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How to Thaw a Frozen Drain Pipe: 7 Effective Ways

When plunging temperatures freeze the drain pipes in your home, you’re dealing with a potential plumbing disaster.

The spill or backup from a burst drain line is classified as Category 2 gray water. You don’t want this type of contamination pouring into your home.

For more than 27 years, ServiceMaster of Lake Shore has taken care of cleanup after this kind of winter plumbing breakdown. Read on for easy methods, better techniques, and the best ways to safely thaw frozen drain pipes.

Before You Get Started

  • Make sure you know where to shut down your home’s water supply.
  • Double-check the frozen drain line for signs of a break.
  • Keep numbers handy for a plumber and a water damage company.
  • Check your pantry for salt, baking soda and vinegar.
  • Be ready to work with a space heater, hair dryer or heating pad.

Important Safety Notes:

  • Never use an open flame to thaw frozen drain pipes.
  • Never pour any chemical agents down a frozen drain pipe.

How to Safely Unfreeze a Drain Pipe

how to safely unfreeze a drain pipe

Easy Methods 

1. Warmer Interiors

Turn up the thermostat. Raising interior temperatures by three or four degrees helps frozen pipes thaw on their own. Be patient. This method can take several days or longer.

Insider Tip: Open up nearby cabinet and closet doors so that the warm air can circulate through affected areas.

2. Hot Towels

Soak towels in hot water, drape them over and around the frozen pipe, and slowly move them back and forth. Replace with fresh hot towels every half hour. While this trick takes time, it’s very safe and usually effective.

Insider Tip: Dish and hand towels are easier to work with than bath towels, and they don’t make as much of a mess.

3. Hot Water

Heat half a gallon of water on the stove, but don’t bring it to a boil. Slowly pour one cup down the drain, and let it set for a minute. Repeat the process until the frozen drain thaws.

Insider Tip: Restoration professional Diana Rodriguez-Zaba advises, “Don’t pour boiling water down a frozen drain. The extreme heat can shock and burst the pipe.”

4. Baking Soda, Vinegar, and Salt Water

Add a cup of table salt to 2 gallons of water, and heat on the stove. Sprinkle half a cup of baking soda down the drain, and then pour in a cup of vinegar. When the mixture stops fizzing, slowly pour the hot salt water down the drain.

Insider Tip: Both hot water techniques are effective methods for thawing pipes under shower and floor drains.

Our Recommended Methods

5. Space Heater

Position a space heater in front of the cabinet that houses the drain pipe. Open the cabinet doors, and set the heater on medium. Make sure there are no flammable materials within 3 feet of the heater, and never leave it unattended.

Insider Tip: Before using a space heater for any purpose, make sure it’s in good operating condition by checking its heating element, cord and connections.

6. Hair Dryer

Thaw the pipe with a constant stream of warm air from a hair dryer. Keep it set on medium, and use a sweeping motion that moves the airflow up and down the frozen stretch of pipe.

Insider Tip: A cookie sheet placed behind the pipe reflects warm air from the dryer back around the frozen pipe.

7. Heating Pad

Fold a warm heating pad into the curved section of the drain pipe for a few minutes. Don’t wrap it tightly around the P-trap. Instead, reposition it above and then below the curve so that it’s not in prolonged contact with the pipe surface.

Insider Tip: Avoid accidentally overheating the pipe by using a heating pad with an automatic shut-off mechanism.

What to Do When a Frozen Drain Pipe Bursts

what to do when a frozen drain pipe bursts

Once the pipe thaws, water should flow freely down the drain. Let the faucet run for at least five minutes while you check for signs of a pipe burst. 

Here’s what to do if you do discover a ruptured drain pipe.

  • Turn off the water supply at the main shut-off valve.
  • If you can access the pipe, try to fix it with a clamp or patch.
  • Call a plumber right away, and explain that the broken line is a drain pipe.
  • Contact your insurance company in case you need to file a claim for water damages.
  • Call water damage professionals, like ServiceMaster of Lake Shore if you’re in the Chicago are.a
  • Clean up as much as you can, and document the damage with pictures

How to Prevent Drain Pipes From Freezing

  • Don’t let interior temperatures drop below 55 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Let hot and cold water faucets trickle during a hard freeze.
  • Open cabinet doors under sinks and in areas near exterior walls.
  • Cover exterior pipes with foam sleeves or pipe wrap insulation.
  • Protect interior drain pipes with fiberglass insulation.

Dealing With Water Damage From a Burst Drain Pipe in Your Chicago, IL Home or Business? We Can Help!

All of us here in Chicagoland are accustomed to frigid winters. None of us ever gets used to frozen burst pipes. We know you do your best to manage the situation, but we’re here when it gets out of control.

We’re on call 24/7 with Chicago’s best professional burst pipe water damage cleanup services.

If you’re dealing with the mess left behind by a ruptured drain pipe, ServiceMaster of Lake Shore is just a phone call away: 312-707-8597.

Helpful Resources

Current Freeze Updates – National Weather Service

Winter Storm Prep – Ready.gov

Home Winter-Proofing – CDC

FAQs

How do you tell if the drain pipe is frozen or clogged?

When drain pipes freeze, water doesn’t empty from sinks, tubs or toilets. Clogged drains typically allow limited water flow. The blockage often produces gurgling sounds and unpleasant odors.

What causes drain pipes to freeze?

Freezing temperatures result in ice forming inside the pipe. As it builds up, the blockage prevents the flow of water through the drain pipe and can cause the line to burst.

Will frozen drain pipes thaw on their own?

Yes, but it can take days. Leaving the pipes to thaw on their own increases the risk of frozen pipes bursting and causing additional problems, such as damage to your home’s plumbing system and interior water damage.

How long does it take for a drain to unfreeze?

The length of time needed to thaw a frozen drain pipe varies depending on the situation. Factors that impact the job include pipe location, how long the line has been frozen and current temperature.

Get Help Now

(312) 707-8597

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Our office is located in downtown Chicago, IL just west of Millennium Park, nearby Willis Tower and Magnificent Mile. We provide 24 hour emergency fire and water damage cleanup to all of Chicagoland including Lincoln Park, Logan Square, Gold Coast, Lake View, Magnificent Mile and Little Village. We also provide a variety of specialty cleaning services.