Why do plumbers say pour rock salt down your toilet?

Rock salt, which comes in the form of pebble-sized chunks of salt crystals, has been popularly used in the past to melt the ice from roads in the winter. Pouring rock salt into a toilet is a home remedy that is rumoured to help clear problems within a toilet's drain pipes that lead to toilet clogs. Some plumbers advise to use this remedy, while other plumbers consider it ineffective.

To Kill Tree Roots

Like unwanted weeds, sometimes while spreading in their quest for moisture, tree roots will get inside the main drain pipe lines of a home. Rock salt has been used at times as an eco-friendly weed or tree root killer. The rock salt kills tree roots by choking them and drying them out. Although rock salt will not be enough to rid roots that have been left unchecked long enough to completely block the pipe, it is effective in impeding future root growth.

Using the Rock Salt

The home remedy of using rock salt to ward off tree roots inside a main drain involves dissolving approximately 1 cup of rock salt in a bucket of hot water. Pour this saltwater into the toilet bowl. You can do this at least two times each year or, if there are ongoing problems with tree roots in the pipe, you can pour rock salt down the toilet once every month.

Pipes and Tree Roots

Tree roots enter into a pipe through several openings, including small holes and cracks, or pipe joints that are not securely sealed. Once inside the pipe, the roots continue to grow and expand, exerting pressure within the pipe against the joints and cracks. This pressure often eventually breaks the pipe, necessitating repair and possibly total replacement of the pipe. Clay pipes are the most susceptible to an intrusion of tree roots. PVC pipe, which has fewer joints, is less susceptible, along with concrete pipe.

Tree Roots Blocking Toilets

When tree roots initially invade a drain pipe, you will notice the effects when you flush the toilet. The toilet will drain sluggishly, compared with its normal way of flushing. The only way to eliminate the possibility of other foreign objects being the cause of blocking the toilet is to use a plunger on the toilet, followed by a toilet auger. To make certain that nothing is inside the toilet trap, remove the toilet from the floor and search inside the toilet trap from underneath. If the blockage is indeed caused by tree roots that are not removed, eventually the toilet will be completely blocked. It will back up and overflow when flushed.

Alternative to Rock Salt Use

Instead of pouring rock salt mixed with hot water into the toilet bowl, a more effective method may be to dig into the ground where the tree roots have entered the drain line. Remove the section of pipe that is blocked by tree roots and install a replacement section. Pour rock salt directly around the new section of pipe to impede the growth of new roots, which are likely.

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About the Author

Christopher John has been a freelance journalist since 2003. He has written for regional newspapers such as "The Metro Forum" and the "West Tennessee Examiner." John has a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from Memphis State University.