to repeat the first two steps to make this work.
  • Worst case scenario, you get your hands on a metal coat hanger and start poking around. Seriously.

Sometimes you just need a pro.

If you have plumbing problems that can’t be solved with hot water, soap and a strong stomach, call in the pros at John C. Flood. We’re happy to help make your holidays jolly. Call us now at 703-214-5611 or contact us online.

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