The inspiration for this column came from two different friends of mine who live in Los Angeles and who, coincidentally, both had drains on their minds.

One friend told me he had received a mailer from a local plumber advertising a high-pressure drain-cleaning service. The other friend, a contractor, sent me a photo of a clogged 2-inch kitchen drain stack and explained that a client of his complained about how frequently the drain needed to be snaked. The photo showed a drain clogged with organic black debris that I recognized as grease.

If more homeowners knew how drains worked, and what to keep out of them, high-pressure drain-cleaning services and repeated visits from a plumber to snake the same drain over and over again would be unnecessary.

Drain do’s and don’ts

First, let’s discuss what can flow through the plumbing drains in your home: water, human waste and tiny particles of solid food. Notice that I didn’t mention toilet paper. People who live in other parts of the world think toilet paper is somewhat unsanitary and unacceptable, and they use a bidet to clean themselves after using the toilet. While wet wipes may seem like an alternative to toilet paper, they shouldn’t be flushed since they don’t disintegrate much while traveling through your drain pipes.

I also didn’t mention grease. Grease is one of the worst things to pour down drains. While you can liquefy it and seemingly emulsify it by introducing liquid dish soap to a greasy dish or pan, the grease will eventually begin coating the walls of your drain pipes. This grease can then capture larger food particles and eventually choke off the drain line.

Reducing how much grease enters your drains is simple. If you use paper towels for cleaning or to dry your hands, put used towels aside and allow them to dry. Use these to sop up warm grease from pots and pans. Wipe off greasy plates and bowls with these towels and then throw them in the garbage, rather than letting grease go down your drains.


Do not put feminine hygiene products into a toilet. These are absolutely unacceptable in a septic system and unwise for city sewer service. These items should go into a bathroom trash can containing a plastic liner and topped with a fitted lid.

Safeguarding drains

To safeguard your kitchen sink’s drains, purchase a drop-in stainless-steel screened strainer that fits in the basket of your sink. These simple, affordable devices collect food particles with ease. Once the strainer fills, lift it out and toss food waste into the garbage.

Do you use a garbage disposal in your kitchen? If so, keep the faucet running for 30 seconds after you turn off the disposal. Better yet, after you turn off the water, pour two gallons of water into the sink to flush the sidewalls of the horizontal branch drain arm in the wall and the vertical drain stack that services the kitchen sink.

I also recommend pouring about 15 gallons of very hot water down your kitchen sink once a month. Pour this heated water into the sink as fast as you possibly can without burning yourself. The idea is to introduce enough water into pipes that the tubing beneath the sink and the horizontal branch arm in the wall behind the sink completely fill. The hot water will dissolve grease from the sides and top of the pipes, keeping them as open as possible.

In the bathroom, each week I suggest you pour 10 to 15 gallons of cold water into your toilet as fast as possible. Your goal is to create a man-made flash flood in your bathroom drain pipe and stack, as well as in your main building drain. Mother Nature sends an occasional flash flood to clear creeks and stream beds of debris, and you can borrow this technique for your bathroom drains. The surge of water flowing through pipes goes a long way in keeping them wide open so they can do their job for you.

Tim Carter has worked as a home improvement professional for more than 30 years. To submit a question or to learn more, visit