Cleaning Your Drain of Bad Smells
Draining a Washing Machine
In this case, you can drain the machine, one pail of water at a time, by cutting the end off the rear drain hose and letting the water pour into a bucket. (You should have several containers lined up so you don’t have to set the drain hose down and go looking for another container). Beware! If your washer is hooked up to the U-bend in a sink, removing the drain hose means that any water down the sink will end up on the floor! So, don’t pour the water from the pail into the sink. Once you have the water out of the machine and can work with the hose, replace the hose in the drain, and let the machine spin out the water.
If your machine hasn’t been recently installed, either the pump isn’t working or there’s something blocking the drain. Some washing machines have a pump, filter and drain hose that can be accessed with relative ease, but others don’t, and you’ll probably need a repair person to fix what ails them. Some machines have a lock on the door that can’t be opened as long as there is water inside the machine. If you can find a way to drain the machine, then you can open the door and access the pump filter if there is one. Some washers have a filter at the front of the machine, and others have it behind a panel at the bottom of the washer. If you aren’t sure about the location of your machine’s internal organs, the owner’s manual should help you out. (You do have the owner’s manual, don’t you?)
You may be one of the lucky washer owners whose washer comes with a water pump filter that rests behind a flap. Lift the flap, and you may find a small drain hose. Unstop the hose and drain the water (slowly, painfully) into a pail or (if you’re lucky) a floor drain. This may take awhile because the container you drain into may not be very deep if the hose is close to the floor to start with. Gravity requires that the hose aim down to get maximum drainage, and you may not have much room in that direction unless your machine is up on concrete blocks.
If your machine doesn’t have a drain hose, you’ll have to drain it from the pipe at the back of the washer. The advantage here is that the drain is usually higher than the front pump filter drain hose would be: the draining will go faster until the water level falls below the height of the pipe. Remember, if you’re draining the washer from the hose that’s been connected to a waste water pipe, make sure you aren’t going to dump the drained water down any connected sink, or you’ll get a flood.
If you try to drain the washer by means of any hose and there’s little or no water coming out, you may have found a blockage. Socks are famous for blocking washers—they’re small enough to get sucked into a hose but too big to work their way free again. At this point, you’ll either need to take the pump filter apart (if you know about things like that), or call someone who knows about things like taking pump filters apart and get some expert assistance.
Fix Washing Machine from Bad Smells
You may have a washing machine that does its job, but gives you trouble when you aren’t using it. It smells awful—mildewed, sulfurous, nasty. It may even make your clothes smell bad when they’re washed, but more likely you’ll notice the stink when the washer is sitting empty. The good news is that even when your washer smells bad, it’s probably not going to be a mechanical issue, and you won’t need the washer repairman or a plumber to fix it. Isn’t that nice—you’ve just saved a lot of money!
If your washer has been recently installed, you will need to rule out the possibility that it wasn’t plumbed in correctly. Bad plumbing can cause the washer to fill with nasty old water that should have drained out the sewer pipe. A good installation should include a warranty so that if that turns out to be the problem, the installers should fix the trouble at no cost to you. (If they try to renege on the warranty or guarantee, don’t waste time arguing: call the Better Business Bureau and file a formal complaint). Incorrect plumbing can cause the waste water from the washer to re-enter the machine after it should have left the building. You can check for this possibility by looking at the washer when it hasn’t been running. If it has water seeping into it when it’s off, you have a problem with the waste water running back into the appliance and a plumber should some out to remedy the situation.
It’s possible for some well water to create bad smells in the washer because of minerals in the water. Washers with a well water problem will probably smell sulfurous, like rotten eggs. It will be the same smell as the water from the tap. If you haven’t already had problems with stinky well water, you should get a plumber to rule out the chance that sewer gas is the real culprit. If your washer is in a room where a toilet seal or sink trap has failed, the smell that seems to be coming from the washer may in fact be coming from a waste water pipe or a clogged vent. Sewer gas is dangerous: if you think there’s a chance that you’re smelling sewer gas, open the window (if there is one), leave the room, and call the plumber.
The more likely scenario is that your washing machine was running fine and developed a bad smell somewhere along the way of its normal functioning. This is common if you use inexpensive powder soaps that don’t really dissolve the way they should when they hit the water. Some cheap soaps won’t dissolve in cold water, and some really cheap soaps also won’t fully dissolve in hot water, which transforms the soap into a sticky mass. Powdered soaps can be the worst—you’ll probably have found that sometimes you get lumps of soap in the laundry after the rinse and spin cycles are completed. This is a great clue that the soap is also not dissolving in the washer. It may be caking up somewhere around the drum or in the various seals and pipes of the washer.
