Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Great Plumbing Myth!

Plumbing Myth: Using Baking Soda and Vinegar to Clear a Blocked Drain.

You can find it everywhere…even government (cities mostly) entities promote the use of baking soda and vinegar to clear a blocked drain. The common claim is that the mixture will somehow magically change grease and sludge in the drain into soap and glycerin…freeing the blockage and leaving your drain fresh and sparkly clean! Is it true? Could this grade school science project be a complete replacement for all plumbers and commercial drain cleaners? Let us embark on a scientific journey to find the truth behind this popular mixture!

The key ingredient in vinegar is acetic acid (ethanoic acid). The amount of acetic acid in table vinegar is usually 4 to 8% in common table vinegar (mildly acidic). Baking soda is essentially sodium bicarbonate, an amphoteric compound that is slightly alkaline. The mixing of the two creates a reaction (rush of bubbles) that we all remember when we were in school (the erupting paper mache volcano?).

The two chemicals (acetic acid and sodium bicarbonate) when mixed form a new chemical called carbonic acid…commonly found in carbonated beverages. Carbonic acid in this form however is very unstable and immediately breaks down and turns into carbon dioxide (the bubbles) and water. After all the carbon dioxide escapes all that is left is sodium acetate and water. Sodium acetate is commonly found in foods we eat…such as salt-and-vinegar potato chips.

My point in this lengthy explanation? None of the chemicals…before, during, or after the mixing of the baking soda and vinegar will help clear a clogged drain. None of the acids is strong enough to break down hair or soap. Heck, we eat this stuff every day! So what could it be?

Commonly during chemical reactions heat is created…maybe, it is the heat. Our reaction is known as a neutralization reaction and they are exothermic in general. However, there are a couple conflicting processes going on in this reaction that may actually cause the temperature to DROP!
·       Evaporation of the liquid occurs as the carbon dioxide escapes (remember the bubbles?). Evaporation absorbs heat.
·       Rapidly expanding carbon dioxide cools as it expands…this is known as Joule-Thomson cooling. A visualization of this can be seen with the common computer-cleaning product, canned air. Hold the nozzle open and see how cold it gets…freezing…very quickly!

Ok, so it is not the baking soda, the vinegar, the chemical process, any chemical, or the heat that will open a clogged drain. I am sorry to report that the science simply does not support the use of these household products as effective in clearing a clogged drain. If anything, it may clog it further as the remaining solids from the chemical reaction could form a grey sludge.

But wait!!!! There is still a great use for this in your kitchen…including your drains!

Baking Soda and white vinegar is great in sanitizing and getting rid of odors. It can help keep clear drains clean and keep them smelling fresh. In tests run at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Pairing the two killed virtually all Salmonella, Shigella, or E.Coli Bacteria on heavily contaminated food and surfaces when used in this fashion, making these two natural cooking ingredients more effective at killing these potentially lethal bacteria than chlorine bleach or any commercially available kitchen cleaner.

My suggestion…1/2 cup of baking soda, add ½ cup of vinegar in your drain (that is not currently clogged). Place the stopper on the drain if applicable. Wait 30 minutes or so and rinse down the drain with boiling water. Wait a few more minutes and flush completely with hot water from the tap to rinse down any remaining solids. This should help keep your drain clear and keep it smelling fresh.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Clogged Toilet?

Eventually, we all will have to deal with it…the dreaded clogged toilet. There are a lot of myths and facts on the subject. Drawing on my own experience and research, I will share some of these simple drain issues (I am sure you can barely contain your excitement!).

When dealing with a toilet that will not flush there are some toilet basics I am going to share to help you understand how toilet draining works. A standard toilet has a 2” drainpipe. This pipe is usually formed in a curve that is not unlike the curves on a road travelling through the mountains. This is called a trap, and the reason for this trap is to, well, trap water so that sewer gases do not come into the home. Good idea, right?

In any event, we have a 2” curvy pipe that leads into the sewer lines that are traditionally 3 or 4-inch lines. With that in mind, the vast majority of clogs in toilets are in the curved portion of the two-inch pipe in the toilet, because once the waste reaches the sewer line there is a lot more room…and less chance for a back up. The best way to clear this, in my experience is with more water. Take a large bucket and fill the toilet with water very quickly. Careful not to overflow the toilet though! This rapid addition of water creates agitation and the weight (water is very heavy!) will usually clear the blockage. If this does not work at first... Watch the water level in the bowl. If the water level slowly goes down, this is a good sign. Try adding more water (quickly) again.

If this method does not work, add water like before and pull out the old plunger. The added weight of the water helps the plunger’s efficiency. Again, be careful to not allow the water level in the bowl to rise too much…that could me messy!

One thing I always try to avoid, and never advise is the use of a metal “snake”. These are found at most hardware stores and usually made of a spring steel material. The reason you do not want to use a snake is that most toilets are made of glazed porcelain (or similar). The metal scratching against it can damage this glazing. Among other problems, it could make the surface rough in the trap…causing more clogs!

If these things do not work, I recommend contacting a professional. Savannah Renovations may be able to help! If you have a plumbing problem, give us a call at 912-675-5569 and if we cannot help, we can put you in touch with someone who can!