What to do if your drains are blocked

UK Home Improvement

What To Do If Your Drains Are Blocked

A blocked drain can lead to unpleasant odours, slow water flow, and even property damage if left untreated. Addressing the issue promptly can save homeowners time, effort, and potentially costly repairs. This article will discuss what to do if your drains are blocked, providing practical measures to take when faced with this problem.

In many cases, drainage issues stem from a buildup of common household substances such as hair, grease and food debris or external factors like tree roots and leaves. To ensure the correct approach is applied, it’s crucial to identify the cause of the blockage. We will outline ways to diagnose the problem and distinguish between minor and severe blockages.

Armed with this knowledge, we will discuss various techniques for clearing blocked drains ranging from simple DIY solutions to seeking professional assistance. Understanding what to do when faced with a blocked drain means that homeowners can be better prepared and address the issue quickly and effectively.

Recognising Blocked Drains

Recognising a blocked drain can be challenging, but there are some tell-tale signs that can help identify whether you have a blockage in your outside drain. The following subsections highlight some of the key indicators to look out for.

Smell and Noises

Blocked drains often produce unpleasant smells due to the build-up of waste materials. If you notice a foul odour coming from any drains, be it inside or outside your property, it could be a sign of a blocked drain. Additionally, you may hear gurgling noises coming from the drain. This can be caused by trapped air trying to escape as it passes through the blockage.

Slow Draining and Standing Water

Slow draining water is another sign of a blocked drain. If water in sinks, tubs, or showers is taking longer than usual to drain away, you may have a blockage somewhere in your outside drain. Standing water in areas around your property, such as garden lawns or pathways, can also indicate that your drains are not functioning correctly due to a drain blockage.

Flooding and Wastewater

A blocked outside drain can lead to more severe issues like flooding and wastewater escaping. If you notice flooding around your premises, especially near drains, it is vital to take action to address the problem. Furthermore, if wastewater is pooling or visibly escaping from the drain, it is a strong indication that you have a blocked drain.

By being aware of the signs mentioned above, you can quickly identify a blocked drain in your outside drain system. This will allow you to take prompt action, such as getting professional help to unblock the drain, preventing any further damage to your property.

Common Causes of Blocked Drains

Fat and Grease

One major cause of blocked drains is the build-up of fat and grease. Cooking oils and fats, when washed down kitchen sinks, can congeal and accumulate over time, restricting the flow of water. To prevent this issue, collect fats and oils in a container, and dispose of them in the bin.

Leaves, Buds, and Debris

Leaves, buds, and debris from trees and plants can end up in outdoor drains and guttering, causing blockages. Regularly clean your gutters and install drain covers or guards to prevent such debris from entering your drains. Check for blockages every few months, especially during autumn when leaves tend to fall heavily.

Hair and Sanitary Items

Blocked drains can often be attributed to hair and sanitary products. Hair can become intertwined with other materials, like soap scum, forming tight masses that block the flow of water. In bathrooms, use drain covers to catch hair before it enters the drain. As for sanitary products, such as tampons and pads, dispose of them in the bin rather than flushing them down the toilet.

ItemProper Disposal Method

Wipes and Nappies

Another common reason for blocked drains are wipes and nappies. Although some wipes are labelled as “flushable,” they often don’t break down as quickly as toilet paper, leading to blockages. Similarly, nappies can expand when wet, blocking drains and even becoming stuck in the U-bend. Always dispose of wipes and nappies in the bin.

To address drain blockages, utilise a drain rod or contact a professional to inspect and clear your drains. In some cases, the blockage may require the removal of a manhole cover for better access. Regular maintenance and proper disposal of waste go a long way in preventing and dealing with blocked drains.

Preventing Drain Blockages

Proper Waste Disposal

One of the main causes of blocked drains is improper waste disposal, particularly in sinks, toilets, and baths. To prevent blockages, it is important to dispose of waste correctly. For instance, avoid pouring fats, oils, and grease down the sink, as these substances can harden and cause blockages. Instead, pour them into a container and dispose of them in the bin.

In the bathroom, refrain from flushing items such as baby wipes, cotton swabs, and sanitary products down the toilet. These items can cause blockages and should be disposed of in the bin. When using a dishwasher, ensure that all food debris is removed from the dishes before placing them inside the machine, as excess food can clog the wastewater system.

