Tips for Retrieving Items Dropped in a Sink Drain
By Robert Robillard
My brother is a plumber and has shared stories of some bizarre items he’s had to retrieve from plumbing drains. From cell phones to a TV remote, toy army men to eyeglasses—you name it, and he’s retrieved it from a toilet or sink.
In the kitchen, how many times have folks taken off their rings to wash dishes only to accidently knock one of them down the drain? Sound familiar? Just ask my wife.
Whether you’re trying to retrieve a small metallic item or just trying to save yourself from finally buying “that bigger diamond ring,” the steps are pretty much the same.
This article will guide you through the steps necessary to easily retrieve such items as rings, coins and more from a sink drain.
A word to the wise: Plumbing, especially in older homes, can be fragile. Improperly installed or corroded plumbing connections can break, causing thousands of dollars in water damage. Just imagine buying a new, “bigger” diamond ring in addition to a new ceiling or hardwood floor.
If you feel that your pipes may fall into this category then call a plumber for an evaluation.
It’s always a good idea to shut off the water at the faucet prior to working on the trap beneath the sink. I learned this the hard way one day when one of my children stepped over me and let the water run prior to getting a glass of water.
Most likely your item is still in your house plumbing and hope-fully it’s resting at the bottom of the sink’s P-trap. The P-trap is the U-shaped pipe under the sink that holds water to stop sewer gases from coming back up through the drainage pipes. The P-trap can be found in common household fixtures such as sinks, bathtubs, showers, laundry sinks and much more. Fixtures such as bidets and toilets have a trap built into them.
The size of the pipe depends on the size of the fixture. The larger the plumbing fixture, the larger the drain pipe. Kitchen and bath sinks typically drain into 1-1/4- or 1-1/2-in. waste pipe. Two-inch pipes are common for laundry drains, and 3-in. pipes are used for most residential toilets.
Retrieving Lost Items
If the dropped item was caught and is still inside the sink’s P-trap, there are three possible scenarios. The best case scenario is when you can see the item and are able to use a retrieval tool to grab it out.
Retrieval Tools—Magnetic or Prong. A magnetic retrieval tool is a telescoping tool with a strong magnet on the end. This tool is useful for retrieving items that are magnetic. (Note: Gold and silver are not magnetic.)
A prong retrieval tool can be purchased at most home-improvement centers and plumbing supply stores. It’s approximately a 3-ft. long flexible rod with a spring-loaded lever that opens and closes four prongs. The prongs are opened with a thumb push button. This retrieval tool is very effective at grabbing items that are just out of reach.
Bathroom sinks usually contain a drain stopper mechanism, which will need to be removed if you will be using the prong retrieval tool. Removing the stopper involves going under the sink and removing the pivot nut that holds the horizontal pivot arm onto the pop-up drain stopper assembly. Typically this nut can be unscrewed by hand.
With the drain plug in the up position, place an object such as a screwdriver under it so that it won’t close.
Locate the clip that the plunger rod slips through to hold the horizontal pivot arm. The pivot arm enters the drain pipe under the sink and will be found just before the P-trap.
Remove the clip by squeezing the clip together with hand pressure. Pay attention to how the whole unit is assembled so that you can re-install it the same way.
Next, loosen the pivot nut by hand. Remove the horizontal pivot arm and nut. This frees the drain plug, which can now be removed.
Attempt to locate your lost item with a retrieval tool. Then, clean the drain plug and re-install. The hole in the bottom of the drain plug needs to receive the horizontal pivot arm on reassembly.
Tip: Be careful not to lose any parts, such as washers or seats, when removing the drain stopper mechanism. Also do not over-tighten the nut when re-installing.
Removing the P-TrapIf an item is stuck then it may be necessary to remove the P-Trap. In most cases, the P-trap is easily accessible. If it’s not, you might need to call a plumber.
Note: Many P-traps have a drain plug at the bottom of the P-trap for clean out. If your sink has this, you may still need to remove the P-trap to retrieve your item. This drain plug is intended to aid in cleaning the P-trap but is probably too small for your dropped item to fit through.
Turn off the water under the sink. Many times people working on drains have to leave the site for one reason or another. Turning off the water prevents someone else arriving on the scene, turning on the faucet and causing a flood.
The first thing you’ll want to do is to remove any objects or belongings from the area where you will be working. Place a small bucket or tray under the P-trap to catch the water in the pipes. Failing to do this will result in water spilling onto your cabinet base or floor, depending on where you are working.
Remove the drain plug at the bottom of the P-trap. This will drain the pipe, and if you’re lucky your object may fall out. If it does, then replace the nut, turn on the water and test for leaks.
Otherwise, locate the two “slip nuts” on each side of the P-trap bend. Using Channellock pliers or an adjustable wrench, turn the slip nuts counter-clockwise to remove them. Remember that sometimes these nuts are screwed from the bottom up, so make sure you are turning them the correct way. Water may leak out as you loosen these nuts. Loosen the nuts one at a time, leaving the first nut on by a thread or two so that when you’re loosening the second nut, the trap does not fall on you. Be careful not to strip the slip nut threads.
Tip: To protect chrome, copper or brass decorative drain pipes from wrench marks, wrap the slip nut with a rag and place your pliers over the rag.
Once you have removed the two slip nuts, dump the pipe contents into your pan. Hopefully the item that was dropped in it will fall out. Otherwise, try retrieving it with needle-nose pliers.
Clean the P-trap with hot water and soap before replacing.
Replace the trap, align the pipes and tighten both slip nuts by hand before using the wrench. Make sure the nuts screw on easily and do not strip the threads.
Turn the faucet on and run the water, checking for leaks. If you see any leaks, tighten the slip nuts, wipe the area and check for leaks again.
Note: On drains with only one slip nut you may have to cut the pipe. This is the time to call a plumber unless you are skilled in working with plumbing.
If you’ve dropped an item down a sink with a garbage disposal, exercise extreme caution. Make sure to unplug or shut off the power to the disposal.
If the item is visible, unplug the disposal and then use a wooden spoon, tongs or a retrieval tool to remove the item from the garbage disposal.
If the item you’ve dropped is magnetic, use a magnetic retrieval tool or try dangling a magnet tied to a string down the drain to retrieve the item. While most jewelry is not magnetic, sometimes a steel clasp will provide the necessary magnetism to make this work.
If the item was caught in the grinder, it has probably damaged the disposal. Contact a plumber to evaluate.
Editor’s Note: Robert Robillard is a remodeling contractor based in Concord, Ma. Visit his website at www.AConcordCarpenter.com
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