If your soap is caking up on your clothes, or if you need a hot wash to dissolve it, it’s worth paying a little more money to get a decent laundry detergent that will dissolve in cold water (saving you hot water charges) and wash completely away in the rinse. Sometimes, all you need to do to get rid of the bad smell in the washer is to start washing with a better detergent. In a few loads of laundry, the old soap goo will be washed away from the nooks and crannies of the washer and the stink will wash away with it. (If you want to hurry things along, do a load of wash on the hottest setting and with no clothes in the washer).
If there’s a chance that the smell in your washer comes from more than bad soap, you may want to do a serious wash cleaning. Lots of really grubby laundry (like washing farmer’s or mechanic’s clothes) can leave dirt and oil in the washer. It can build up in places where you can’t reach to wipe it out, and create a stinky environment). If you don’t have a septic tank, you can wash through a couple of cycles using laundry bleach and hot water: this will help wash away the accumulated dirt.
Other odor problems can come from not using the recommended amount of detergent for a load. If you use too much laundry soap, it can build up in the washer: if you don’t use enough, you may have dirt and oils from clothing staying inside the washer at the end of the cycle. Follow the directions on your laundry detergent.
If you want to use cold water to save money and energy, you may find that hard water prevents your clothes from getting as clean as you’d like. There are a few detergents out now that are made especially to dissolve and wash well in cold water. It may be worth trying one of those more specialized detergents.
Vinegar is a long-revered cleanser, and it has the added benefit of being harmless to septic systems. If you don’t want to put bleach into the sewer or septic, buy a gallon of cheap (usually about $1) white vinegar, and do a load of wash using hot water to clean out the washer. If you hate the waste of a whole load of laundry, it wouldn’t hurt a bit to send through a load of sheets, dish towels, clothes or anything else you’d like to give some extra cleaning. The vinegar will act as a natural bleach and clean out the washer at the same time.
Whatever special cleaning wash you decide to use, do a special load of wash every week or two for the purpose of keeping your washer clean. If you’re using the correct amount of a good detergent, periodically doing a wash in hot water, and not overloading the machine, a problem with a smelly washer should be permanently a thing of the past.
If you’ve ever read about Paris in the 1930s, you will have an understanding of the French drain the sewers of Paris were known worldwide for being nothing more than open trenches filled with human waste. Not too classy for the most elegant city on earth!
But these days even Paris has succumbed to the lure of installing pipes and wastewater management, and the open sewer is just a rank memory in all but the worst of slums. Building a french drain remain widely useful, although not for sewage they are perfect for diverting rainwater from foundations, basements, driveways and other places you would rather keep dry. French drains can in some cases be installed without pipes, by laying beds of gravel down in trenches under the topsoil, but for most building codes and to keep the water moving right where you want it, laying in a series of pipes makes the most sense.
Flooding occurs when the topsoil, which contains a lot of air, becomes saturated with water. If the area isn’t level, the water will flow downhill; if there’s no slope, it will stand where it is, taking a long time to work its way into the more compacted and often clayey soils beneath. Water that would normally flow downhill in a sheet of liquid topsoil finds it much easier to move through gravel and pipe, so it will naturally find its way into your trench.
If the slope in your yard isn’t perfectly obvious, rent a builder’s level to help you find the high and low points in the area you want to design a drain. Your yard may look fairly flat, but sometimes, although the slope isn’t apparent to the naked eye, it’s sufficient to send water on its way downhill. A level will help you find the lowest part of your property, which is where you’ll want your pipe to exit the ground.
You can control flooding around your house by digging a narrow trench about 6 inches wide and about 2 feet deep that wraps around three sides of your house and heads downhill. Dig the trenches in a U shape around your house, keeping the ditch between four and six feet from the foundation of your house. Once you have your trench dug, compact the earth in the bottom of it, and place your drainage pipe into the trench. Make sure the holes in the drain pipe are pointing down into the soil, or your trench won’t work because the holes will be immediately clogged with dirt. This is really important lots of people do everything right but then screw up the pipe by putting it in upside down, so their trenches never work. Point the holes down!
Once you have the pipe installed, cover it with 1 inch (or greater) washed, rounded gravel, filling the trench until it’s one inch from the surface of the ground. You can then place a strip of sod or soil planted with grass seed over the trench to make it look nice and help keep the gravel in place. If you have problems not just with sub-surface water but with water standing on top of the ground as well, you can just fill the trench all the way to the top with gravel: this will increase your drainage. If the sight of the trench will bother you, you can make it wider at the top and put some curves into it when you’re planning its course, so that the gravel becomes a winding path.
