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Saga of a Plugged Shower Drain

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(Update: Jul 17, 2018)

Saga of the Plugged Shower Drain
I thought that I'd share the 'saga' of my plugged shower drain at my home. This may not sound very exciting . . I share your feelings . . but it turned out to be a learning experience for me and maybe for you too.

We have been in this home for almost 50 years with the house being apx 60 years old. The drainage system is all IRON pipe and the water delivery is all copper pipes.

In the past, the shower drain has been plugged causing the drain's water handling capability to be something close to a "trickle"! If you turned the shower on 'full', it would collect as a puddle around the drain. Then, about 20 years ago, my plumber of 35+ years got his snake through it and it actually was a "real" drain! That fact is important b/c he used a hand-tool 'snake' and was able to get through the complete drain pipe. Based on that, I just assumed that you could ALWAYS use a hand-tool to open the drain!

BTW, the shower drain pipe diameter is 1.5" diameter and not the normal 2" that is used today. I point that out, b/c as the iron pipe ages and builds up rust, it is MUCH more difficult to get a 'snake' through the drain. The importance of this will be seen as the story unfolds.

In this latest plug, the shower pan was FULL to the TOP (apx 2") of backed-up water. And I don't have to tell you what that looks like . . . and smells like!! I was last to use the shower and it was clean and dry when I finished. Since NOBODY used the shower for at least 24 hours previously, how did it get full of water??

Plumber #1:
When my plumber arrived he used his hand-tool auger and after 20 mins, he said that he couldn't get through and maybe there is something in the pipe like a plastic cap?? Maybe the pipe has "collapsed"?

He has some larger drain cleaning tools (Rigid K400 Auto Feed) but that is only good for 2" to 4" dia lines. He suggested that I call some of the larger drain cleaning companies. At this point what choice do I have??

Plumber #2:
So I called a well-known company that specializes in cleaning drains. He arrived but before he would do anything, I had to sign a number of "forms" before he would start. That done, he got a POWERED drain tool similar to the Ridgid K45AF and started to work.

After a couple hours, he called is supervisor and shortly afterwards he appeared. They took turns trying to get through the blockage with no success. At this point, I told them that my plumber and I had removed the medicine cabinet in order to gain access to the vent pipe. After drilling a hole in it, it was used to clean DOWN toward the shower, bathtub and drain lines and he was able to open the line.

So that was done and after an hour or so, they still had no luck. They couldn't get the auger to go DOWN . . only up into the vent line. So after apx four (4) hours, they quit and said that the line must be collapsed.

They proposed a "new" shower . . jack hammer the concrete drain pan, dig down and replace the pipes and then re-build the shower from the ground up. Price . . . just under $13,000! They did NOT charge anything for their unsuccessful service. Fair enough!

Plumber #3:
At this point, I can say that I was pretty much frazzled!! I really had no choice but to call another plumbing company. What do I have to loose?

I called another well-known drain cleaning company and they came the next morning. He went right to work . . no forms to sign . . and he removed the "machine" from the truck. I discussed, in detail, what had gone on to date and his reply was ". . you didn't have me and my equipment." I was greatly encouraged!

He removed a Ridgid K-60SP drain cleaning machine from his truck along with the 5/8" line that's good for 1-1/2" to 4" diameter drains. This machine is truly a beast since it has tremendous TORQUE and does NOT have a LARGE auger head. There's a small 'tip' and does a good 'boring' job according to the tech. Large auger heads make it difficult to get through line blockage IMO b/c of its shape.

After 20 mins start to finish, the job was done. The shower line was open and it drains really well for the age of the drain pipes.

I believe that you know the "moral" * to this story. . but if not, here it is. Make sure that your plumber has drain cleaning equipment that is CAPABLE of opening YOUR plugged drain. For an OLDER home, it can't be a hand-held unit, nor a powered-hand-held unit. Certainly for a "hair-ball" in a newer PVC drain, a hand-held unit will do the job. But for older iron-pipes, only a high-torque drain machine will do the job.

. . there is more to the story
Even though the drain is open, the massive amount of 'boring' w/ a "cutting tip" for apx 4hrs+ through the IRON drain pipe has loosened the many years of its corrosion along with grease and it needs to be removed! I didn't mention "hair" b/c I keep my hair apx 1/8" and my wife's is 5". Probably the most important factor is the drain screen we use to trap hair before it can gather into a "hair-ball" to plug the drain.

Bathroom shower after plunging The only way the goop can be removed that I know of, is to use a plunger. It is only tool that I've seen that can bring-up the stuff and deposit it on the shower floor.

My technique is to run HOT water until it fills the pan to 1" depth. Then I use the plunger which brings the goop up and deposits it on the pan. I quickly plug the drain with a home-brew stopper and use the wet-dry vac to remove the water and goop. The picture (not mine but shows the 'goop') shows what it looks like. As I remember, it took 8 empties of my 6 gallon vac to get the water 95% clear.

The picture shows the bloobs of grease and some black "beads" that represent the scrapings from the iron pipe drain and very little hair. It took some time but was worth it. The drain is ALMOST as good as new!

From Bad to Worse . . .
The shower drain slowly has gotten worse; it was open for awhile but now is draining very slowly. So I hired a company that does hydro-jetting to see if that technique couldn't solve the slow drain problem.

The technician used the kitchen drain line to insert the 1/8" hydro head. He worked for about 3 hours with no luck. And when I checked the shower, the pan was almost full of grease and silt. As the water filled up the kitchen drain line, the "muck" came back up into shower drain.

This confirmed that the shower and kitchen drain are commoned together in a "Y" connection. And, that the bottom of the "Y" - the part that goes into the main drain - is plugged solid! So now there's a direct connection between the kitchen and shower thus the muck has to go into the shower.

Now what????? Click here to see the rest of this saga!

* Please note that I've withheld the names of the plumbers and/or plumbing companies b/c I do not want to have the reader become biased against these companies. I believe they all did their best to fix the problem and since I was there, I can vouch that all parties did do their best up to their capabilities!

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