For many Americans, the average home plumbing system seems like magic. Turning on the tap and rinsing refuse down the drain is a daily occurrence, and most of us never give a second thought to the chore – at least until our pipes become clogged. Our toilets seem similarly magical. How much thought have you given to what’s being flushed each day? If you’re like most people, the answer is simply “not much.”
While our plumbing systems are indeed modern marvels, they don’t work by magic. In fact, our pipes are a lot more sensitive than you might imagine. This is especially true for anyone living in an older home. Regardless of when your house was built, preventative maintenance is key. By avoiding flushing or rinsing a few key items down the toilet or drain, you can keep your plumbing in good working order for years to come.
Picture this: you’re making your morning coffee when you spill some grounds on the way to the garbage can. You reach for the sponge, mopping the grounds into the sink before rinsing them down the drain. No harm, no foul, right? Wrong. Coffee grounds are deceptively damaging to pipes. They’re some of the most common culprits of drain blockages. The good news? Coffee grounds are great for composting. The next time you’re tempted to sweep them into your sink for disposal, collect them and sprinkle into your garden instead!
Both cooked and dry rice can swell when they get wet, making this one of the very worst things you can rinse down the drain. Like pasta, rice can become mashed in your garbage disposal, forming a thick paste that can clog the drain or cause the disposal to stop working altogether. It’s a gross and potentially expensive problem to contend with, so skip the sink and toss your grains of rice into the garbage can instead.
There’s a common misconception that lemon, lime and orange peels are great for cleaning your garbage disposal. While tossing rinds down the drain might result in a fresher scent momentarily, the risk of damage outweighs any side benefits. Since citrus peels can clog your disposal and require expensive repair work, stick with cleansers specifically designed for garbage disposals. Chances are your drain will smell better with a cleanser, too!
Bakers, beware: a key ingredient in your breads, cookies, and pizza dough could be dangerous to the health of your drains. It’s normal to have leftover flour after rolling out dough on the countertop. You might be used to brushing it into the sink and down the drain, but flour can coagulate and harden inside your pipes. Next time you’re finished with a baking project, sweep the extra flour into the garbage can instead.
This one might seem like common sense, but you’d be surprised at how many people mistakenly believe that their fruit pits can be tossed down the drain. Even the sharpest of garbage disposal blades are no match for cherry, avocado, and peach pits. Don’t risk the health of your plumbing system when you can simply toss these pits into the garbage or compost pile instead.
Eggshells might be a lot more delicate than fruit pits, but they can wreak similar havoc on your drains if you dispose of them improperly. Even if they break apart in the process, their tiny pieces can collect and stick to the inside of your disposal. Thankfully, egg shells are compostable, so toss them into the compost pile or simply throw them into the trash. Either is a better option than risking clogging up your drain!
Wet Wipes – Even the Flushable Kind
Speaking of drains, do you ever find yourself flushing wet wipes? They’ve grown more popular in recent years. Unfortunately, not even the wipes marketed as flushable are safe for your pipes. While they might disappear when you flush, wipes collect in your drains, building up over time and causing all kinds of problems. If you’re eager for a cleaner bathroom experience, invest in a bidet instead of wipes. Or, if you’re really committed to the wet wipe process, toss used wipes into the trash can instead of flushing them. Your drains will thank you.
Kitty Litter – Even the Flushable Kind
Flushable kitty litter sounds like a dream. Who doesn’t want a simpler, easier way to dispose of Fluffy’s waste? Unfortunately, this is another marketing trick that could come back to haunt you. Flushable kitty litter – even when it’s made of biodegradable material – can clog drain pipes, contaminate the water supply, and even potentially harm humans and animals. The next time you clean the litter box, toss the litter into the trash instead of flushing it.
Cooking oil mixes very easily with other waste. That’s what makes it incredibly risky to pour down the drain. Grease, oils, and fats can combine to clog your pipes, making for very messy and potentially expensive repair work. While you might have previously avoided pouring bacon grease down the drain, this policy also applies to salad dressing, mayonnaise, and a number of other oil-based condiments. To make matters worse, all of the items mentioned above will get stuck in the grease inside pipes to create super clogs. Grease is the glue that holds a drain clog together.
John Walker is a Master Plumber at Roto-Rooter in Baltimore, Maryland. Call on John and his team any time you have questions about what you can or can’t put down the drain – or when you’ve made a mistake and need help restoring your household drains to full working order!