How to Fix the 5 Most Common Plumbing Emergencies

a kitchen faucet running in a sink and creating steam

Depending upon your situation, a clogged kitchen drain can mean washing dishes in the tub for a couple of weeks. An overflowing toilet can mean only one working bathroom in the house (causing a health hazard), and what happens if a pipe breaks? Do you know where your main water shut-off valve is? Our team put together the following advice to help you tackle the most common plumbing emergencies.

#1 – What to do if your home is flooding

a long red handle on a pipe - water shut-off valve
Do you know where your shut-off valves?

First, you need to shut off the water main that brings water into your home. The valve is typically located near the perimeter of your home in warm climates and in the basement in cold climates. Depending on when your home was built, it can have a knurled or a ball-looking handle.

If you can’t find the valve quickly, then check your original home inspection report. Its location should be noted there.

Second, isolate the shut-off point. Most water items, like a toilet or sink, have an individual water shut-off valve. This way, you can turn your main water back on and be able to function (especially to wash your hands). If you don’t know where the flood originated – here’s where the usual shut-off valves are, to help you locate yours:

  • Many toilets have a small valve located below the bowl. Turn gently clockwise to stop the flow of water.
  • Underneath the sink, there should be a small shut-off valve that can be turned clockwise.
  • Find two valves or levers behind the washing machine. Turn these clockwise to stop the water flow.

To prevent some of the most common plumbing emergencies: Install an auto-water shut-off valve, which can help to monitor your water usage, alert you to a leak, and even shut off the water coming into the house automatically.

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#2 – Simple methods to unclog your toilet

Having a clogged toilet is an unpleasant experience during the best circumstances and unbearable if you only have one bathroom in your home. Try these quick methods to clear one of the worst common plumbing emergencies:

  • How to unclog a toilet fast: Close the flap after the toilet refuses to plunge. Then check for any items that may be causing a blockage and if you can see what is stopping the toilet, remove it. If not, run the plunger under hot water to help loosen the rubber, and then insert the plunger into the bowl. Plunge for up to 20 seconds. (If the bowl drains and is still not flushing properly, then the clog is still present.) Fill the bowl to its normal water level and plunge again.
  • How to unclog a toilet with baking soda and vinegar: Heat half a gallon of water (not to boiling) and drop it from waist height. Follow quickly with a mixture of I cup baking soda and 2 cups vinegar. If you don’t have vinegar and baking soda on hand, try using dish soap. If possible, leave overnight to soak and clear up the clog.
  • How to unclog a toilet with a hanger: Use a wire coat hanger with a small, wet rag over the top so as not to scratch the toilet bowl. (This acts as a makeshift plumbing snake.)

For future consideration: When choosing a plunger for your toilet, make sure to get either a flange plunger or an accordion plunger (though the latter may scratch the bowl).

#3 – How to unclog a sink

a stainless steel faucet in a kitchen
Try some home remedies to unclog your sink.

Having a clogged drain is one of the most common plumbing emergencies a homeowner will face.

  • How to unclog a bathroom sink with home remedies – First, try pouring a pot of warm water down your drain, followed by a ½ cup of baking soap and a ½ cup of distilled vinegar. Cover the drain to keep the concoction from bubbling out. Let it sit for 15 to 30 minutes before pouring another pot of warm water down the drain.
  • How to unclog a kitchen sink with a plunger – Plunge (hopefully not with the same plunger you use for the toilet). If that doesn’t work, mix hot water and detergent, and pour it down the drain. Wait a few minutes and then plunge again.
  • How to unclog a sink with tools – Shut off the water to the sink by turning the dials underneath it. Then unscrew the P-trap or J-bend pipes. You might be able to do so without any tools, or you may need slip-joint pliers to tighten the washer.

#4 – How to stop puddles from forming under your refrigerator

Not only is this a problem for your appliance but a broken refrigerator also means you’ll need to venture out more frequently for milk. A leaky refrigerator is one of two scenarios – a blockage in the refrigerator’s defrost drain or a water supply line. First, unplug the refrigerator, then –

  • For the clogged defrost drain, shut off the valve to the refrigerator and check to make sure there isn’t a leak in the supply line. If so, replace. If not, leave the refrigerator unplugged for two hours to see if the ice chunks melt. Then re-plug the unit and see if it works.
  • For the water supply drain, use a funnel and pour warm water down the drain. If that doesn’t work, try using a coat hanger to clear any debris, and if all else fails, clear the valve at the end of the drain hose.

#5 – How to unjam your garbage disposal

You shoved food waste down the drain, didn’t you? Next time, create a compost bin and use those scraps in your garden, but for now, turn the power off to the garbage disposal. Then try using the key that came with the unit to get inside and clear the clog. If you lost that, try using a plunger to clear the issue. If that doesn’t work, use a hex key to detach the motor and clear the offending item.

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