Ever had something big in store and then when the moment came things didn’t go down as you planned? It’s probably the only thing that links failed surprise birthday parties with quality time on the porcelain throne. Luckily both situations can be salvaged if you know what the problem is. We’ve already taken a look at the anatomy of your drains and sewer (Blocked drain? The where, how and why – part 1), so here’s how to diagnose a local drain blockage.

What is a local blockage?

Local blockages are those that occur close to an exit point in the home nearest drain and usually involve ‘soft’ material. This makes them easier to access and clear, but also more susceptible to being blocked in the first place. Local blockages differ from main drain blockages, which occur away from the house and can be quite serious. A local blockage may occur when a lump of something is larger than the circumference of the pipe it is trying to travel down. This is generally the case with toilets. You can probably guess what humans produce that might get stuck in the S-bend, in addition to wads of toilet paper, baby wipes or sanitary items like tampons or pads.

Local blockages may also occur when material accumulates over a longer period where you may have tried to wash something down the drain but over time it has formed a lump that has partially blocked the pipe.

Common culprits are:

  • Hair
  • Soap build-up
  • Food scraps
  • Fats and oils
  • Coffee grounds

One common example is when you wash your hair and the hair catches on the inside of the pipe. Soap scum then clings to the hair and then more hair and soap scum build, which eventually forms a blob large enough to prevent the next lot of wastewater from draining away.

Symptoms of a local blockage

When the path of the wastewater has been obstructed, you will notice one or more of these symptoms that the pipes have trouble clearing:

  1. Gurgling from the drains when you use them
  2. The water drains away very slowly when you empty the basin or sink
  3. The water in toilet bowl starts rising before it falls again
  4. The level of water in the toilet bowl is lower than usual
  5. There are unpleasant smells coming from the toilet, floor drains, sinks or basins

You’ll know the blockage is local when the symptoms are confined to one drain only. If more than one drain and or a drain and the toilet is affected, you’re likely to have a main blockage, which will require professional help as quickly as possible. Now you have your diagnosis, Part 3 will tell you how to treat (and prevent) local drain blockages, when you can do it yourself and when you need to call the professionals. So stay tuned!