What You'll Need

You'll want to have these tools on hand to thaw frozen pipes:

  • Heavy towel or burlap bag and hot or boiling water
  • Propane torch
  • Heat lamp, hair dryer, or electric iron

Thawing Frozen Pipes

You may think your entire plumbing system is in perfect working order and there is little or no chance of a pipe bursting and flooding your house. There is one situation, however, you may not have considered. Water that freezes during the winter in an unprotected pipe expands, and that expansion can rupture an otherwise sound pipe.

A frozen pipe is always an inconvenience, but it can actually result in a much more serious situation than just a temporary loss of water. By taking the proper preventive steps, you may never need to worry about thawing frozen pipes, or worse, repairing a pipe that bursts when the water in it freezes solid.

Here's what to do if you wake up some frigid winter morning to find a water pipe frozen solid:Step 1: Open faucet so steam produced by your thawing activities will be able to escape.

Step 2: Start thawing pipe (see pipe-thawing options below) at faucet, and work back toward other end of frozen section. As you melt ice, water and steam will come out open faucet. If you started in the middle, steam produced by melting ice could get trapped and build up enough pressure to burst the pipe.

Pipe-thawing options: There are several things you can do to thaw your home's pipes. Here's a list:

  • Probably the most popular and safest pipe-thawing option is to use hot water. Wrap and secure heavy towel or burlap bag around pipe to concentrate and hold heat against it. Place bucket under pipe to catch runoff water, then pour hot or boiling water over towel.
  • A less messy but far more dangerous heat source for thawing frozen pipes is a propane torch equipped with a flame-spreader nozzle. With this heat source, you must be extremely careful to prevent torch flame from damaging or igniting wall behind pipe. A scrap of fireproof material between pipe and wall is a good precautionary measure, but the way you use the torch is the main element in safe pipe thawing. Keep flame moving back and forth. Never leave it in one spot very long. Be especially careful if you're near any soldered pipe joints. Pass over them very quickly or else they may melt and cause leaks, and you'll find that you have a much more serious plumbing problem on your hands than a frozen pipe. Caution: Never use torch or other direct high heat on plastic pipe.
  • If you want to avoid the messiness of thawing with hot water and the danger of melting soldered joints with propane torch, try heat lamp or hair dryer as heat source. These work less quickly but are much safer.

To thaw a frozen drainpipe, remove trap, and insert length of garden hose into pipe. When you can't push hose any farther, it has probably reached the ice. Raise your end of the hose and feed hot water in through a funnel. This way, the hot water is sure to get to the problem area. You must be careful when using this technique.

Until the ice melts and drains down the pipe, the hot water you pour in will back up toward you. Have a bucket ready to catch the overflow, and be careful not to scald yourself.

Perhaps the most common problem with pipes is noise. In the next section, we'll tell you how to deal with noisy pipes so that you can get some peace and quiet.