Plumbing Note:
Don’t Plunge!
21 May 2019

ΒΆ My bathtub was draining sluggishly, which made me unhappy. Ray Soleil had told me that his grandmother dealt with this sort of thing by pouring a kettle of boiling water down the drain every week. Missing the point about regularity, I poured several kettles of boiling water down the drain. Satisfied with the result, I proceeded to do nothing further. No weekly routine. Soon the drain was sluggish again.

This time, perhaps because I wasn’t feeling well, I continued to do nothing. The situation went from “sluggish” to “clogged.” Boiling water no longer sufficed, not in any quantity, so I resorted to plunging. This was not difficult: the drain is right there, easily accessible, unlike the ones in other apartments. But plunging seemed to make it worse. Perversely, this inspired me to redouble my efforts.

When “clogged” worsened, to “backed up,” I relented, and asked the building management to send up a handyman with a snake. A few hours later, a handyman appeared and got to work. It took him a while to clear the drain. I was beginning to worry that something more drastic than snaking might be necessary. One time, I remembered, it was decided to replace the pipe altogether, which took the bathtub out of commission for a few days. That was upstairs, though, where all the fittings dated back to 1963 and I’d been calling in handymen for decades. Down here, everything had been renovated before we moved in, and I’d had a handyman in only once, and even then long before reaching the backed-up stage. 

“What was in there?” I asked the handyman when he was done.

“Air.”

I couldn’t believe my ears. “Excuse me?”

“Air.”

No wonder using the plunger seemed to make things worse! It did make things worse. 

Later, Ray explained how the plumbing involved in an apartment bathtub’s drain might make the building up of an airlock possible. If I had really understood what he said, I might just bore you with it. As it is, I’ve got to figure out how to establish a reliable routine. 

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