Avoid clogged drains, and expensive repairs, in a few simple steps

Blocked pipes can mean bad smells and costly plumbing repairs. But keeping clogs at bay, and clearing them out when they happen, is easier than you might think.

Smelly drains and plug holes can be a real pain, particularly in the hotter months of the year. But if you treat your drains with care and tackle blockages when they first occur, you can avoid paying for expensive plumber visits.
It's easy to minimise the risk of drain problems by avoiding blockages in the first place. We're all guilty of lazily flushing stuff down the plug hole and toilet without a second thought, but it does more damage than you'd think. Here's what not to flush into your drains.
Cooking oils and fat
Fat is the major culprit in drain blockages, both in your household pipes and outside in the drains and public sewer systems.
When you wash up by hand or use a dishwasher, it's inevitable that some greasy cooking oils will be washed down the pipes in the process, but you can minimise the damage by wiping heavily soiled plates and pans with paper towels first to absorb the majority of the oil. Dispose of the paper towels along with your usual household waste.
It's a myth that it's safe to rinse melted, hot fat down the plug hole. Even if it's in liquid form, it will congeal and harden in the cold pipes and cause blockages.
Food waste
Lumps of solid food often end up in the kitchen sink, but, while it's a thoroughly unpleasant task, it's much safer to pick out that stray pasta shell or escaped bean with your fingers and put it in the bin than to wash it down the pipes, where it could get stuck with other debris and form a serious blockage that's hard to shift. Shaking breadcrumbs into the sink may not seem like a big deal, but bread forms a gluey, gooey plug when mixed with water, so chuck crumbs out of the window or in to the bin instead.
Hair
We all shed hair, which often accumulates in the shower when we wash. A few strands slip down unnoticed every day to form a tangled ball of hair and soap scum - a serious blockage that is difficult to tackle. Avoid problems by brushing your hair before you wash it (any loose hairs will gather on the brush, then you can throw them in the bin) and fit a small mesh plug hole cover in your shower basin.
Check out the stainless steel and silicone OXO Good Grips Shower/Tub Drain Protector, US$6.97 (Dh26) at www.amazon.com. It has a dome-like shape that fits both flat and pop-up plugs, and three suction cups to keep it firmly in place.
Nappies, plastic bags, sanitary items
Let's not go in to detail, but the only thing you should be flushing down the toilet apart from the obvious is toilet paper. Everything else should be wrapped up and disposed of along with your household rubbish.
If you do end up with a blocked drain, it might be easier and cheaper to treat it yourself - as long as the problem has not become too serious.
Start by removing the plug and, if you can, unscrew the plug hole covering. Use a specialist tool to remove any hair or debris that's within reach - try the Turbo Snake drain hair remover, $4.85 (Dh18) at www.amazon.com. Its flexible, narrow head is designed to slide down the plug hole and hook on to debris so you can pull it up easily. Put anything you extract into the bin.
If this doesn't solve the problem, buy a strong chemical solution such as Liquid-Plumr Clog Remover, US$4.97 (Dh18) at www.amazon.com. It's a foaming cleaner (safe for all pipe types and septic systems) that should dissolve hair and gunk. Follow the instructions on the bottle carefully and flush it through after use with plenty of hot water.
If this still doesn't do the trick and the problems persist, you might need to use a plunger to shift the clog. Check out the Mini Pro sink and drain plunger from ABC Products, US$6.87 (Dh25) at www.amazon.com. It's powerful but doesn't take up too much storage space.
Plunging only works if you block off any other ways the air can escape, so block the overflow outlet and any adjacent plug holes with a damp cloth or duct tape.
If you need to unblock an outdoor drain, wear heavy-duty rubber gloves, a mask and goggles - it is not a pleasant job.
Put your gloved arm inside two thick bin liners and reach down in to the drain to try to feel the blockage. It might be leaves or easy-to-reach debris that has fallen through the grill and you might be able to shift it by hand.
If that doesn't work and the problem is farther along the pipes, buy a set of drain rods (available from all good hardware and DIY shops). They screw together like tent poles to form one long tool and come with various attachments.
Wearing gloves, mask and goggles, gently feed the rods down inside the drain until you can feel the blockage. Twist and pull back, or twist and push forward to loosen the clog until water flows freely again. Remove any debris and bin it.
Call a professional drain-cleaning company if you have a serious problem, or if you've tried to fix the issue yourself and the problem persists.
 
Warning signs
Bad drainage Water is slow to drain from basins, the shower or bath
Smell A sulphurous odour emanates from your plug hole - an unpleasant smell that's a bit like rotten eggs
High water When you've emptied a basin or bath, water doesn't ever completely disappear. Instead, you can see it sitting in the pipe just beneath the plug hole
Inefficiency Flushing the toilet is difficult - waste water sits in the pan and does not flow out
Overflow An outside drain is overflowing, flooding the surrounding area