Professional plumbers come across many odd situations. We once got a call from a woman who tried to flush an entire turkey carcass down her toilet. Why? Because she didn’t have a garbage disposal! So to say we’ve seen it all is an understatement. But thanks to today’s hottest toy fad, more of our colleagues are being called to undo the damage wrought by Orbeez® balls.
If you don’t have young children or grandchildren, you may not be familiar with these colorful, yet insidious objects. And if you do, this is what you need to know should a jar full of Orbeez wind up where they don’t belong. However, as you’ll soon learn, it isn’t only kids who can cause major trouble with them.
So, what are Orbeez balls?
Orbeez is the brand name of brightly colored polymer gel beads that can absorb a tremendous amount of water, quickly expanding to more than 100 times their original size. Fiendishly designed to be irresistible to kids, they’re sold in a variety of containers and sets. While they have a practical use – originally invented for agricultural purposes, to help soil retain moisture – youngsters and pranksters have taken them over.
The Orbeez worst-case scenario
By now, you’ve figured out the potential for disaster that thousands of these tiny gel-filled orbs represent once they make contact with the water in toilets, sinks and tubs. Not to mention swimming pools, outdoor water features, etc. A basic jar contains 50,000 beads.
The most extreme case involved a young man in France who decided to “experiment” with Orbeez and record the results for social media. He filled his bathtub with water and poured in several jars of Orbeez. After the entertainment value of a tub filled to the brim with colorful gel beads wore off, he pulled the drain plug, assuming they would simply go down the drain and out of his life.
He was wrong. They backed up into his toilet and sink, as well, overflowing both. At some point, he poured table salt into his bathroom sink in an attempt to dissolve them. It worked just well enough to allow sewerage to spew up. The Orbeez then made their way into the neighborhood sewer lines before bursting out in an unsanitary mess. One person’s idea of a clever stunt damaged the plumbing of his neighbors and caused a hazardous situation requiring an expensive clean-up and extensive repairs.
But aren’t water beads biodegradable?
According to the company, Orbeez are 100-percent biodegradable and non-toxic. However, as we’ve often noted in our blog, most brands of baby wipes claim to be flushable, but they really aren’t, and should never be flushed, no matter what the circumstance. Read our blog post –“It’s 4 O’ Clog! Here Are The Top 4 Causes of Clogged Toilets” – to see what baby wipes can do to a sewer pipe.
What we’re getting at here is just because Orbeez are biodegradable doesn’t mean they break down quickly. If they did, they wouldn’t be reusable. Like baby wipes, Orbeez will do a great job of clogging pipes, and need to be kept out of them.
DIY methods to try if Orbeez clog your pipes
Should members of your household who lack the ability to reason (which covers a wide age range) get Orbeez into a situation that clogs your pipes, our colleagues across the pond at Plumbcare offer the following DIY procedures to dislodge them.
If the Orbeez are clogging a sink, take apart the pipes underneath. These will often be push fittings, so they’ll come apart easily. Place a bowl or bucket underneath to catch water that will come out and pull the S bend apart, manually removing all the beads that are trapped there.
If the beads have worked their way further round the pipes, you may need to put something down the pipes that will dissolve the beads or dry up the water they’ve absorbed. Salt will help to draw the liquid out, and substances like bleach or a combination of vinegar and bicarbonate of soda will cause a chemical reaction to dissolve them (this is generally a good sink cleaner that you can use any time). You may need some patience and keep reapplying these, as it dissolves a layer at a time.
If these methods fail to unclog the pipe, it’s time to call a pro! Delaying a professional repair will not end well. However, while some plumbmergencies can’t be avoided, this is among those that can. Today, it is especially important to be proactive in preventing plumbing emergencies.
The trouble with Orbeez
In these challenging times, children are now at home instead of school for the better part of the day, and are more likely to get bored and into mischief – especially since they can’t enjoy their usual social activities. If you have Orbeez in your house, be sure to supervise your kids’ playtime with them.
First, you don’t want the expense of an emergency call to the plumber should the DIY fixes fail. Second, while we are still here for you as an essential service and follow required safety measures, avoiding contact with others as much as possible is highly advisable. We all need to take extra care and consider the possible consequences of our actions. Our Adams and Son Plumbing family wants your family to stay safe.
We truly are a family-owned business, with over 50 years in plumbing service. A state-certified plumbing contractor, we have over three generations of master plumbing experience. Contact us for prompt, courteous service. We’re in this together!