Regular Drain Maintenance

Routine maintenance can help prevent blockages from occurring in your sinks, showers, baths, and garden drains. Regularly clean your drain by using a mixture of hot water, vinegar, and baking soda to break down any build-up. You can also use a plunger to clear minor blockages. Remember to remove any debris from outside drains—such as leaves and twigs—to allow water to flow freely.

To keep wastewater systems functioning properly, schedule professional drain cleaning every 12 to 18 months, depending on the usage and frequency of blockages. This service can save you from significant repairs and costs further down the line.

Installing Drain Guards

A practical preventative measure is the installation of drain guards, which can significantly reduce blockages in sinks, showers, and baths. Drain guards are mesh screens that fit over your drain and catch any unwanted debris, such as hair and food particles.

Here is a brief overview of drain guard types for various drains:

Drain TypeDrain Guard
SinkStainless Steel or Silicone Strainer
ShowerHair Trap or Mesh Cover
BathDrain Protector or Plughole Filter
GardenGrate Cover or Drain Leaf Gaurd

By following these prevention tips, you can minimise the chances of encountering blocked drains and maintain a smoothly operating wastewater system. Regularly evaluate your waste disposal habits, perform maintenance, and install appropriate drain guards to keep your drains free of blockages.

How to Unblock a Drain

Drain blockages can be a nuisance and can cause unpleasant smells, slow water drainage, and even water damage if not addressed. This section provides various methods to help you unblock a drain and maintain proper water flow.

Home Remedies

Before resorting to chemicals or professional help, there are a few home remedies that may help to unblock drains. These simple solutions can save you time and money, and are often effective for minor blockages.

  1. Boiling water: Pouring boiling water down the drain can help to dissolve and dislodge blockages caused by grease and soap scum. Repeat this process several times to increase effectiveness.
  2. Vinegar and salt: Combine equal parts of white vinegar and table salt (e.g. 1 cup of each) and pour the mixture down the drain. Allow it to sit for 15 minutes before flushing with hot water. This combination can break down grease and soap, and the salt acts as a mild abrasive to help clear pipes.
  3. Baking soda and vinegar: Pour one cup of baking soda down the blocked drain, followed by one cup of white vinegar. The fizzing reaction can help to break up the blockage. After 30 minutes, flush the drain with boiling water.

Using a Drain Rod to Unblock

Drain rodding is a more hands-on approach for dealing with blocked drains, especially when dealing with an outside drain. Follow these steps to use a drain rod effectively:

  1. Ensure you are wearing protective gloves and clothing, as the process can be messy.
  2. Locate the access point (manhole cover or drain grate) for the blocked pipe and remove the cover.
  3. Connect the drain rod sections to achieve the necessary length and attach a suitable tool on the end (such as a corkscrew or rubber plunger).
  4. Gently push the rod into the drain, turning it clockwise as you progress through the pipe. This motion will help dislodge the blockage.
  5. Once you have reached and broken up the blockage, flush the drain with water to ensure it is clear.

Professional Drain Unblocking

If the blockage persists or if you are unsure how to proceed, it is best to seek professional drain unblocking services whether you have blocked drains in Kent, Cardiff or anywhere else in the UK. These experts have the necessary experience and tools to handle more stubborn or extensive blockages, such as those caused by tree roots or collapsed pipes.

Pros of hiring a professional drain unblocker include:

  • Efficient and effective drain cleaning
  • Inspection of pipes for damage or wear
  • Use of advanced tools like CCTV drain surveys and high-pressure water jetting

When in doubt, consult a professional plumber or drain unblocking company to ensure the issue is resolved properly and safely.

Knowing Your Drains

Different Types of Drains and Sewers

There are two main types of drain systems in the UK: private drainage and the public sewer network. Private drainage refers to the pipes and drains located within a property’s boundary, while the public sewer network serves multiple properties and is maintained by local water companies.

