How to Tackle Dorm Room Plumbing Nightmares

Sharing a small space with multiple college students can be hard. Personality snafus crop up, stress puts people on edge, and even the happiest of dorm rooms deals with a plumbing issue or two.

Whether it’s your first time away from home or you’re a seasoned academic resident, learning how to solve some common plumbing problems can help you keep things amicable around your college living space.

The Landlord

The most important thing to note when dealing with dorm room plumbing problems is that you are a renter, and you likely signed a contract with your landlord. Keep a copy of the contract on hand—chances are there are things you should call the landlord about and others you're allowed (or even required) to handle yourself.

Your contract likely has a maintenance section that outlines your upkeep responsibility. College students are commonly asked to call the landlord about broken toilets or leaky pipes, but charged with plunging and clearing clogged drains on their own.

The Flush

Toilets get clogged—it’s a fact of life. If you don’t know what's clogging your toilet, start with the trusty plunger. Use firm, hard motions to force water down the pipes and dislodge the clog. If plunging doesn't work, you may need to snake the toilet.

plunging a toilet

This requires getting up close and personal with the toilet, so keep rubber gloves and a whole lot of soap handy. A drain snake can be picked up from any local hardware store. These snakes are long, flexible, and jagged, so they can bend around the neck of the toilet and dislodge the clog.

If plunging and snaking don't work, it may be time to call your landlord. While there are other things you could try, it may be better not to risk breaking (and having to pay for) the toilet.

The Clog

Shower and sink drains are hair magnets, and if you share bathrooms with lots of other students, it’s pretty much guaranteed that a drain or two will end up clogged by midterms. There are a few simple ways to handle this.

If you have a drain snake, it might help you quickly pull out the clog. This doesn't work well for all drains, but is a good place to start.

If that doesn’t work, or you don't have access to a snake, head to the kitchen, grab baking soda and vineagar, and give this simple DIY a try:

Pour ¼ - ½ cup of baking soda down the drain and let it sit for 30 seconds. Then pour a cup of vinegar down the drain. Follow this up by pouring boiling water down the drain.

If it doesn't work the first time, adjust the recipe to include equal parts baking soda and salt, followed by the same amount of vinegar and boiling water. This simple, chemical-free hack can be used to unclog kitchen sinks, bathroom sinks, and shower drains.

After you remove the clog, add a drain cover to the shower to prevent another clog.

a snaked drain with hair clog

Sinking Suspicion

If your sink plumbing has sprung a leak, check underneath the sink to see if there are any loose valves that can easily be tightened without bothering a landlord. If the leak can't be fixed by tightening a valve, the best thing you can do is prevent further damage. Place a bucket under the leak, and, if possible, turn off the water.

Many dorm rooms don't have the capability to turn off their water, so call your RA or landlord immediately if you resort to the bucket solution. While waiting for help to arrive, keep the water from sitting stagnant on hardwood or carpet floors—this could cause damage you may be responsible for paying to repair.

When it comes to tackling dorm room plumbing problems, the most important thing to remember is that there is a time and a place for you to be a handyman, and a time and a place for you to make a call.

Before you consider fixing something beyond these simple steps, make sure that you've weighed your options and picked a safe method that won't damage your dorm. If you're not careful, you may end up spending your grocery money on a new toilet.