Other plumbing repair

The S traps under the kitchen sink and under the washbowl in the bathroom sometimes become partially or wholly stopped up. If water drains slowly, that is an indication of partial stoppage. Try to clear out the obstruction before it gets completely blocked. There are at least three common methods.

One is to use a rubber force cup, generally referred to as "the plumber's friend." Partially fill the sink or washbowl with water, then place the force cup over the outlet, and push the wooden handle up and down rapidly. This will force water down rapidly and suck it back up and may loosen the obstruction.

Another method is to buy a can of one of several chemical solvents made especially for cleaning out drains and use it according to the directions given on the can. Be careful not to get solvent on your hands or eyes or spill it on the floor or woodwork. These chemical cleaners usually contain lye or caustic potash, which will cause trouble if it gets in the wrong place.

This solvent is placed in the drain and sometimes (if instructions direct) flushed with hot water. It generates heat which dissolves the grease. Thus the obstruction may clear itself. If not, let it stand in the drain ten minutes or so and then use the plumber's friend to clear it.

A third way is the mechanical method. Secure a pail, a dishpan, or a basin large enough to catch all the water in the trap and place it underneath the trap. With a wrench, unscrew the cleanout plug at the bottom of the trap and let the water drain out. Pins, bits of metal, caps of tubes, etc., may be lodged in the bottom of the trap.

You can easily remove them once the plug is off. Long hair can catch around a bobby pin and in due time accumulate into a mass that blocks the trap. A piece of small wire with a hook on the end may be helpful in snaking out accumulated matter. In the kitchen trap, grease accumulates and helps to hold other material. Scrape trap walls as clean as you can before replacing the plug.

Some bathtubs, showers, and other fixtures located at or near floor level are provided with another kind of trap called a drum trap. This is situated a short distance from the fixture and the body of the trap is just below the floor level. A removable lid, flush with the bathroom floor, can be unscrewed with a monkey wrench.

Scoop and clean out the trap with a long spoon or some other implement. When you are ready to replace the lid, put a little grease on the threads of the lid; that will make a tight seal and prevent sewer gas from working up and out around the lid.

Leaks in hot-water tanks

In the course of time, some hot-water tanks spring leaks. Of course, if a tank rusts in several places or opens at the seams, it would be futile for the home plumber to attempt to patch several leaks. The remedy is to buy a new tank. But tiny leaks can be repaired. The simplest way is to put a point on a thin piece of wood—a toothpick will do—and drive it into the tiny hole and leave it. The water inside the tank will cause the wood inside to expand and thus provide a tight but temporary seal.

A much better and more permanent way of stopping a leak is to use a toggle bolt. Close the inlet valve so no more water will enter while you are working on the tank. Drain the water to a point below the level of the leak. If the leak is near the bottom of the tank, turn off the heater. Buy as small a toggle bolt as you can, for the hole in your tank will probably be small.

Measure the diameter of the toggle bolt with its wings collapsed and use a steel hand drill to drill a hole just a fraction larger, so the toggle bolt can be slipped in place. Before doing so, put on a metal washer larger in diameter than the hole you have drilled and a still larger rubber washer.

Screw the wings a few turns on to the bolt, collapse them, and slip that end into the tank, leaving the washers on the outside. Then tighten the bolt carefully, making sure that the washers cover the hole equally all around. Be sure the rubber washer is a type that will not deteriorate rapidly from contact with hot water. Tighten the toggle bolt so it holds firmly and prevents leaks, but do not tighten it too much or you may break the wings of the toggle. After the bolt is in place, refill the tank and inspect it to see if it leaks.

There are some patented devices on sale which are designed to stop leaks in tanks and in most cases probably do so. Some of them are similar in principle to the toggle bolt and washer method just described.

Removing scale from water coils

Hard water often causes a limy deposit or scale to form on the inside of heating coils or water backs, and this not only retards the circulation and heating of water but, if continued indefinitely, will result in clogged and burst piping. Therefore, it is advisable to remove as much scale as possible before coils become too badly clogged.

Removing the coil or water back from the fire box is the first step. Unfasten the union nearest the fire box and then disconnect all pipes and unscrew them from the water back or coil. If there is a clamp that holds the fire-brick lining against the oven, loosen it and remove the side and end linings. Lift out the water back.

Soft scale or sludge may be removed by pounding the water back with a mallet or hammer and then flushing it out with a strong jet of water. A long chisel or gouge can be used on surfaces you can reach.

Waters of varying chemical content cause scale differing in composition and hardness. Ordinary limestone (calcium carbonate) scale, if it is not too thick, may be removed fairly easily with muriatic acid. Gypsum (calcium sulphate) scale is very hard and resistant and is little affected by muriatic acid.

Lay the water back on the floor or ground and fill it with a strong solution of the acid. The strength of the solution should vary with the amount of scale, the average mixture being one part of acid to about six parts of water. If the deposit is thick, the acid needs little dilution.

Commercial muriatic acid comes in bottles that should be labelled "Muriatic Acid—Poison" and should be kept where children cannot get at them. Leave the acid in the water back for an hour or two, and then pour the solution off. Flush out the water back thoroughly to clean out the acid. If all the deposit (scale) has not been removed, repeat the operation. Be sure to wash out all the acid before replacing the water back; use a spirit level to make sure you have the water back level when you replace it.

Similar methods can be used with copper coils. Place the coil (or heater) on two sticks over a large bowl. With the aid of a lead funnel pour the acid solution down through the coil. Dip from the bowl and continue to circulate the solution through the coil until the deposit is dissolved. The coil should then be thoroughly washed out with hot water.

The hot-water supply pipe close to the coil or water back also frequently becomes thickly covered with scale. If that pipe is brass, it can be disconnected and acid treatment followed by careful washing out with water afterward will probably restore it to good condition. However, if it is galvanized pipe and badly encrusted, it would probably prove more satisfactory to replace it.

Plumbing basics

Bathroom fixtures
Bathroom floor plans
Bathtub installation
Installing lavatory
Water closet install

Cesspool / septic tanks

Fixture pipes
House drain
House sewer
Soil stack
Vent piping

Finishing touch

Heating a home


Dishwasher install
Garbage disposer install
Kitchen plans
Kitchen sink installation
Laundry install
Room plans
Work areas

Cast Iron

Plumbing layout
Pipe plan
Water distributing

Faucet repair
Pipe problems
Repair other
Toilet repair


Plumbing materials
Specialty tools

Water Supply

Hot water heaters
Running pipes
Service connection
Water meter
Water savings

Wells / pumps