  • Private drains are the responsibility of the property owner, who is responsible for any maintenance and upkeep.
  • Lateral drains connect individual properties to the public sewer network and are typically located outside the property boundary. Responsibility for maintaining lateral drains rests with the local water company.
  • Sewers are large pipes that carry waste and surface water from multiple properties. There are both private sewers and public sewers. Public sewers are managed by local water companies.
Drain TypeResponsibilityDescription
Private DrainProperty OwnerLocated within the property boundary and is the responsibility of the property owner.
Lateral DrainWater CompanyConnects properties to the public sewer system and is the responsibility of the water company
SewerWater Company / Private OwnersLarge pipes carry waste and are the responsibility of the water company or the general public or council.

Shared and Public Drains

It’s essential to distinguish between shared drains and public drains when dealing with a blockage.

Shared Drain: A shared drain is a pipe that serves two or more properties before connecting to the public sewer system. If a blockage occurs in such a drain, all the affected households should collaborate to resolve the issue. If the shared drain connects to a lateral drain, the local water company is responsible for maintaining it, while the property owners share responsibility if it connects to a private sewer.

Public Drains: Public drains are part of the public sewer network, and the local water company is responsible for maintaining them. If a blockage occurs in a public drain or sewer, the water company should be contacted to resolve the issue.

Knowing your drains and their respective responsibilities is crucial in case you encounter a blockage. By understanding the differences between private, lateral, and sewer drains, as well as shared and public drains, you can take appropriate steps in maintaining the drainage cover and addressing any blockages promptly.

Who is Responsible for Drains and Sewers

Property Owner Responsibilities

The property owner holds primary responsibility for maintaining and unblocking drains within the boundaries of their property. It is essential to regularly check and clean any drains, gullies, and gutters to prevent blockages. If a property owner becomes aware of a blocked drain within their premises, they should take immediate action to clear it and avoid potential damage.

Sometimes, the responsibility for shared drains and sewers can be found outlined in the property’s deeds. When this information is unavailable, it becomes pertinent for the property owner to contact the local water company or local authority.

Local Authority and Water Company Responsibilities

The local authority and water company have an obligation to maintain and repair public sewers and drains. Instances where the blocked drain occurs outside the property boundary, or in a communal sewer, are generally the responsibility of the local water company. Additionally, any problem with the main sewer connection affecting numerous properties comes under the jurisdiction of the water company.

In the following table, you can find the responsibilities of each entity at a glance:

EntityResponsible for Blocked Drains
Property OwnerDrains within the property boundary
Local Authority / Water CompanyPublic sewers and drains located outside the property boundary

To summarise, the responsibility for maintaining and dealing with blocked drains and sewers lies primarily with the property owner if it is within the property’s boundaries. However, when discrepancies are present, or if the blocked drain affects larger areas, the local authority or water company faces responsibility for remedying the issue.

When to Call a Professional

Identifying Serious Drain Issues

If you notice recurring problems with your toiletswashing machines, or other household drains, it may be time to call a professional. Indications of serious drain issues include:

  • Unpleasant odours caused by trapped bacteria
  • Slow draining water -overflowing wastewater when using multiple appliances

These symptoms may indicate the presence of silt or other obstructions deep in your drainage system, which require advanced equipment or expertise to repair.

Selecting a Reliable Plumber

Selecting a dependable plumber is essential to ensure your blocked drains are properly repaired. To find a trustworthy professional, consider the following steps:

  1. Ask for recommendations from friends, family, or neighbours.
  2. Check online reviews and ratings.
  3. Verify qualifications, such as trade association membership and relevant certifications.
  4. Obtain multiple quotes to ensure fair pricing.

Additionally, confirm that your chosen plumber or drainage engineer has prior experience resolving similar drainage issues, for more efficient and effective service.

Insurance and Drain Coverage

Before contacting a plumber, it’s essential to review your home insurance policy to determine whether it covers blocked drains and any associated repairs. Some insurers may require that you use an approved contractor or engineer, while others may offer assistance with plumber selection. Ensure you follow any specific guidelines mentioned in your insurance policy to prevent invalidated claims. In general, home insurance policies may cover:

Coverage TypeDescription
Building insuranceMay cover repairs to pipes and other structural elements.
Contents insuranceMay cover damage to belongings and appliances like washing machines.

In conclusion, when experiencing persistent drain problems, call a professional who is both knowledgeable and reliable and don’t forget to consult your home insurance policy to understand coverage and any conditions for making claims.


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