How to Fix Washing Machine Drain Pipe Overflow
When a Washing Machine Floods: What a Mess!
Water all over the floor? Problems with your washing machine drain pipe? I've lived in several old houses and dealing with overflows from my washing machine has always been a struggle. Our current house was built in 1972, and the overflow from the washing machine drain pipe was our first major homeowner disaster.
If you've struggled with this plumbing problem, I'm going to give you some ideas for solving it.
What Causes the Washer Drain to Overflow?
I suppose we should have paid more attention to the patched plaster on the wall behind the washing machine when we bought the house. That was a clear sign that overflow from the drain pipe had happened to previous owners. A few months after we moved in, water started overflowing everywhere during the drain cycle of the washer and we realized we had a real problem.
Older houses like ours were built when washers were smaller and didn't require as big of a pipe to drain them. Today's extra large capacity washers use more water and spit it out faster. The result? The pipe that the washer drains into can get overwhelmed and overflow all over the floor.
Even if you have a low water use washer, you can have this problem if lint clogs up the drain. That's what happened to us. We would get the drain cleaned out, and everything would be fine for a while. Then, just when I was overloaded with laundry from three preschoolers, there would be another messy disaster all over the floor.
How to Fix or Prevent a Drain Pipe Overflow Problem
- Call a plumber. This fix might be temporary or long-lasting, but either way, it's expensive.
- Use a wire mesh lint catcher. It catches all of the lint exiting the washer so that it doesn't clog your drain. Change or clean the catcher monthly.
- Use enzymes regularly. Treat your drain monthly with enzymes to clear out the soap scum.
- Install a laundry sink. This will allow you to put a mesh lint catcher on the end of the drain pipe and carefully monitor the flow of the drain.
- Buy a front-loading washer. Front-loaders use much less water, which means they might not overflow your existing pipes.
- Use a drain snake regularly. When your drain starts draining more slowly, try snaking it out with a professional metal snake, or just snake the first couple of feet with a plastic one.
Each of these steps is fully described and explained below.
Fixes a Plumber Can Do
For a temporary fix, you can call a plumber and have the drain cleaned out. We did that several times, and we found that took care of the problem for a while. However, after a few months of lint and soap build-up, we'd have an overflow again.
We talked to a few of the plumbers who came out to unclog our drain. One thought he could put in a bigger pipe in the wall, but that wouldn't help the clogging or the size of the pipe that is in our slab. Another plumber talked about putting a pump in the pipe, but he wasn't sure of the result.
Front Loading Washers Use Less Water
Using a Wire Mesh Lint Catcher
The best way to stop laundry overflow is to use mesh lint catchers that attach to the end of your washing machine drain pipe. A strip of plastic tightens around the drain hose to keep the mesh sack from falling off. The mesh catches all of the lint coming out of the washer so that it doesn't go down your drain and cause clogs.
Where to buy mesh lint catchers? I used to buy these at Walmart or Walgreens, but lately have had trouble finding them, so I bought them in bulk from Amazon. After seeing how much lint gets trapped by these, I can understand why my drains overflow!
Change mesh liners monthly: Generally, I change them once or twice a month, or whenever I see them getting full. If you are washing a lot of new towels or other items with a lot of lint, you may need to change them more often. I've tried other lint catchers like fabric mesh and pantyhose (a homemade solution I saw on the Internet), but those don't seem to work as well and I always end up back with the wire mesh again. These really aren't that expensive if you buy in bulk, and they are a lot cheaper than a plumbing bill.
Types of Lint Catchers
I'm always looking for a better solution, so I've checked hundreds of reviews online for how other people handle this problem and what lint catchers they use. So you don't have to spend that much time researching, I'm giving you the results of my research here:
Metal mesh: I use this kind because it seems to work best for me and looking at many reviews and the comments I've had from my readers, I think this is true for most people. Metal tends to catch more lint than nylon mesh and is easy to replace. They are inexpensive, but sometimes hard to find, so I buy mine in bulk from Amazon.
- Pros: inexpensive, catches more lint, easy to replace.
- Cons: sometimes hard to find (I buy in bulk from Amazon), metal can corrode if it is submerged in water too long.
Fabric mesh: I've tried these and they did not catch as much lint. However, on some reviews, I saw that people use two of them together to make them catch more. Then you take out the inner one when it is full and replace it. That might work fine but seems like more trouble to me. However, if your lint catcher is regularly in the water from the tub, a metal one can get rusted and fabric might work better.
- Pros: inexpensive in bulk, won't rust, might stay better for high-pressure water.
- Cons: harder to find, doesn't catch as much lint unless you use two, a bit harder to put on.
Pantyhose: This old-fashioned solution will catch even the smallest lint pieces, so it can be a good choice if you really need to keep all of the pieces of lint out of your drain. However, because most of us don't use pantyhose anymore, this may not be the cheapest solution and there are some distinct disadvantages.
- Pros: free if you have used pantyhose or knee highs (although more expensive if you have to buy them), easy to find, catches all the lint.
- Cons: harder to put on the drainage pipe (try using a zip-tie or tight rubber bands), might get too full and break, harder to get a tight fit on the hose so it can slip off and clog the drain.
In-sink lint trapper: I discovered this recently and think I may buy one, even though at $16 and up this is one of the more expensive devices and some people say you still need a drain pipe catcher too (I'm pretty sure I'd keep both). One disadvantage of anything put on the drainage hose is that it can fall off and then block up the sink (after having that happen once, I'm just really careful that mine is on tightly). That is the main reason people like the in-sink lint trapper instead. This sort of trap sits inside your drain and catches lint as it drains down. Because you clean this one out every few washes, you can reuse it for several months.
