Friday Firesmith – That Sinking Feeling

Mom made chili one night last week and the next day a bottle of Drano appeared on the counter. Post hoc ergo propter hoc, so I wait to see if the Drano works, and it does not. Mom tells me the sink is draining slow, and so it is.

I’ve the skills of a drunken five-year-old wearing mittens in total darkness while being stung by murder hornets when it comes to plumbing. Two bottles of Drano later, I have to start doing surgery, which means taking some of the pipes off under the sink. This will end poorly. Worse, the pies under the sink are clear of obstruction. And even more worse, I overtighten the connectors, and now I have leaks. It’s time to hit the hardware store.

Time was, sage advice and old-timers with stories about the first time they used running water on the inside of a house was de rigor in a hardware store, but these days they’ll hire people who have never accidentally cut themselves shaving with a straight razor or walked both ways to school uphill during a locust swarm. The Big Box Hardware Store guy means well, but he knows less than I do about what I am looking for.

There’s a feeling I get that he’s wrong about the problem. He tells me to use more Drano, and buy a new set of pipes. But the clog is past the sink, and how the hell am I going to get the Drano in there? I ask if I need a snake, and he looks puzzled. This is not good. I wait until he leaves and I start over.

“If you’re looking for a snake, that one isn’t as good as that one over there, because it will connect to your drill,” says a Random Dude, who is looking at my shopping cart as if he disapproves of more than the snake.

“Hey, thanks!”, I say, as he picks up the new pipes.

“You might have washer problems, not pipe problems. If you overtighten them the washers split. Just tighten them by hand, and if they leak give them a little more, but don’t use a wrench,” says Random Dude.

“I’m Mike,” I tell him.

“Richard,” says Richard, who is no longer Random.

“Drano is good on small stuff, but if you’ve got something serious, use this stuff, Lye, because it heats up and burns through grease, and that’s likely what you have in a kitchen,” Richard tells me.

“Mom’s chili,” I tell him.

“Use the snake first, don’t be afraid to put some time into it, and that’ll stir the grease up, loosen it, then use the lye. You might have to do it more than once because it sounds like you’ve got a bad one. But this isn’t complicated. Be persistent, and don’t get discouraged,” Richard tells me as he’s finding washers for the fittings.

“I’m a plumber,” Richard says, “call me if this doesn’t work.”

I get home and it takes two bouts of lye and snake to break the clog, but the water runs freely and the pipes are not leaking. Mom would like to have some work down on her bathroom. I think I know who to call.

Take Care,

Mike writes regularly at his site:  The Hickory Head Hermit. Opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the management of this site.


4 thoughts on “Friday Firesmith – That Sinking Feeling”

  1. When I was young I dreaded the hardware store because not even the smallest item could be purchased without 15 minutes of anecdotal wisdom… 30 minutes if you dared question it. It was infuriating because when I was young I knew everything.

    As I grew older and dumber I miss the advice. Now the hardware and auto parts emporiums are in the clutches of all knowing, all seeing, computers with some kid acting as interface following a strict script.

    My plumber buddy tells me that bleach works as well as Drano for minor clogs but he may be trying to drum up business for a major clog call at 3 AM on Sunday… those bought him a million dollar house at the shore.

    • Bleach (hypochlorite) reacts with fats in the saponification (it makes soap out of them) step. But additionally it can react with amino acids (protein components), chlorinating them (as some of the fatty acids), maybe even releasing chlorine. In extreme cases it may even combust with organic materials ( don’t know if that’s a risk with over-the-counter solutions).

      Drano ist a combination of sodium hydroxide, sodium Nitrate and aluminum. With water this creates lye (sodium hydroxide), which reacts directly with fats in a saponification reaction (as above), but also reacts with aluminum and the nitrate to form ammonia. This again reacts with whatever ist in the drain, but also releases gas bubbles that may stir things up a bit.

      So If you really want chlorinated organic compounds use bleach. The saponification is similar (maybe at different speed).

      Also I don’t know how resistent to bleach the washers are…

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