Beyond the Duct Tape: Everyday Plumbing Fixes

A sink full of plumbing tools.

When I was growing up, my dad would always keep one thing in the back of his car: a hefty roll of duct tape. His explanation for this funny practice was simple that nearly all problems could be fixed, or at least subdued, through the utilization of this universal tool. While it admittedly did seem to work for a car (I once saw him tape a bumper into place while on route to a repair shop), the theory of duct tape fixing everything should not extend into many other areas of the DIY world. Home plumbing for instance, is not the place for quick solutions, especially when many issues that arise are easily fixable with only the most basic of skills. This article will feature multiple step-by-step guides on how to fix -- without duct tape-- everyday plumbing mishaps.

De-clog a Trap

A plumber working on the s-trap underneath the sink.

When a sink gets clogged, tensions can run high. Declogging a trap is often thought to be a laborious and messy job, but even to the lamest of plumbers it is an easy job to accomplish. Here is a brief tutorial on declogging a sink trap.

What you’ll need:

  • Bucket
  • Parts (new washers)
  • Coat hanger/tooth brush


Step 1 - Locate the trap. The trap to a sink tends to be located directly below it in the shape of an “S” or “U.” After placing a bucket underneath to catch any mess associated with the job, simply unscrew the pipe free from its parent.

Step 2 - Letting the excess waste fall into your well-placed bucket, examine the trap. Is there a large amount of material inside? Are their parts that must be replaced in the piping itself? Clear the trap using your tools (tooth brush/coat hanger) and replace it to its spot when appropriate.

Leaky Faucet

You tend not to notice it until you are cozy and warm in bed, but the piercing "drip, drip" from a leaking facet can be a real annoyance to your peace and quiet. As the solution to this plumbing problem is a bit more involved than a first-time plumber would imagine, the issue tends to go unchallenged for months at a time. Despite what one would think, the solution to a leaky faucet is often found in the inner workings of the handles, not the faucet itself, and there is a simple solution to stop the drip for good.

What you’ll need:

  • Wrench
  • Screwdriver
  • Washers / O-rings


Step 1 - Turn off the water! As there is nothing worse than attempting to unscrew a pipe filled with water, it is always advised to begin a plumbing project with the main water supply turned off.

Step 2 - What a lot of non-plumbers don't know is that a faucet handle is actually held on by nothing more than a discreetly placed screw. In most homes, this means that under a flat decorative surface on the top or back of the knob is a small latch for one to pry off with a screwdriver, revealing the screw below. Undo this screw and peer inside for a potential cause for the leak.

Step 3 - If all appears well to this point, the next step is to replace the washer and O-ring inside of the knob itself, in the order in which the handle was disassembled.

Step 4 - Put your faucet handles back together and turn on the water. The reason a leaking faucet is so common is that the washer, O-rings, and many frequently used parts of the appliance get worn down and lose their effectiveness with time. This simple replacement will fix the majority of such cases.

Stop a Running Toilet

A pair of hands working in a toilet tank.

In the place my family and I stay for the summer, the toilet is notorious for running long beyond its use. In addition to the added noise and mess associated with the happening, there is money lost in added utilities, and a large amount of needlessly wasted water. Thankfully, this final plumbing fix is a perfect one to mend the problem.


Step 1 - When you see a toilet working overtime and fear it may overrun its bowl, immediately take the top off the back of toilet’s water tank.

Step 2 - Looking into the tank of the toilet, one will notice a fill valve. It may take many shapes -- sometimes the valve is a ball, other times a cone -- but it floats on the water’s surface, making it unable to miss. Grab this valve and pull it upward, diverting the water otherwise dedicated to filling the bowl. This will immediately stop it from running and overflowing.

Replace a Leaking Shower Head

When a showerhead is not spraying correctly, an otherwise lovely bathing experience can be ruined. There are many approaches to fixing the problem, some of which involve cleaning the head repeatedly with distilled vinegar. Yet in some cases, the grime is simply too much to be fought, leaving the appliance beyond repair. If that is the case, there is only one thing that can be done to fix the trouble -- replacing the system entirely.

What you’ll need:

  • Wrench
  • Shower head


Step 1 - As always, turn off the home’s water before beginning all plumbing related work.

Step 2 - With one hand on the head of the shower, take an adjustable wrench and attempt to turn the joint holding the old shower head in place in a counterclockwise motion.

Step 3 - Examine the remaining shower arm for rust or evidence of wear. If such tarnish is present it must be addressed before a new shower head can be installed.

Step 4 - Attach a new shower head by turning the joint, this time in a clockwise direction.

Step 5 - Test your installation by turning the water on, looking for leaks. Should some be present, simply adjust the tightness of the joint, again using your adjustable wrench.