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How to Clear Debris for Your Plumbing Vents

When a sink isn’t draining properly, and the waste line isn’t clogged, you may need to take a look upward to find the culprit — up toward the vent system. You know, the black plumbing pipes that stick up out of your roof. When a vent becomes clogged, it shows up within the home as everything from “ghost flushes” at the toilet to sinks that simply won’t drain properly.

One or more of the following can collect in a vent line and completely clog it:

  • Birds (usually deceased, but sometimes nesting)

  • Rodent carcasses

  • Leaves, trash, and other rubbish, which are sometimes almost impossible to remove

  • Tennis balls and baseballs

Because clearing vent-pipe blockages can be a real pain in the you-know-what, you can take some preventive steps. You won’t be sorry.

Unfortunately, the best place to clear a blockage in a vent pipe is from the roof.

Working up on the roof can be a dangerous task, to say the least. So, you may want to have this job done by someone who has experience working up high. If you feel confident about performing the work yourself, be sure that the roof is dry, wear rubber-soled shoes, and use a safety harness to prevent yourself from falling off the roof if you slip.

You’ll need a flashlight, a plumber’s snake, and a garden hose. Use the flashlight to shine a bright light down the vent pipe to look for leaves, nesting materials, or other debris you may be able to remove from above. Then try the following:

  • Remove any items you can reach. For those items you can’t remove from above, run the plumber’s snake down the vent pipe.

  • Feed the end of a garden hose down the vent pipe and have someone on the ground turn on the water. Listen carefully for water backing up and a sudden whoosh when the weight of the water forces the clog into and down the drain.

    You can also feed the hose down into the vent pipe as you would a plumber’s snake to dislodge a clog that’s not solid enough to dam water.

Blockages caused by frozen plumbing vents can be a problem for homes located in extremely cold climates. The best way to clear a frozen vent is by pouring really hot water into the vent pipe. But climbing up a ladder with a bucket of hot water can be dangerous. A simpler way of doing this is to connect a rubber hose — rated for use with hot water — to the hot-water spigot at your washing machine. Works every time!

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