7 Dangerous Things Your Plumber Wants You to Stop Doing

published Jan 21, 2020
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You might not think much of it when you toss something in the toilet—after all, you’ve got a plunger handy, right?—but these seemingly innocent things can do irreparable damage to your home’s pipes. And while these types of fixes do not come cheap, the money may be the least of your problems if your home floods as a result.

To help you avoid a costly headache, we asked a plumber to dish on the most dangerous things homeowners do. Here’s what Doyle James, president of Mr. Rooter Plumbing, a Neighborly Company, had to say.

Dumping kitty litter into the toilet

Kitty litter includes more than just your cat’s waste, says James. It also contains clay and sand, which are extremely troublesome for any plumbing systems. “The clay and silica clumping litters are designed to absorb moisture and create clumps, which turn into large clogs almost immediately once they enter your pipes.”

Rinsing hair down the drain

You probably already know that showers are prone to clogging due to hair buildup, but the same thing can happen to your sink or toilet if you regularly sweep stray hairs down the drain. When hair goes down the drain, it can form knots and clumps, trapping in odor and making serious clogs in your pipe, says James. The same is true for other stringy items, like dental floss.

Credit: I Spy DIY

Putting medication down the drain or in the toilet

“While prescription medication, over-the-counter medication, and other substances don’t necessarily mess up your pipes, the ingredients in pharmaceuticals can pose dangers to your water supply,” says James. Dispose of medications responsibly, through your local pharmacy or medication disposal program.

Flushing tampons or sanitary napkins

The cotton in these items can easily snag and grab onto just about anything, causing clogs and harming machinery, says James. And since these materials don’t decompose, they must be physically removed from the waste stream by the workers processing the waste and then sent to a landfill. You’re much better off wrapping these products and then tossing them in the trash from the get-go.

Pouring fats and oils down the sink

“In a way, pipes are a lot like arteries,” says James. “When fats flush the pipes and cool off, they freeze and congeal, building up like cholesterol in arteries. After a while, the blockage can become too great, causing your pipes to have a proverbial heart attack.” Let these items solidify, then dispose of them in the trash.

Flushing wet wipes

Yes, even the ones marketed as “flushable.” “Wet wipes have become very popular, but they don’t play well with an aging infrastructure,” says James. “They don’t disintegrate at the same rate as toilet paper, which can lead to a clogged sewer pipe.” The risk is greater in older neighborhoods, like those in the northeastern United States—still, it’s a costly fix that’s simply not worth the gamble, says James.

Taking on DIY plumbing projects

No matter how dutifully you follow the rules outlined above, accidents happen. But this is not the time to start tinkering—there’s a difference between replacing a shower head (very beginner-friendly!) and trying to take apart your pipes. “Plumbing systems are one such area in which maintenance work should most times be handled by licensed professionals, no matter how easy certain fix-it tasks might appear in a DIY plumbing advice manual,” says James, who recommends leaving malfunctioning pipes, water pressure issues, and appliance installation to the pros. If you try to handle such things yourself, numerous troubles might ensue that could leave your wallet drained and your property sinking in value.