You don’t need tons of expensive equipment to install a French drain system. Any time you’re planning to dig into the ground, you should start by making sure there are no underground utility lines in the area you’re planning to trench. Buried electric cables, sewer or gas lines can kill you if you dig into them. At the very least, you may cut into a sewer line and make a big, expensive mess. So, make sure you know there’s nothing else buried before you start to dig!
You can rent a ditch digger or trencher (also called the Ditch Witch) from a place that rents building supplies, and you can buy the perforated drainage pipe from most hardware or home supply stores. The builder’s level is also something you can rent, and you can either pay to have the gravel delivered, or if you have access to a good sized truck, you can buy it much, much cheaper if you pick it up yourself. If you’re not confident in your ability to calculate the amount of gravel you’ll need, take the measurements of your trench (6 inches wide, 24 inches deep, 200 feet long, for example) to the place where you buy gravel and ask someone who works there to help you calculate the amount of gravel you need to buy. (This is good advice if you’re near a building supply store that’s not one of the huge chains: too many of the giant home stores employ teenagers who don’t have a clue about how to help you.)
What’s a Trench Drain?
You may hear the words “trench drain” and “French drain” used interchangeably, which can be confusing when you’re contemplating at home drain repairs. “Trench drain” means different things to different people, for the lay person, it’s a drain that’s constructed by digging a ditch or trench and either laying gravel, pipes or both into the drain. Trenches are used in creating French drains, which are ideal for draining water away from houses or from land into storm sewers, catchments or other areas where the water won’t pose as much of a problem. But to experts, trench drains may mean large, industrial drain systems that are built with trenches miles long and a hundred or more feet deep. Used in road building, city sewer systems and municipal drainage, trench drains are often the foundations on which entire cities rest.
Kitchen Grease Fires – Safety and Prevention
1. Keep small children and pets away from the stove or oven and out from underfoot in the kitchen
2. Always start with a dry pan! Even a little water will spatter if there’s grease in the pan as well.
3. Make sure your pot holders and oven mitts are truly heat proof (many of the cheap ones are decorative but won’t protect your hands). Keep them in easy reach of the stove (not in the drawer across the way).
4. Use wooden, not metal, spoons when stirring hot items.
5. Use a splash guard (a metal grid that fits over a pan) to keep hot grease from popping on you.
6. Make sure your roasts or frying meats are in pans or on boilers deep enough to hold the fats that will cook out. Otherwise, grease may pour into the oven or stove and catch fire.
Minimize the chances of getting burned by cooking at a lower temperature, and make sure you have pot holders and oven mitts within easy reach. The best way to handle a grease fire is to deprive it of oxygen. Without air, fire just goes out. Keep a lid near any meat you have frying: if the pan catches fire, quickly put the lid on to smother the flame. You can’t put out a grease fire with water: the water will actually cause the grease fire to leap from one place to another! Keep a large, opened box of baking soda, salt or flour near the burner: either one of these substances can smother a flame. If there is a fire, pour on plenty of the dry good and keep pouring until the fire is smothered. It never hurts to have a fully charged, recently inspected, fire extinguisher in the kitchen. Make sure you know how to use it. (There’s usually a pin to pull: after that, all you have to do is aim it at the fire).
Broilers can cause fires when grease pops up onto the heating element or if it catches fire on an open flame. Some cheap stoves may make the problem worse: inexpensive gaskets have been known to catch fire from a broiler flame. If the food itself has caught fire, it’s pretty simple to deal with it: just shake salt, baking soda or flour onto the pan. If you can reach the control, turn off the broiler as soon as you realize there’s a problem. If the oven itself is on fire, you can try shutting the door to put out the flame. If it’s an electric stove, unplug it. If it’s a gas stove, call the fire department. The important thing after any fore is to make sure there’s nothing smoldering, so never be shy about calling the local fire department to check if you have a stove or oven fire, even if you’ve managed to put it out.
Many grease fires start when people are deep frying foods. Deep fat fryers are equipped with safety features that prevent the fats from overheating and catching fire, but stove top deep fat frying can be dangerous. Most foods that are deep fried are perfectly good (and healthier for you) if they are pan-fried instead, and pan-frying minimizes the risk of using fats.
