Common Causes of Clogged Drains

Clogged drains are unsightly, annoying, and can even be dangerous to your health. They can be expensive too. Find out the most common causes of clogged drains and whether there’s an easy fix or if the problem is likely to call for the help of a professional plumber.

What is a Clogged Drain?

Clogged drains can happen anywhere there are pipes that carry liquid such as the toilet, bathroom and kitchen sink, and washing machine line. Some drains just carry water while others carry waste as well.

What Makes Drains Clog?

A drain can clog for a number of reasons. A full or partial obstruction of any kind will interfere with proper drainage. The problem at hand can be obvious, like a toy your child flushed down the toilet. Or, the source can be more difficult to diagnose such as roots growing in the pipes underneath the surface.

Problems Caused by Clogged Drains

Regardless of what the drain’s function is, if one is clogged, it’s a problem. From low pressure and slow drainage to backups and flooding, clogged drains issues range in severity. You may just encounter the inconvenience of having to mop up some excess water if your toilet overflows or your pipes may burst and cause so much damage, you have to consult with your homeowners insurance in order to afford the repairs.

Clogged drains require different solutions as well. While you can sometimes treat a lazy draining pipe with a simple solution, larger problems call for professional help. It’s important to know the difference.

Drain Configurations

Water drainage and sewer systems are configured to where the main line is the largest in diameter. Sublines run from the main line and typically become smaller as they branch out, much like a tree’s branches shoot off the trunk. Clogs can happen anywhere within any of the areas.

Most Common Causes of Clogged Drains

Toilets are a main source for clogs due to the fact that they are intended to carry waste and toilet tissue from the commode through the pipes to a sewage system. Not only can the refuge that is flushed caused issues, anything that hinders the process through the pipes can be a problem too.
Sinks have their fair share of blockage too. Both bathroom and kitchen sinks can encounter issues from improper abuse or acts of nature and random mishaps. Washing machine drain pipes aren’t as likely to run into problems, but that’s not to say they don’t.

Here are common culprits of all household pipe problems:

Tree Roots

The number one most common pipe problem is tree roots. Regardless of the age of your home, roots can invade your pipes. Some roots are larger and tougher to get rid of than others. A tell-tale sign of tree roots in the plumbing is that the water line will make a gurgling sound.

Typically, root invaded pipes require a plumber to use special equipment to tear through them in order to remove the obstruction. If the roots are light and there isn’t a lot of them, you may be able to do the job yourself using a “roto-rooter” device. Having a pro come out to conduct a video inspection every few years is the best form of prevention so you can catch the problem early before any damage is done.

False “Flushable” Claims

Don’t be fooled by wipes that advertise that they are flushable. While they are indeed flushable, they are not safely flushable. The wipes are supposed to disintegrate as soon as they are flushed but…they don’t. Instead, they get caught up in the pipes and keep water, toilet paper, and waste from properly flushing down the toilet and through the pipes to the designated destination.

You may be able to use a drain clogging substance to dissolve a wipe if the problem is minimal or to rent a device and send the wipe on down the pipes. Especially if you have used more than one wipe, the issue may call for the expertise and equipment only a professional can offer.

Feminine Hygiene Items

While feminine hygiene products claim to be flushable, they pose a danger to the plumbing since they contain cotton, fibers, and other material that are not biodegradable. Not only do the products clog toilet drains, the applicators and wrappers are sources of problems as well.
You may be able to use a device to push a feminine hygiene product on through the pipes but it is highly likely you’ll need to call out a plumber, especially if more than one item is hung up.

Fat, Grease and Oil

The most common source of kitchen sink clogs is fat, grease, and oil. Any type of fat, oil, and grease can cause plumbing problems because when they change temperatures, going from hot or room temperature to cool, they solidify. If the problem is mild, you may be able to unclog the drain by running very hot water through it. But, if that doesn’t work, you may need a solvent that is safe for drains to do the job. Sometimes, that won’t even work and you’ll have to call an expert to unclog the drain. To prevent the issue, it’s always wise to drain grease, fat, and oil into a disposable container rather than pouring it into the sink.


Food is simply not designed to go down sink pipes. Even though the drain may show no issue at the time you put it down the drain, it can easily build up and cause big problems. Garbage disposals do shred food and make it go down the pipes in a finer state but the fact remains, pipes simply aren’t made for food to flow down. A solution may dissolve the food enough to fix the drain but if not, you’ll have to have a plumber come work his or her magic.


From the problems too much rain can cause to natural earth shifting and extreme problems like hurricanes and tornadoes, nature isn’t always kind to pipes. Freezing weather is extremely hard on pipes too. Slow draining and totally clogged pipes can result from nature and often require professional assistance but minor problems can sometimes be fixed with a DIY solution.

Old Age

Sometimes, pipes just wear out from age. Disintegration sets in over the years and the pipes and their parts simply wear out. Replacement is in order and unless you are very, very handy (and lucky!), you’ll need to call an expert out.

Scale from Pipes

It is common for calcium, magnesium, and other metallic elements to cause so much build-up, your pipes have difficulty draining properly. You may notice white cakey residue on the surface of your sink or toilet or on the hardware. There are preventative solutions you can use to cut the build-up before it causes a big problem and you may be able to use a product to dissolve it once it has clogged the pipes. If all else fails, call a plumber.


Hair can slow the flow or totally obstruct drains. The problem is most common in the shower and in sinks where hair is washed. But, it can happen anywhere. The hair must be physically pushed through by a device or dissolved by a substance. You may be able to do the job yourself, but generally, a plumber is required for hair blockage of any magnitude. Taking proper protective measures like sink covers is the ultimate solution.


Objects are a common source for clogged drains. Accidentally dropping something down the sink or a toddler who is preoccupied by her favorite toy magically going “bye bye” are among the issues where drains clog from objects. Depending on the object and severity, you may can force the object on through the drain but it is highly likely you will need a plumber to solve the problem.

Clogged drains are…draining. They can drain you emotionally and financially too. But, they happen. Proper prevention is the best policy but if you do run into slow draining pipes of completely obstructed drains, you can try your unclogging skill first but sometimes, there’s no escaping having a pro come out. If you do have to rely on an expert, make sure you choose a reliable one.

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