- Pros: don't have to replace as often, won't fall off and clog up sink, good at catching lint.
- Cons: you need to clean regularly, need to remember to clean when wet so it isn't damaged, lint and gunk tend to collect at the bottom of the sink (maybe meaning some more lint is getting through?) and collected gunk can smell.
Drain mesh: this is just a mesh that fits over or inside the drain. I found one recently at a dollar store and added it to my drain to see what happened. I'm finding that it seems to catch some lint that is missed by the mesh catcher. It does have to be cleaned every load or two but I think it is worth it to keep my drain clean. Wetting it down to clean it works best.
- Pros: easy to put in, inexpensive, and reusable.
- Cons: won't work alone (it would probably clog up the sink too fast), has to be cleaned every wash or two.
Combination: If you, like me, really want to get as much lint as possible out of your pipes, you might want to consider some sort of combination technique with a mesh liner on your drain pipe and another lint catcher in the drain.
We use these enzymes monthly
Use Enzymes for Prevention
Along with using the lint catchers, it is a good idea to start treating your drain monthly with enzymes. The lint catcher will get the lint and the enzymes will clear out the soap scum on a regular basis. By applying both of those solutions, I haven't had to call a plumber out for my laundry drain in over 15 years. Why do you need enzymes?
- Enzymes Clear Out Gunk in Drains: Since the lint catcher doesn't get everything that makes a clog, and soap and dirt still build up in my drains (I can tell because the water coming from the washer doesn't drain as quickly after awhile), rather than waiting for a major build-up, I've decided to be pro-active and used an enzyme product which works on the pipes by using bacteria that eats the soap and other stuff in the drain.
- Enzymes Keep Drains Running: If I use them every month, they makes the whole thing run smoothly. If I forget, I eventually have to call the plumber in again. The enzyme works pretty far down in the pipes if you use it regularly. With five kids and two parents, we have a lot of laundry. I do about 12 loads a week. So I need to keep those drain pipes in good shape. The cost of using enzymes once a month in all our drains is under $5 so is well worth preventing another plumber's visit!
- What Kind of Enzyme to Buy: There are several different types of products, some are dry and you add water (Zep and Bioclean) others are already mixed, and you just pour (Flo-zyme). I've used several different sorts of these products and looked a lot at reviews and it seems that, in spite of price differences, all of these seem to work the same, so buy what is easiest or least expensive for you. They aren't usually available at the grocery store or even Walmart, but you can find them at a hardware store like Home Depot, or buy them online at Amazon, which is where I buy them.
- How to Use Enzymes: You need to give them time to work, so the best way to do that is to pour them in the drain at night and let it set. If it is your first time using the enzymes, or if the drain is slow or clogged, then pour boiling water in the drain in the morning. Otherwise, you can just run the water until it turns hot and then let it go down for a few minutes. If your drain seems to be still slow or even stops up when you first use the enzymes, it may be that all the gunk is melting off and clogging it up. Just do the treatment again and it should clear up. Some of the directions on the bottles say to do three days of treatment the first time and then once a month afterward.
Install a Laundry Sink
We decided that for us, the best way to stop the problem of overflow was to install a utility (laundry) sink that the water could drain into. That way, I was able to put a mesh lint catcher on the end of the drain pipe, as well as to watch whether my drain was running slowly and needed another enzyme treatment.
I'd done plumbing projects before, so I found it wasn't that hard to install a sink with a large tub. I bought a laundry tub with legs at Home Depot and also got the pipe, faucet, and other supplies there. It took me an afternoon to put it in.
How to Install a Laundry Sink? I attached the drain from the sink to a lower part of the drain in the wall. I did have to take out some of the drywall to do that. If you don't like to do your own plumbing work, you could easily hire a plumber to do the job (or maybe convince a talented friend). When we remodeled last year, we bought a cabinet to put the laundry sink into. A side benefit of having a laundry room sink is that I now have a place to wash out shoes and dirty items.
How to Install a Sink
Front-Loading Washer Can Stop Drain Problems
A final solution is to change to a front-loading washer. Front-loaders use much less water, which means they might not overflow your existing pipes. Although front loaders are expensive, I actually got a great deal on Amazon on this LC, which has worked great for me for 5 years not. Amazon delivered it and I hired a local plumber to install it.
After a few loads of our front loading washer, I realized that the lower volume of water might have solved our problem without a sink. However, I'm still glad we did install the sink because it does allow me to catch the lint better and to watch the drain, but for some people, a front-loader might be an easier solution, and much less expensive than repeated plumber's visits!
Using Drain Snake
Regular snaking out of our laundry drain is another preventative step we take if it starts running slower. We do this with all our sinks and showers. You can buy a professional metal snake, or just do a short snaking of the first couple of feet with a plastic snake. We have two types. One comes with Draino, and I got it at the supermarket. It is plastic and has barbed edges. The other one is a wire with a metal Velcro-like tip. I like the wire and velcro one best because it bends easier once it goes down and seems to grip the gunk better. You can get both on Amazon if you can't find them locally.
How Snakes Work: Both work similarly and are best at getting out hair and lint that sticks in the drains. I push the snake down the drain, turn it around, and then pull it up again. Especially if you have a dog or human hair that goes down your drains, this can help a lot since hair clogs are hard to dissolve with any drain product.
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