What Is a Drain Trap?

Published: 10th August 2010
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Losing an item down the kitchen sink can be particularly frustrating if it gets snagged in the drain trap. Traps are located below every kitchen sink and toilet. Traps contain a plug of water within a curved section of pipe; this water keeps harmful sewer gases out of your home. A leaky or plugged drain trap means problems with the water barrier and a potentially dangerous situation.

You will immediately notice a clogged drain trap because water will slow or stop draining completely. Leaks or seepage can be more difficult plumbing problems to identify, and can go unnoticed for a long time. The longer a drain trap leaks, the bigger your repair project - and bill-will be!

A drain trap is made of several parts. The short pipe that extends from the drain outlet to the sink or toilet is called the tailpiece. The curved section of pipe that connects the tailpiece to the sink or toilet is the drain trap. It can be one piece or two coupled sections. The pipe which extends from the end of the trap to the drain pipe outlet in the wall or floor is the drain extension. Clogs and plumbing problems can occur in any of these pipe pieces. The drain trap will most likely malfunction because of corrosion, seal failure or mechanical failure.

A loose slip nut is another common reason for a leaky drain trap. The slip nuts holding the drain trap assembly to the drain pipe may have come loose. Tighten the screws - just not too tight - and see if this fixes the leak.

If you see any kind of corrosion on the drain trap or other pieces, they need to be replaced. If you need a new drain trap, remove the old one and take it with you to the plumbing supply store. If it has a clean-out plug, remove the plug with a wrench and drain the water into a bucket. If there is no clean-out plug on your drain trap, unscrew the slip nuts and slide them out of the way.

Swivel drain traps have a curved top section that will come free easily. Keep the trap upright as you remove it and pour any water out of the trap. If you have a fixed trap instead of a swivel one, remove the tailpiece slip nut at the drain flange. Push the tailpipe into the trap and twist the trap clockwise until you can drain it. Pull the tailpipe free and unscrew the trap from the drain extension and drain pipe.

Once you are at the plumbing supply store, you will have at least three different kinds of drain traps from which to choose. Chrome drain traps are popular because they are attractive and long lasting. Polypropylene (PP) plastic traps are another rugged choice. ABS plastic drain traps are less popular because they can become deformed and will fail if boiling water and caustic chemicals pass through it on a regular basis. ABS plastic also may not be allowed by your local plumbing codes. The sales person at the plumbing supply store will be able to guide you in the right direction.

Once you have the new drain trap, replace the parts on your sink or toilet. Make sure you have all the slip nuts, compression seals and other small pieces. Complete your final adjustments and tighten the slip nuts - again, make sure the nuts are not too tight. You should not need plumber's joint tape or compound, but you can use either if it is necessary.

If you feel overwhelmed at any point in the project, don't be afraid to call a plumbing contractor! Continuing a project that you do not understand can result in big repair bills.

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