Household remedies that work

Stuck with a faulty dishwasher? Struggling to clean decades-old drains? Islander Steve Bryan, who owns Home and Building Services, offers his professional advice and personal tricks of the trade.

Question: When we moved into our new (1942) home, the bathtub drain was slow, even though it flowed well during the home inspection. Should we call a plumber?

Answer: Most slow drains are caused from debris build-up in the p-trap. The p-trap is the u-shaped pipe found below all drains, most visible under our sinks. The purpose is to hold or trap water to prevent sewer gases from coming into our homes. Often times when a drain is not used for several weeks the built-up scum of soap and hair can solidify and slow a drain.

There are several approaches to consider, but first check the drain for a build-up of long hair or small objects, a flashlight works well to peer down the drain. A rubber gloves and a coat hanger will usually help pull out the junk.

Next, there are a few things to try before calling the plumber.

First: The Green Approach:

1. Put 1/2 cup of baking soda into the drain

2. Chase it with 1/2 cup vinegar and watch it bubble away. Remember the grade school volcano?

3. After it stops bubbling, pour a tea pot of boiling water to flush.

This usually will clear the build-up in the p-trap.

Second approach: Metro Sewer Friendly:

Older pipes from the 1940’s and prior are of a much smaller size, therefore the scum will build-up along the entire length of the pipes. Kitchen sink drains commonly have the problem of grease lining the pipes.

Pour a drain cleaner down the drain that is labeled enzyme based and / or septic friendly. The bottle will recommend pouring some of the liquid down the drain every few weeks to continue cleaning the pipes, which takes a period of time. Introduce the liquid to the drains in the evening, so it can work all night.

I would buy the smallest container and it wouldn’t hurt to hit all of the sink drains, due to their age and size. This enzyme is compatible with Metro’s sewer treatment plants and is also considered a green treatment, it will help clear the build-up on the pipe walls further down the drain system.

The third remedy will work easily for sink drains with ready access to the p-traps but limited access for tubs unless you have access to the underside, in the case of an unfinished basement.

Remove the p-trap fittings with a large pan or tub underneath to catch what is usually very mucky water and sludge. This is the best way to retrieve the toothpaste cap or toy beyond reach.

Note: Never use the age-old Drano that doesn’t state “septic friendly.” It is very hard on the pipes as well as on Mother Nature and Metro’s treatment plants. I would recommend calling a plumber if the first three green approaches don’t work. It probably indicates a more involved blockage that may require a plumbers snake to clear.

Many of our homes have guest bathroom showers, wet bar sinks, and floor drains that are seldom used. Over time the water that should keep our p-traps closed to sewer fumes, dries out. Use a flashlight to insure there is water visible and if not, add two cups of water every few months to maintain the indoor air quality.

Everything we pour down our drains still remains part of our environment. Help limit the pollution and the demands on our sewer treatment plants and go online to find proper disposal methods before assuming Metro can handle it. King County’s solid waste Web site has a link called “What do I do with…?” at if you are not sure how to dispose of something. Check it out and do Mother Nature and our grandchildren a favor.

You can think green and save our planet by using things we already have around the house first and by limiting collections of chemicals in our homes. It will improve our indoor air quality and save the planet one bottle at a time.

Question: My dishwasher isn’t working as well as it used to, but it isn’t very old.

Answer: When was the last time you cleaned the screens? We know to clean our ovens and refrigerators, but did you know that there are screens in the bottom of our dishwashers designed to catch debris?

Answer: More expensive models have small disposers built-in, but they also have the same type of screen that most units use to catch the plastic wrapper, the bottle cap or other small objects.

First remove the bottom rack and you will be able to access the rotating sprayer arm. Most of these units lift straight up and out, but some require rotating the base to release. Next you will find the screen will lift out to clean. Clean all the parts and use a flashlight to look deeper into the opening for other lost items.

Reassemble it in the same manor and you’re ready to go. Remember to save water, run with full loads and consider trying some of the greener detergents to lessen the amount of phosphate we add to the planet. Phosphate can help clean our dishes, but it can add to the pitting of our glassware and Mother Nature doesn’t need any more trouble than she already has.

Islander Steve Bryan owns Home and Building Services, Inc. Contact him at 206-232-2473

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