Plumbing issues happen. Whether it’s a leaky pipe or frustratingly low water pressure, you’ll eventually find out about it and your whole household could come to a complete and utter standstill.
But, the last thing you need is for your plumbing to go caput because of a mistake you made.
“Plumbing works best when it’s well cared for,” says Michael Green, vice president of operations for Benjamin Franklin Plumbing.
Truth be told, plumbing is a necessity that most people don’t think much about—until they have to. Sometimes toilets get clogged and sinks get stuck. But with proper maintenance and good plumbing habits, these issues don’t have to happen as often.
Let’s take a look at some of the bad plumbing habits that’ll put your pipes at risk of not running smoothly.
1. Flushing anything besides toilet paper and waste
As obvious as it sounds, it bears repeating: Don’t flush feminine hygiene products, baby wipes, cotton balls, cotton swabs, paper towels, and other items that are heavy and do not degrade.
“Flushing anything other than toilet paper can, and likely will, cause backups and clogs in your plumbing system that can be difficult to remove and can cause flooding or damage your home’s plumbing system entirely,” says Travis Sewell, licensed plumber and field consultant at bluefrog Plumbing + Drain.
Flushing these materials can also be harmful to the environment since city sewer systems are not equipped to handle them and wastewater overflow can work its way into different water sources.
“If it’s anything other than toilet paper or natural human waste, it’s best just to dispose of it in the trash or recycling,” says Sewell.
2. Putting grease into the sink drain
Disposing of hot grease while cooking can be a pain, but dumping all that fat down the kitchen sink can do real damage over time.
“It may seem easy enough to just wash it right down the sink. Bad idea,” says Green. “The fat and grease can clog your drain badly enough to force you to call a plumber.”
Dump the grease waste in the trash or a disposable container instead.
3. Using drain cleaner as a first choice, or using it too often
We’ve all seen the commercials: Drain cleaner is all you need to unclog stuck plumbing, right? Wrong!
While drain cleaner is a short-term solution, it can cause bigger problems in the long run.
“The chemicals in drain cleaners can damage metal traps in your plumbing system, corrode your pipes, cause toilet bowls to crack, and break older already-corroded pipes,” says Sewell.
Instead, use a drain snake or a mixture of baking soda and vinegar followed by boiling water—both of which are less harmful to your plumbing system.
4. Over-tightening or under-tightening pipes and plumbing connections
Leaks from your pipes can be the result of loose plumbing connections. But over-tightening can cause fittings to split, crack, or break altogether, which can also cause a leak.
“You’ll want to make sure these connections are firm and secure, but not too tight. You can do this by tightening slip joint nuts and flexible lines by hand, and then tightening them an additional one-quarter to one-half of a turn,” says Sewell.
5. Failing to turn off the water before making plumbing repairs
It might seem like common sense, but shutting off the water is an important step.
“Many people fail to do this and end up with an even bigger problem than they started with: flooding,” says Sewell.
Many sinks and toilets have shut-off valves, but it’s still important to locate your main water valve and test it to ensure that you’re prepared if your fixture’s shut-off valve leaks or fails.
6. Wrapping thread tape incorrectly
Polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) tape, or Teflon tape, should be wrapped clockwise around pipe threads so they seal properly. Yet, many people wrap Teflon tape counterclockwise. When you go to tighten the fitting, the tape can unwind from the threads and compromise the seal.
“Wrap the tape clockwise two to three times around the threads, ensuring a tight seal. If the tape is loose at any point, unwrap the tape and start over with a new strip,” says Sewell.
7. Leaving pipes exposed in the winter
When temperatures drop below freezing, most of the pipes in your home are protected by your heating system.
“But any plumbing that goes through unheated parts of your home or is exposed to the outdoors is liable to freeze and possibly burst,” says Green. “Make sure you drain your irrigation system and insulate any pipes that could be at risk before you have to deal with a frigid flood.”