Home plumbing systems may seem straightforward, but there are many misconceptions out there about how certain things actually work. False plumbing advice passed down over generations can lead to clogged drains, water damage, and even hazardous situations. It’s time to flush away the fiction and learn the real facts behind these common plumbing myths.
Myth: Pouring Grease Down the Sink is Fine
Fact: Grease is one of the worst things you can pour down any drain. Fats, oils, and grease solidify as they cool, cling to pipe walls, and collect debris flowing through the drain. This leads to a thick buildup and clogged pipes. Always collect grease in a container and throw it away when solidified. Use paper towels to wipe greasy plates before washing.
Myth: Toilets Can Handle Anything You Flush
Fact: Toilets are only designed to handle human waste and toilet paper. Other items, even those labelled “flushable,” can get stuck or cause obstructions. Avoid flushing baby wipes, feminine hygiene products, diapers, paper towels, dental floss, condoms, cotton swabs, cigarette butts, and cat litter. Only human waste and toilet paper should go in the toilet.
Myth: Drain Cleaners Can Fix Any Clog
Fact: Chemical drain cleaners sold in stores are not a cure-all solution, and can even damage pipes when used improperly. They contain harsh ingredients like lye, chlorine, and sulfuric acid. Try a mechanical drain snake first to pull out hair and debris clogs. For deeper obstructions, call a professional to inspect and clear the line.
Myth: Low Water Flow is Normal
Fact: Restricted water flow is a sign of underlying problems, not an acceptable norm. Buildup in faucet aerators, partial blockages in supply lines, high water pressure, and old piping liable to flow constriction can all reduce water output. Address low flow issues promptly before plumbing headaches arise.
Myth: Running Water Prevents Pipes from Freezing
Fact: Running a trickle of water alone often fails to stop freezing pipes in frigid weather. Moving water helps but cannot overcome extremely cold exterior temperatures. Insulate vulnerable pipes, seal drafts in unheated areas, and keep indoor temperatures consistently above 55°F to prevent frozen pipes and avoid bursts.
Myth: Water Heaters Last Forever
Fact: The average lifespan of a traditional water heater is only 8-12 years. Signs like rust, strange noises, changes in hot water volume, and leaks indicate a failing, inefficient unit in need of replacement. Have old heaters inspected annually, flush sediment, and proactively replace them around the 10-year mark to avoid failures.
Myth: Sewer Gas Smells are Normal
Fact: Occasional whiffs of sewer gases via drain traps are expected. However, persistent rotten egg odour throughout a home could signify sewer leaks, a dried-up trap, or cracks in the plumbing vent stack. These can allow dangerous gases to infiltrate living areas and should be addressed promptly. Annual sewer video inspections are recommended.
Myth: Low Water Pressure is Unavoidable in Old Homes
Fact: Age alone does not condemn a home to poor water pressure. Upgrading worn valves, supply lines, and fixtures will improve flow volume. Adjusting water pressure regulators, clearing mineral buildup, and fixing obstructions also help. If the original pipes are deteriorating, repiping offers a permanent pressure boost.
Myth: Bleach Disinfects Septic Tanks
Fact: Never pour bleach, chemicals, or additive cleaners into a septic tank. These can kill the beneficial bacteria that digest waste. Stick to a septic-safe enzyme cleaner for periodic maintenance. Pumping the tank every 3-5 years is the best way to remove solid sludge buildup clogging the system.
Myth: Plungers Can Fix All Clogs
Fact: While plungers work well for clearing sink and tub backups, they cannot remedy clogs deep in the main sewer drain lines. Trying to plunge into serious obstructions can worsen the situation. If a plunger and auger fail to clear a kitchen or bathroom clog, call for professional drain cleaning services to clear the blockage and inspect for pipe damage.
Cold Weather Plumbing Myths
Myth: Pipes only freeze in exterior walls
Fact: Interior walls that border unheated spaces like attics and crawlspaces are also vulnerable to freezing in extreme cold. Insulate all susceptible pipes.
Myth: A low thermostat at night saves energy
Fact: Homes need consistent heating around the clock in winter. Allowing temperatures to drop below 55°F could lead to frozen pipes.
Myth: Running water prevents freezer failures
Fact: If pipes have already frozen, this will not thaw them. Professional pipe thawing is required to safely alleviate frozen pipes without the risk of bursting.
Drain and Sewer Plumbing Myths
Myth: All sink food waste can go down the garbage disposal
Fact: Fibrous foods like celery and egg shells can clog the disposal. Compost all produce scraps when possible. Only use the disposal for soft leftovers.
Myth: Flushing wipes labelled “flushable” is not harmful
Fact: No wipes are truly sewer-safe. They do not break down and can snag on pipes or roots, causing obstructions. Toilet paper should be the only wipe material flushed.
Myth: Annual drain cleanings prevent clogs
Fact: Professional drain cleaning provides maintenance but does not guarantee against future clogs. Avoid pouring grease and only flush the waste down the drains.
Frequently Asked Questions
What should I use to unclog drains instead of chemical cleaners?
Use a zip-it plastic drain cleaning tool, plunger, metal drain snake, or baking soda and vinegar first. This is safer for pipes. If unsuccessful, call a plumber to inspect and clear the clog professionally.
How long do hot water heaters typically last?
On average, traditional water heaters last 8-12 years before needing replacement. Tankless water heaters have a longer 15-20-year lifespan. Inspect heaters over 10 years old annually for signs of wear and proactively replace them to avoid leaks or failures.
Is it okay to use a metal drain snake on PVC pipes?
No-metal snakes can scratch plastic PVC pipes, causing damage over time. Use a plastic zip-it tool first. For deeper clogs, let a professional auger out the obstruction to avoid harming pipes. They have flexible augers that will not harm PVC.
What should I do if there is a persistent sewer gas smell in my home?
Persistent rotten egg odours likely mean a crack or leak in your plumbing vent stack or sewer line is allowing gases to enter living areas. Call a plumber immediately to diagnose the issue before hazardous buildup occurs. Annual sewer video inspections can catch problems early.
Why does my toilet make noise when refilling?
If the fill valve is making high-pitched noises, a simple adjustment of the float cup screw can quiet it. Loud gurgling after flushing indicates a blockage in the trap-way or drain pipe which requires professional attention to clear.
Don’t let outdated myths dictate how you care for your home’s plumbing. Always rely on the facts and best practices when maintaining drains, supply lines, sewers, fixtures, and appliances. When in doubt, your local plumbing experts at Plumbing Works are here to diagnose issues, make repairs, and keep your plumbing running smoothly using professional equipment and modern methods.