Kitchen fires at home are often easily dealt with as long as you don’t panic. Keeping lids available, using fire smothering substances and having an extinguisher nearby are good ideas, especially when cooking with fats.
If you are eating heart-smart or just don’t like the idea of using animal fats to cook with, you can still dispose of them easily. Bacon grease and other fats from meats should be allowed to cool before being scraped into the trash. Get as much of the grease out of the pan as possible before washing it with very hot, soapy water. The heat will help the grease melt into the water and the detergent will “saponify” it, emulsifying it and keeping it liquid on its trip through the drain. Follow up the pan washing with plenty of hot water and detergent down the drain, and if you have a garbage disposal, run it with hot soapy water as well to keep the grease from building up on the blades and walls of the disposal.
Teach everyone in your family not to put things down the drain, and you’ll have a much slighter chance of clogs. Treat your drains to a drink of microbial drain cleaner like Drainbo every week or two: it will help keep odor-causing bacteria out, and your drains fresh and clear.
Dealing with Grease Traps and Household Grease Disposal
Restaurants, from the diner to the fast food place to the chi-chi bistro, have better ways of dealing with fats than pouring them into old coffee cans and putting them into the trash. The grease trap was invented to take care of the fats, oils and greases (abbreviated as FOGs) that come from food preparation. Grease traps do more than prevent FOGs from entering the sewers in mass quantities: they provide a way to recycle greases, which can be used to make fuel. Some owners of diesel driven trucks and cars have discovered that a low tech filtering process can transform kitchen grease into clean, useful fuel that leaves a scent of French fries, not crude oil, behind. Recycling kitchen grease makes sense, and when it’s in large quantities, is makes a lot of sense: someday, the whole world may be powered by fats! If you have a grease trap, you can call a recycler that specializes in FOGs: at intervals, they will come and take the grease away for filtering and refining.
Grease traps work by providing a storage and collection area for kitchen greases that would otherwise wind up clogging up drains and creating havoc in the sewers. They are either designed on site to conform to the building code, or they can be purchased as entire units. They are designed to let in water, to let the grease float on top, and to provide a place for solids, which will drop to the bottom of the tank. The trap should be designed so that when water that enters the trap is warm, it cools before leaving the trap. When the water cools, the fats that may have been melted in the water also cool and harden, separating from the water to float on top of the trap. If the fats stay melted in warm water, they will move out of the trap with the water and enter the wastewater drains.
Grease traps can be underground tanks or areas inside the building, depending on the size and location of the restaurant as well as the local building code requirements. Building codes also determine the requirements for the size of a trap, which is important because an overloaded trap won’t work correctly. It’s also important to have the grease trap installed by a reputable company: some estimates say that around one-quarter of grease traps are installed incorrectly.
Grease traps are usually cleaned every other week or once a month, depending on the size of the trap and the amount of grease used in the kitchen. Most restaurants establish a cleaning schedule and assign it to employees—it’s one of the more unpleasant duties of a restaurant worker. The solids on the bottom of the tank as well as the FOGs from the top are removed in regular cleanings. Sediment and greases are disposed of in containers usually stored outside, and are protected from spilling. Grease trap cleaning and maintenance is important: if grease traps aren’t cleaned when they should be, they stop working, and the grease as well as the water flows through the trap and into the wastewater lines.
Failing to maintain a grease trap can result in violation of building codes, city ordinances and food safety regulations. It can result in fines and in costly plumbing repairs. There are companies that specialize in cleaning grease traps, so the harried restaurateur doesn’t need to bother with it. Otherwise, the cleaning may be relegated to bussers, dishwashers or waitpersons who have received proper and thorough training.
Septic Tank Maintenance and Care – Other Possible Septic Cleaning Issues
Perc tests are one way to plan for things, since soil drainage is considered before the field is built and established limits prevent you from putting a septic field where the water table is too high or the soil not absorbent enough to handle all but extraordinary amounts of rain.
One thing that can destroy a drain field is a thirsty tree. Septic building experts should place the drain field where there are no tree roots likely to tap into, tear up other otherwise displace the plastic pipes that make up the leach lines. Tree roots can play havoc with a septic field, since they can travel for hundreds of feet in search of moisture, and are strong enough to tear up any kind of pipe you can lay. Drain fields should not be planted with deep-rooted plants; nor should they be used as parking or turnaround sites, since the weight of trucks or automobiles can compact the earth (preventing proper perking) and crush pipes.
