Clogged Drain Could Be Caused by Clogged Vent Pipe

Ok so here in Chicago it’s just below freezing these days. So it’s not a great time to be operating on the plumbing system. But what can you do? My granduncle’s kitchen drain is clogged. I mean REALLY clogged. No amount of Draino, and plungering or normal action has worked. He’s an older man, having turned 83 a few days ago, so who KNOWS what the hell he put down there. But he’s willing to work with me to solve the problem.

We tried something you’re really not supposed to try; muriatic acid (aka Hydrochloric acid). It’s a corrosive that’s used to clean concrete or metal, but it’s very corrosive and can be easily bought. I think it’s like a 7 percent mix, so it will burn out most things in any normal clogged drain. But it is VERY dangerous so I do not advise YOU to use it, but we were having a situation so we went that route, and we have experience using it, and so know NOT TO BREATH the fumes in the WHOLE area.

So he had tried a drain “snake,” one of those pole and spring contraptions that only has about 3 feet of coil. I don’t have much faith in those, so I brought over my auger (sometimes they’re called routers). It’s a 25 footer, but I’d like to get one of those hand held, electric powered models one day. You can also rent the floor models. I had to do this for my cheating ex-girlfriend this past summer.

So with my auger my we went in under the sink to get directly to the auction. But I’d try going in from the sink, if you can, first. We got 10-12 feet worth of coil in, and it was wet, so we know we were getting somewhere, but we didn’t “catch” anything. After talking to him I found out he had been on the roof to see if he could reach the sink from the vent stack. The decision was made to go onto the roof again. The vent stack as you can see from this image from is part of the Drain Waste Vent system, you should visit their site for a full explanation; but in a nutshell when water leaves your house it needs an air supply too. It has to “breath.” That’s why those pipes are sticking out of the top of your house or apartment. And it is possible for some object to fall in those pipes and clog up the works.

(Let me take a second to explain this principle; you can even try this at home. The next time you have a drink in a glass put a straw into it, then put your thumb over the exposed end of the straw and lift the straw out of the fluid. You’ll notice that the fluid is stuck in the straw, now take your thumb off the straw and you’ll see all the fluid come spilling out. So that’s what’s happening when your vent gets clogged; the water from the sink can’t “spill out” to the sewer line).


We went to the roof, and after putting the auger in about 12 feet, as far as the kitchen sink, it stopped. Like something solid was blocking. I started churning away trying to “catch” something, but nothing would snag. So some object is in there, or the pipe has an elbow where it meets the kitchen drain. But we were getting air supply to the drain? And I decided to something a little unusual; pour water down the air supply. The vent pipe SHOULD have a clear path straight to the waste pipes. So I took a bucket of water to the roof and surprise, surprise. It just started filling up with water, and I stopped when I could see it will fill all the way to the top. It was getting dark, so I decided to come back to the job later. In the meantime, because it’s now sub-freezing temperature in the city I added some rock salt to that water in the pipe. It will dissolve and lower the freezing point of the water, so that it doesn’t become a 10 feet pipe full of ice. More later…

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