cleaning out old pipes

nearzealotJuly 7, 2007

Hello All,

My dad has an old house with old pipes, mostly metal. He's got hard water and uses a water softener (I think it's the Culligan Man). It is a two-story house with a basement. I am sure the pipes are filled with lime. His shower is especially lame, and the dishwasher has begun to not clean so well. No way to run two things at once--even flushing a toilet greatly reduces pressure at kitchen sink. My question is: Can the old pipes be cleaned out in some way? Years ago a guy suggested pouring vinegar in at the service entrance and letting it sit awhile. I have always wondered whether it would work. Is this crazy? What about Lime Away or some similar product? Would terribleness result? I am guessing it would be several thousand dollars to re-plumb the house, so I am looking for a less-expensive alternative. Many thanks for your expertise.

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If its galvanized piping (sounds like it) then the best option is to replace them. There are services out there that claim to clean and reline the pipes, but I have no confidence in them, nor have I ever talked to a plumber who does.

    Bookmark   July 7, 2007 at 9:59AM
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Thank you ,jason1083, for your help. Is it because Lime Away is poisonous, or because it eats the metal, or something else? Would vinegar be bad also? I know next-to-nothing about this, so I am just curious. I know he needs to re-plumb the house, and so does he. He'll bite the bullet eventually; I've just always been curious what a plumber would say to this question. Thanks for your time.

    Bookmark   July 7, 2007 at 11:24AM
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On a long straight run of galvanized we once put a thin coiled plumbers snake on a 1/2" drill and ran it through the pipe...stopping every foot or so and turning on the water to wash out the debris. Now this was on a straight run from the cellar out to the street on a municipal water system. We were gettting almost no water and so had a choice of either trying to clean out the main supply or replacing it. Our city won't let anyone touch the main except their own water department and we didn't tell them about this operation. Anyway, this got the water flowing and it was still going strong after 8 years. We had replaced all the water piping inside of the house so the stopped up piping in there wasn't an issue for us.

    Bookmark   July 7, 2007 at 11:27AM
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That is a groovy idea, coolvt. We may try that also. Alas I am afraid the slowness is in the pipes inside the house. I guess it could work inside too.

I just read the post from today about jetting out sewer lines with a pressure washer. If we could do that with the incoming pipes it would be swell! Thanks for the replies.

    Bookmark   July 7, 2007 at 12:53PM
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The reason lime away or any chemicals should not be used is their toxicity. It is foolish to deliberately introduce contaminants (be they chemical or other)into a potable water system. The codes have gone a long way to prevent accidental introduction of contaminants (back flow preventers, vacuum breakers). The thing about the vinegar would be getting enough of a concentration all the way through the pipe. As for your ideas about the plumbers snake or high pressure water, the snake will not negotiate turns in such a small pipe. With high pressure water it will not do much, the junk that forms in galvanized piping is years of hardened mineral deposits. Also with either method you risk moving the debris upstream and blocking the pipe. Also consider accessibility, old galvanized piping does not come apart easily and is impossible to get back together without leaks.

    Bookmark   July 7, 2007 at 8:47PM
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Yeah, I figured it couldn't be cleaned out with the pressure washer. I know it's old, hard stuff. It's hard enough to just try to scrape it out of the faucet aerators! Also thank you very much for your details about why Lime Away and vinegar are bad. Common sense should have told me, but I let myself get sidetracked by the idea of a cheap alternative. The only way around it is through it, as they say. I appreciate your help.

    Bookmark   July 7, 2007 at 9:33PM
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Stop before you do anything, get a plumber in that can Electric Eel and use a High Pressure Water Jet to clear the lines. Then make sure the same plumber can perform a CCTV Survey (sends a camera down the line) that will tell u exactly why your pipes aren't running well. I bet it is because the pipes are misaligned, broken or have tree root infiltration. With a house this old even if you fix the problem temporarily (by cleaning) then u will eventually have to replace the pipes and great cost. Now there is technology that Relines the pipes. That is, puts a new pipe within the old pipe with no or minimal digging using a felt core and an adhesive. If u get the right system this is a permanent solution saving you thousands of dollars at the same time increases your flow of water because the new pipe is very smooth. Look up google for blocked drains or Pipe Lining.

    Bookmark   July 13, 2007 at 10:35PM
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Well, alexbar001, this does look interesting--I've looked up a couple sites about this and it sounds like it is much less invasive than tearing out the old pipes. I think it could be a good alternative for my dad. My biggest concern is that they couldn't clean the pipes out well enough to make the relining effective--the water pressure has been bad in that house for twenty years, getting a little worse each year. I appreciate you turning me on to this new technology, though--very cool! I'll start asking around about this. Thanks for the reply.


    Bookmark   July 14, 2007 at 7:35AM
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alexbar001: the methods you mention are methods for clearing SEWER LINES. I do not know of any plumbers snake of any kind that will negotiate a 90 degree turn in a 3/4" pipe.

