It hitches a ride from the beach, the park, the neighbor’s sandbox—proof of a day of fun in the sun. But if you’re not careful, those tiny little specks of sand can do a number on your plumbing.
After a day at the beach, your first impulse is to hit the shower (goodbye, sunscreen and sandy feet!). Stop right there. “Anytime sand enters a drain, the main concern is that it will cause a clog,” says Frank Horvath, a licensed plumber and owner of Benjamin Franklin Plumbing in Toms River, a beach town on the Jersey Shore. “Sand itself won’t damage the pipes or cause problems, but the stoppages it creates will.”
Whether or not you’ll have drain clogs depends on how old the pipes are. In newer homes, pipes are made of plastic PVC and ABS, which have smooth interiors. “If the pipes are pitched properly, they’ll be a lot more forgiving if you bring in sand,” Horvath says. (That doesn’t mean you should send a sandbar down the drain—PVC and ABS pipes can clog if enough sand enters the system.) By contrast, older homes have pipes made of cast-iron or galvanized steel, whose interiors become rough over time. That makes it a cinch for sand to collect in corroded spots, narrowing the pipes’ opening and causing a clog or even more damage. “Galvanized pipes in particular often have existing issues,” Horvath points out. “They attract soap scum and hair that form a layer. And when sand attaches to it, it becomes impacted, sealing the pipe off and causing the drain to back up.”
The only way to get a clogged shower drain up and running again is to force the sand out of the pipes. You can try to clear as much of the debris as possible by using an electric snake, or drain-cleaning machine, which has a cable you feed through the pipes. But to clean the line completely, you may have to hire a plumber to use jetting, a method that uses high-pressure streams of water to remove buildup and restore pipes to their easy-flowing selves.
The best way to prevent sand from clogging pipes is to keep it as far away as possible, so don’t even think about opening the front door. Tips: Use a whiskbroom to flick off those clingy particles, paying close attention to your legs and feet. Or generously sprinkle baby powder on sandy areas of your body when you leave the beach. Rubbing in the powder will remove moisture and stop the sand from sticking. When you get home, rinse off any excess sand with a garden hose before going inside. When you finally take a shower, the only thing going down the drain should be water!