Your house’s external drains are also important to the health and care of your septic. When an inch of rain falls in a storm, the roof of an average-sized house can run off over 50,000 gallons of water! If your gutters, downspouts and outside drains aren’t planned correctly, you may be delivering astounding amounts of water to the septic field without even knowing about it. Gutters should drain away from the house, but they shouldn’t be draining into your septic field, or it will soon be overwhelmed and become useless.
One of the most important things you should know about your septic system is that, in many ways, it is like any organic body. It can’t deal with inorganic waste; that is, waste that can’t be broken down naturally. For that reason, things like plastics, rubber, solvents and acids shouldn’t enter the septic system. “Disposable” diapers are diapers that should be disposed of by transport to a landfill rather than being flushed down the toilet, because they are made with plastic that will clog drains. If plastics do make their way into the septic tank, there they sit, since bacteria can’t break them down. Only organic things should be put into the septic system, and even those things should be broken into pieces small enough that they won’t wind up as a clog in a pipe somewhere between a plumbing fixture and the septic tank. If the septic tank itself has a healthy population of bacteria, those billions of little microbes will break the organic matter down even further. However, if the bacterial population has been decimated by the use of things like chlorine bleach or by acid or alkaline drain cleaners, the organic waste won’t be broken down and the tank will fill up faster than ever.
One of the things that can destroy the bacteria in your septic system is bleach. Chlorine bleach is found in cleanser, many household sprays and in laundry detergent.
A well-maintained septic system shouldn’t create any odor, and the smell of sewage coming from drains is a distinct warning sign that something is wrong. Coupled with toilets that suddenly flush slower than usual, sewage smells may indicate that the tank is full and must be pumped. If you have sewage smells even though your tank isn’t full and the plumbing seems to be working all right, you may have a problem with a sewer vent pipe. Sewer vent pipes vent sewer gas from plumbing fixtures to the outside of the house. If the vent pipes aren’t installed correctly, if they aren’t high enough or if they become clogged, you may wind up with sewer gas in the house. Sewer gas is dangerous on two counts: first, it contains methane, which is flammable and explosive. Second, sewer gas can suck the oxygen out of the house and cause death. Either way, you’re in big trouble, so if you smell sewer gas, don’t wait—open the windows, leave the room, and call a licensed plumber.
Common Septic Problems
When the field is planned, the builder should take into consideration things like soil composition, trees and ground water levels that may interfere with the field’s freedom of movement. Furthermore, before a septic system is constructed, county regulations require the soil have a “perc” test. The percolation test is a way of determining the amount of time and space required for the soil to effectively clean the draining water before the water reaches the water table. Places with heavy clay soils may not “perk” properly, so that any wastewater sent into the ground might just puddle up and sit. Some building sites can’t be approved for septic systems because the soil just won’t allow enough water to run through—any sewage would then become a health hazard, polluting the area and leading to diseases such as typhoid and cholera. (If you’ve ever wondered why slums often breed such diseases, it’s because some countries don’t regulate the sewage in poverty stricken areas, and people bathe in the same water they drink).
When the septic tank gets too full, it overflows, sending untreated sewage onto the surface of the ground. This even doesn’t go unnoticed for long, since a messy, smelly pool of water and who-knows-what will appear in the drain field. This can be expensive as well as distressing, since the tank will need pumping and the ground that has been contaminated with raw sewage will need to be cleaned up as well as possible and then left to recover. Sometimes the drain field has to be moved to another location, which can cost thousands of dollars.
Septic tanks can get too full when they aren’t pumped regularly; they can fill up fast if the homeowner does load after load of laundry without giving the tank time to recover and send the gray water to the leach field; they can become full very quickly when the leach lines have become plugged. There are any number of reasons for a tank to overflow, but if you pay attention to your water usage and keep the bacteria populations in the leach lines and septic tank, there shouldn’t be a problem with overflow.
Maintaining a septic system is easiest when you do a little preventive maintenance. Nothing could be easier! Once a week, using a bacterial drain cleaner like Drainbo, clean your toilet. Brushing Drainbo under the rim of the toilet deposits the beneficial bacteria that will kill other, odor-causing bacteria that will otherwise make your plumbing fixtures smell bad. Once the toilet is flushed, the bacteria travel along the plumbing lines. Some will cling to pipes or joints where material has built up, where they will digest the material, removing potential clogs before they start. Other bacteria will make its way to the septic tank, remaining to digest solid waste in the tank or cleaning out the leach lines in the drain field. The Drainbo bacteria do what the natural soil bacteria do when wastewater enters the drain field, but they do it faster, keeping the plumbing clean and clear.