Also the problem of tree root infiltration is typically with sewer lines. In a water supply line the force of the flowing water would likely keep the root from blocking the pipe. But first you would have to have a leak, which would likely be evidenced by noticeable water or a decrease in water pressure. Also a typical residential water service in under 1" in diameter, very difficult for tree roots to find.

Also if the problem is inside the structure (which I think it is). Then tree roots are in no way to blame.

    Bookmark   July 14, 2007 at 12:44PM
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You are right jason1083, the pipes are the supply lines. I am now of the opinion that alexbar001 is trying to sell stuff. Another poster on another thread noted that he just registered yesterday, and has posted to several threads with basically the same message. Thanks for not saying I'm an idiot. I'm not but I am pretty ignorant about plumbing.

    Bookmark   July 14, 2007 at 4:01PM
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Old galvanized water pipe is likely to be rather fragile and brittle. If you start fooling around with things like snakes or other contraptions, you're likely to break or crack a pipe or a joint. Then you not only have clogged pipe, but you've got a plumbing emergency on your hands. It's very difficult to plan repairs or plumbing upgrades (or shop for the best bid) when water is gushing through a broken pipe!

The only real solution to your problem is getting the house replumbed. If your local plumbing code allows it, you might consider replacing the old galvy with PEX. It's usually easier to retrofit because it's flexible and doesn't require sweating joints.

If PEX isn't allowed in your area, then copper is the best choice, although there are some places that will permit rigid plastic (PCV) for supply plumbing. Shop around to see what's possible and get at least 3 proposals from reputable plumbers.

    Bookmark   July 14, 2007 at 9:02PM
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Thank you jamesk. I thought about the fragility when I was thinking about "Jetting" the pipes with high pressure water (something those pipes have not seen in a long, long time!). And a good point about how difficult decision-making would be in an emergency. We will just have to bite the bullet on this one. I will check about whether PEX is permitted in his area. It will be a big job regardless of what type of pipe. I appreciate the help on these forums.

    Bookmark   July 15, 2007 at 8:43AM
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Before you attempt to use any chemical cleaners here is a little known fact that you might want to consider.

The primary purpose of the Plumbing Industry is to protect the public water supply and provide a means of safely disposing of effluent waste. To that end it must be noted that the Plumbing Code is not a building code, it is a health code.

In most jurisdictions a Plumbing Inspector is a badge toting, sworn member of law enforcement and he/she have full arrest powers for serious violations of the plumbing codes, and if pushed they will not hesitate to give you the temporary use of their handcuffs.

Intentionally introducing any chemical into the potable water supply or creating a cross connection between a municipal water supply and a private well, which could potentially backflow into a municipal main is not only prohibited, it could land you in prison for up to ten years.

    Bookmark   July 15, 2007 at 9:20AM
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Jason1083: There are Electric Eels that can be used for a 90deg 4" pipe as it was used on ours (not sure on 3" as they don't have 3" in Australia) Our problem was also in the supply line and guess what - had tree roots. I'm not an expert but tree roots are pretty strong and the water pressure would have to be pretty strong to prevent tree roots wouldn't u think?

Also, who knows the companies might not even be able to line galvanised pipe, i don't know I only had clay pipes.
I have also posted several threads because they all seem to have a problem that could be possible caused by the reasons I have mentioned and am I only allowed to post things on different days, not all at once?. Isn't it good to look at all options?. Never mind, thought I was helping, you won't hear from me again!!! sorry for trying to save you money! (Hard to sell services from Australia)

    Bookmark   July 16, 2007 at 1:42AM
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I know this is really old, but I can't not say this. Supply lines are not and will not be made of clay. As someone posted earlier those are sewer lines. Tree roots make their way into clay sewer lines all the time. Yes, they can be lined to prevent storm water and roots from making their way into your sewer line, but the point of this is to keep the non-pressurized waste water flowing OUT of your home and not backing up into your floor drains or elsewhere.

If a tree root somehow made it's way into a supply line (the water coming IN to your house), you would have quite a mess in your yard as the 50+ psi in the municipal water system would shoot water all the way up to the surface of the ground and out. It's very unlikely that you could be unaware that the main water supply (service) line into your house has broken.

I've never heard of a tree root breaking through a metal supply line. They do break, but typically not because of roots. They fail because of corrosion, bad fittings at the city shut off valve (b-box), freezing or the earth shifting underground and shearing the pipe. Sewer lines get clogged with tree roots all the time and our country is full of clay lines that have cracked/separated/collapsed/failed over time. Nowadays various forms of plastic are a more typical material to use for installing sewer lines because they are not expected to degrade the way that we now know that clay will.

I too am interested in whether it's possible to clean out clogged galvanized lines without replacing them, but it doesn't seem like a reliable method of doing this exists.

I'd like to know what the original poster ended up doing.

    Bookmark   May 5, 2011 at 9:15PM
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