Friday, 23 August 2013

Fatbergs and soapbergs

Did you catch the news item earlier this month, about the gigantic fifteen-ton 'fatberg' that had blocked the drains under Kingston-upon-Thames in south-west London? Here's a link to the BBC News report on it: It was more awesome than disgusting.

Well, I had my very own 'soapberg' to cope with. This was congealed washing machine soap that had blocked the drain for my kitchen sink, the outflow from the washing machine running into the same drain. It was unsuspected, because I use Persil non-bio liquid detergent capsules in the machine, or liquid Stergene when handwashing, and never powder. You'd think that liquid detergent wouldn't lead to any problems, but it clearly did. My next door neighbour K---, who is a plumber, said to me that although using a 40 degree Celsius wash cycle is mostly a Good Thing, it will accelerate the build-up of soap deposits in pipes and drains. Once a month, I should have a high-temperature wash to help blast the build-up with scalding hot water.

Will do! My cotton whites will now get the full treatment.

But I'm leaping ahead. Four days ago I noticed that after washing up the dishes (with Fairy liquid), the water was taking a long time to drain away. This had happened before, last March. Curious, I'd discovered that the kitchen drain was hidden under the conservatory floor, beneath a removable section, as in this photo that I took at the time:

It looked all right. I decided that there was really no need for action. And indeed it soon seemed to correct itself, although on odd occasions I heard strange gurglings as water drained away. But I shrugged my shoulders in a devil-may-care fashion, tossed my hair, and snapped my fingers.

But as I said, four days back the suds would not drain away at all. So I had another look:

Hello, hello! The chipboard floor looked a bit damp. I unscrewed the section of floor over the drain:

Oh dear. Full to the brim, and likely to overflow if any more water were added. I could see congealed soap. I didn't flinch. I stuck my arm in and dredged with my bare hand. I hauled out a bowlful of unwholesome-looking gunge:

Some would say that I am just not the type to get my hands mucky and smelly like this - let alone my entire arm. Some would say, in fact, that I am far too much of an overfastidious wimpy girly to do anything that involves dirt and mess. Well, they are wrong. I will do whatever it takes, even if I have to become a foul-smelling mudball. Naturally, I'd have worn protective gloves if I'd had a cut that might get infected. And equally naturally, I'd have backed off if tentacles with suckers on them had groped for me while delving into that slimy hole. But it was in fact a straightforward clearance job.

It didn't do the trick though. Somewhere beyond the reach of my fingers was a soapberg solid enough to dam the water and stop the drain working. Time for an expert. K--- was on holiday in Devon with his wife J---, but was returning shortly, and could tackle the job today. He had a complete set of drain rods and other items. So this morning, having located where the external drain cover was, I managed to prize it up with a spade, ready for K--- to work his magic:

First, K--- used a heavy-duty plunger, which quickly dislodged the soapberg. Water flowed out freely. Wonderful! Then he connected his rods, and fed them down the drainpipe, to make quite sure that there was nothing that might still cause trouble:

It's so nice to have K--- and J--- as neighbours! Afterwards, I thanked K--- profusely, and gave him a fiver, as the price of a pint, by way of a very sincere and relieved 'thank you'.

Incidentally, the drain we fed the rods down wasn't in my garden. It was in T---'s next door. All the drains for my house are on T---'s property, a potentially awkward arrangement. But for now we had access, and we got on with it before any prospective buyers for T---'s home turned up. There would have been raised eyebrows from the estate agent and those potential buyers if we had been caught red-handed doing our drain-clearing stuff! Maybe a stiff rebuke from the solicitors too. So in a way fate has been kind to me, making the soapberg go critical just before viewings commenced. And decently ahead of my going away on holiday too.

Here I am, about to seal up the drain cover again:

The next household problem is the gas main. The gas people are going to modernise all connections to the gas supply. Everyone in the village. Two chappies came round this afternoon. I had a discussion with them. I must be able to get away with my caravan in September. They think they will have fixed my section of road before I need to depart. I hope so: it will be very inconvenient if I can't tow my caravan off my property because there is a girt great hole in the road outside!


  1. Oh the joys of putting my arm down a drain to clear the crud! Done it quite a few times. There are propriety liquids specially made for dissolving such solids and they can be obtained through Amazon. Put 'drain cleaning liquid' in the browser search box.

    Shirley Anne x

  2. But then I couldn't claim kudos for getting my arm so filthy! And the world would have been denied a post on that. You've got to throw these considerations into the balance.

    Besides, I enjoyed Asking A Man To Help, and he enjoyed Demonstrating His Skill With Drain Rods. Mutual satisfaction.


  3. Prevention is better than cure Lucy unless you are a kudos collector it seems

    Shirley Anne x

  4. Kudos! Cracked open some early memories long forgotten. That was the name of the sweet shop I used to visit as a child...


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