How to Thaw Frozen Drain Pipes

South End Plumbing, Heating, & Air Expert Tips

Frozen drain pipes and water lines can create serious damage to your plumbing system and whole house.
Frozen drain pipes and water lines can create serious damage to your plumbing system and whole house.

Tips to Thaw Frozen Drain Pipes

Frozen drain pipes and water lines can create serious damage to your plumbing system and whole house. Knowing how to safely thaw frozen drain pipes may help you stop ruptures and expensive repairs. When you let frozen pipes thaw on their own, you take the chance of pipes rupturing from built-up ice pressure. Here’s some info and tips on exactly how to thaw frozen drain pipes. You can keep your water supply going during the worst of winter weather and stop problems before they become serious problems for your family and your property.

How to Unfreeze a Drain

In many cases, you can thaw a frozen drain by pouring warm water down it. Boil water then carefully and slowly pour it down the drain. This might be enough to thaw the ice and clear the drain. When the drain pipe begins flowing, turn on the tap and let warm water run for about five minutes to make sure the drain is entirely clear.

How to Safely Thaw Out Frozen Drain Pipes

Drains are less likely to freeze than water lines. Still, it does occur, especially when those drains are located in a space or a cabinet against an exterior wall. When a drain pipe freezes, these tips will help you get your water running safely again.

  • Turn Up the Heat – Increase the temperature on the thermostat and open up the cabinet doors to let warm air get to the pipes. This approach may take 2-3 hours to take effect, but it’s amongst the safest ways to thaw out an iced-up drain.
  • Space Heater – Open the cabinet door and direct a space heater in the frozen drain’s direction. Do not put the heater in the cabinet or enclosed space, even if you have the doors open. This is a fire hazard.
  • Heat Lamp – The same heat lamps you might use in terrariums or greenhouses can be used to thaw your drain pipes. Aim the light at the frozen section and let it gradually warm up. Keep the light at a risk-free distance from the drain and keep the cabinet doors open.
  • Electric Heat Tape – This “tape” is a ribbon type wrapping with heating elements. It can be wrapped around icy pipes then slowly warmed up using a thermostat that comes specially for the tape.
  • Hairdryer, Blowdryer – Gently heat up the pipes with a hairdryer until the ice has thawed enough to let water through. Then, turn on the faucet and let a stream of warm water keep running for about five minutes to melt the ice.
  • Heating Pad, Heat Packs – If you have a hot pad or hot packs, such as hand or foot warmers, wedge it in the P or S trap, on a tool setup, until water starts flowing. Then, turn the faucet on and allow warm water to run through the drain pipe for five minutes, clearing the remainder of the drain pipe.
  • Hot Towel – Wrap the drain in a towel with hot water on it and wrung out before placing on the freezing section. The heat from the towel will gradually thaw the ice within the pipe; repeat as needed. Similar to other approaches, as soon as water begins to flow, let a stream of warm water run down the drain for five minutes.
  • Common Salt – Salt (NaCl) reacts with water to decrease its freezing point. You can use one of these ideas:
    – Put it down the tubes and allow it to sit. It will take a while to work.
    – Mix a half-cup of salt into a half-gallon of warm water and pour it down the drain. This works faster than pouring the salt straight into the drain pipe.

Avoid applying high heat or open flames to any plumbing. Besides damaging parts, you take the risk of triggering a flood from a pipe thawing and breaking. Even worse, you could start a fire.

As colder weather comes in, keep numerous gallons of bottled or filtered water stored in your house. If your water supply is impacted, you’ll have an emergency water supply set.

If the above techniques don’t work to get your water running again,  call a plumbing technician to assist you. Your plumbing may be frozen far worse than what the problem appears to be.

Thaw a Shower Drain (Safely) With Chemistry

Shower or in-floor drains present some other challenges. You will not likely have access to the pipes below. You can work from the drain itself, though.

The following steps will help you put some simple chemistry in action to thaw your shower or floor drain:

  1. Boil two gallons or more of water and combine in one mug of common salt.
  2. Pour a half-cup of baking soda down the drain.
  3. Pour 1 cup of vinegar in the drain with the baking soda.
  4. Let the vinegar and baking soda sit and react together until it quits fizzing. This mixture is removing deposits from the drain pipe and pipes below.
  5. Pour the boiling salt water down to melt the ice, getting rid of the clog.
  6. Turn the faucet on and run warm water down the drain for five minutes.

Once you have actually cleared the shower or floor drain, let a trickle or stream of warm water keep running down the drain as long as the temperature outside is below 32 degrees. This will protect against the drain pipe from freezing again.

South End Plumbing specializes in emergency plumbing services and detecting problems, so remember, we are just a click away. We also specialize in leak detection – give us a call! South End Plumbing is one of the only companies that will give you a free estimate. Call us at 704-919-1722 or fill out the form online to schedule a visit.

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