Bursting Open 11 of the Biggest Plumbing Myths

Alison Kasch
Written by Alison Kasch
Reviewed by Joseph Wood
Updated May 19, 2022
water running in modern bathroom sink
Photo: Diana Vyshniakova / Adobe Stock

Highlights

  • Don’t use vinegar and baking soda to unclog your drain.

  • Never flush anything down the toilet besides toilet paper.

  • In-tank toilet cleaners and chemical drain-cleaning solutions can cause damage.

  • Hot water will not wash away grease nor dislodge a clog.

  • Those loud bangs don’t mean your water heater is about to blow.

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While we know our plumbing pipes don’t actually contain Goombas or Koopa Troopas, sneakier myths have managed to blur the line between fact and fiction. Let’s flush these rumors out for good.

You Can Unclog a Drain With Vinegar and Baking Soda

Most of us have seen our fair share of frothing science fair volcanoes, so it makes sense the fizzing action would power through a clog. Nope—completely false. The chemical reaction does manage to move the clog, but that's where the action ends. The result? A nasty leftover sludge that gets absolutely everywhere. Trust us—plumbers are begging people to stop trying this viral trend.

“Flushable” Wipes Exist

Whether they claim to be flushable or not, the material on wipes isn’t instantly water-soluble. This means they can pile up in your plumbing system and form a clog before they ever dissolve. The same goes for baby wipes, makeup wipes, and anything else that isn’t toilet paper. In other words, never flush anything besides toilet paper (aside from the obvious, of course). Whether wipes claim to be flushable or not, the material in wipes isn’t instantly water-soluble.

You Can Flush Feminine Hygiene Products Down the Toilet

While we're on the topic of things that should never get flushed, we need to address feminine hygiene products. A little bird must have told someone who told someone that tampons are flushable. This is 100% false. Just like so-called "flushable" wipes, tampons won't dissolve in water—likewise with feminine pads, wrappers, and plastic applicators.

In-Tank Toilet Cleaning Tablets Are Safe and Effective

While they come off as a time-saving solution, in-tank cleaning tablets can corrode the inner parts of your toilet over time. Bleach tablets are especially damaging and can ruin a toilet in less than a year. If you need to bleach it, such as when a clean toilet keeps smelling like urine, it should only sit for about 10 minutes before you rinse it.

Hot Water Can Wash Grease Safely Down the Drain

closeup of drain in kitchen sink
Photo: Mariakray / Adobe Stock

It’s understandable to believe that hot water will melt grease and carry it safely through the plumbing system. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. Once that liquefied grease gets further down the pipes, it cools down and re-solidifies. One meat marinara night won’t cause a clog, but repeated grease dumping eventually will. It’s best to keep a heat-proof container to collect grease and toss it in the trash when it’s full.

Boiling Water Will Dislodge a Clog

This one’s rooted in some pretty sound logic, but it’s a myth: Boiling water won’t dislodge a clog. You’d think it would dissolve the gunk much like it dissolves sticky residue, but hot water just turns it into a slushy mess. You’re better off using cold water, which can coagulate the solids and move them down the pipe with the help of running water. Even then, it won’t always work. 

Most code forbids water hotter than 150 degrees Fahrenheit from entering the drain system because it can cause so many issues. Extremely hot water can melt your toilet’s wax ring and even cause PVC piping to bow and break.

Instead, you may need to learn how to hire a plumber and find a well-qualified pro to help you out.

Any Food Can Go Down the Garbage Disposal

woman peeling vegetables over garbage disposal
Photo: New Africa / Adobe Stock

Some view their garbage disposal as a catch-all that anything can go into as long as the water’s on. This is an easy way to destroy your trusty disposal. Always send down small pieces (not the whole enchilada). Hard foods like melon and squash shouldn’t even go down there at all. 

If you went a little crazy and wanted that spoiled zucchini gone, it might not be the end. Certain issues with your disposal might call for replacement, while others are repairable. To get the most from its life span, clean your garbage disposal regularly and don’t stress it out with large, hard pieces of food.

Chemical Drain Cleaner Is a Safe Fix

Since childhood, many of us saw commercials with chemical drain cleaners that could power through pipes and dissolve even the most icky-looking clogs. Don’t believe the hype. They’re actually damaging to your pipes. They’re no substitute for real plumbing maintenance (which you should get done regularly). Stick with drain snakes or your trusted local plumber to deal with clogs.

Loud Banging Noises From Your Water Heater Spell Trouble (or Possible Danger)

Bang-bang-bang! Get out of the house, right? Loud noises from your water heater are alarming, but it's just a result of sediment collected in the tank. The sediment is made of loose minerals from hard water (mostly calcium), which sinks to the bottom of the tank where the heating element is. When the burner gets turned on to heat the water, the sediment prevents the heat from rising properly, and the expansion of the resulting air bubbles causes the popping sound.

While it’s not a danger and certainly won’t cause an explosion, it affects efficiency. If you hear Yosemite Sam going off in there, it’s time to budget for the cost of a new water heater.

Thomas Crapper Invented the Toilet

While he has become a chuckle-worthy household name, Mr. Crapper isn’t the one to thank for the toilet’s existence—his line of flushing toilets was just the first to achieve commercial success. 

The first one to patent the flushing toilet was Scottish inventor Alexander Cumming. Crapper did invent the ballcock, though, the superior tank-filling mechanism we still use today. In this case, reality is even more hilarious than fiction.

A Leaky Faucet Isn’t a Major Problem

water dripping from leaky kitchen faucet
Photo: EdNurg / Adobe Stock

Drip, drip, drip. It’s just a drip every now and then, so it’s easy to say “meh” and ignore it. The truth is, it’s a big deal. A leaky faucet increases your water bill and harms the environment. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), household leaks can waste more than 1 trillion gallons annually nationwide. That equals the annual household water use of more than 11 million homes.

Something else to consider: Once a drip starts, it can wear out the faucet and pit or stain plumbing fixtures, leading to costly repairs or total replacements. It’s best to deal with the leak ASAP.

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