A Few Good Plumbing Lessons from Dad

In one week, I had to fix both a blockage in my new upstairs toilet and a leak from the sink in the vanity.  Considering that the guest bathroom is really the one fully functioning bathroom I have in the house (the master bath is still unfinished and the powder room downstairs doesn’t have a tub), I was beyond frustrated at the thought of getting so close to a finished room only to have it yanked away.Plumbing is definitely not my strong suit, and it kind of intimidates me.  So I rely on people who know better to give me a little advice.  One call to Dad revealed a lot of lessons I hadn’t yet learned about fixing your own plumbing issues:

  • If it’s metal on metal (like when you attach a new showerhead), you always need “thread seal” or “teflon” tape (see some other tips about installing a new showerhead here).  You do not need tape in between plastic joints (like under the sink in your vanity).
teflon tape
  • Leaks under the sink can often be fixed by hand-tightening the plumbing pieces.  Hold one and tighten with your other hand so you are only moving the piece you want (and don’t cause other pipes to loosen more).
  • A very common leak is where the sink basin meets the first pipe under your vanity.  A common cause for this is bumping the pipe (since you often store items next to them, you have to be careful not to knock them out of place).  I’ve had this happen twice now with both of the sinks that were installed.  If you are hand tightening, you should be ok, but if you are using a tool, you must be very careful not to overtighten – doing so will cause the rubber part (the part that is the most effective at forming a tight seal) to break and you’ll have a leak that no amount of tightening will fix.  You’ll have to then buy a replacement part and install it before you fix your issue (just like I had to with the first sink).  This time around, it had only been hand tightened, so I simply tightened the pipe that seemed to be leaking a little more with my hand.  To my surprise, the piece was fairly loose – it took another half turn to tighten things up before the sink stopped leaking.
  • Another bit of advice:  buy yourself a toilet or “closet” auger.  A clogged toilet is never any fun to deal with, regardless of the cause (ew), and plungers won’t fix the tough ones.  Some might even say that clogging is more common nowadays with low flow toilets, so having an auger on hand is more necessary than in the past.  An auger is basically a long pole with a metal hose attached on one end and a crank on the other.  The hose is barbed on the end and flexible, so it can snake through your pipes and loosen up clogs. A quality auger costs less than $50, and it will pay for itself within its first use (because you won’t have to pay for a plumber).  This video uses the same brand that I have and explains very simply how to use the auger to unclog your toilet.  A word of caution from Dad:  when using this, be careful to stick that barbed end into the toilet without touching the sides of the bottom of the bowl (basically, you want to play Operation with this tool and gently place it into the bottom-most part of the toilet).  The barbs can easily scratch the porcelain, and then you’re left with an unsightly scratch (but hey, the toilet works!).  And as the video mentions, be careful that you don’t allow too much slack so that the hose doubles up on itself.  If that happens, you will need a plumber, and it will cost you a lot of money to fix.

Got any of your own plumbing tips to share?  Or just want to say “thanks, Sarah’s dad!”?  Feel free!


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  1. Anonymous says

    A small addition: our (older) toilet has a funny kink in the siphon (where the waste goes when you flush the toilet) and the auger kept turning back on itself. Even the professional we had to call couldn't quite get the auger through. In our efforts, we thought we scratched the bowl real good – but the plumber (1)said use a brillo pad and comet to get out the marks (in our case, they turned out to be metal marks, not quite scratches though they looked like it) and (2) suggested pouring some CLR into the tank and leaving it for a few hours to improve the flush strength. The CLR improved the flush strength, and the small amount that leaked into the bowl in those hours cleaned away the metal marks, including ones from about a year before (the first time we used the auger) – looks brand new!! So try those if you think you've scratched your bowl.

  2. says

    Great post, I agree with your dad teflon tape is always a good idea to have on hand.
    I would also throw out the idea that having a good wrench on hand is always good as well for not tightening joints of pipes and sinks.

  3. says

    I agree The CLR improved the flush strength, and the small amount that leaked into the bowl in those hours cleaned away the metal marks, including ones from about a year before (the first time we used the auger) – looks brand new!! So try those if you think you've scratched your bowl.

  4. Joe M says

    Teflon tape and pipe dope have long been called a sealant however, the more important reason for their uses is lubrication for ease of tightening. All pipe threads have a taper to them which the further you tighten the pipes together, the better chance of a tight seal. Lubricant helps this process.

  5. Julie Guy says

    These are really good tips. Hats off to your dad! Everyone should own a “toilet” auger and they are fun to use. The brown stuff that comes out is sometimes rust, it’s not always the other brown stuff.

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