Blocked Britain

6.7 million blocked drains in the past year

Over 6.7 million British homes suffered from blocked drains in the past year alone, according to new findings from the AA's Home Emergency Response service as part of its research series "AA State of the Nation's Homes".*

Of those blockages, one in five (21%) required a plumber to unblock it, costing British homeowners a total of £87 million.

Research key findings

  • Brits spend £87 million on plumbers fixing blockages
  • False teeth, car parts and a traffic cone amongst most unusual objects
  • Hair, cooking fat and leftover food among the chief causes of drain obstructions

Most people know the sort of things they shouldn't put down their sinks and yet millions continue to do so time after time.

Tom Stringer, head of AA Home Emergency Response

Unsuitable objects

The research suggests that many of these blockages are being caused by British families allowing unsuitable objects down their drains, with 22 million people admitting to doing so. 29% of Britons let hair go down their sink without attempting to stop it, while almost a quarter of us (23%) pour cooking fat or oil down the plughole.

One in 10 (9%) homes habitually send cotton wool, baby wipes and sanitary products down the drain, while 7% try to dispose of leftover food by letting it drain down their sink. Almost 3 million adults (6%) admit to pouring paint down the plughole, and 3% put their vegetable peelings down the sink.

Unusual finds

But it's not just run-of-the-mill items that will clog up drains – AA plumbers have retrieved a block of cocaine, a gun, a vibrator and tea cups from customers' drains. Other unusual finds include live bullets, a traffic cone, car engine parts, plastic bones, and even a pair of false teeth which jumped from the pipe when the drain was jetted.

Costly for victims

The research shows that blocked drains can be costly for victims, with one in five people having used a plumber to unblock their drain, paying on average £60.46 for the service. However, half (51%) donned the rubber gloves to unblock it themselves, and a further 21% asked someone other than a plumber to unblock it.

Tom Stringer, head of AA Home Emergency Response, said: "While most of the drain blockages we clear are caused by everyday items such as cooking fat and leftover food, we're constantly amazed by the things our plumbers find. So far we've had a diamond-studded solid gold lighter, false teeth, and even tools left by the person who originally installed the pipe. It makes you wonder how they get down there.

"Most people know the sort of things they shouldn't put down their sinks and yet millions continue to do so time after time. Blocked drains are easily avoidable, yet they are very common occurrences and can be expensive if you are unable to fix the problem yourself and need to call a plumber.

"We encourage people to stop thinking of their drains as a waste disposal option, and try to keep as many solid objects as possible from going down the plughole. If your drain does get blocked, having home emergency cover will let homeowners hand the messy business over to an expert to sort out."

Wales has the highest percentage of people that have suffered blocked drains in the past 12 months, with over one in five (22%) having done so, followed by 20% in the East Midlands. By contrast, just 9% of those in Scotland have blocked their drains in the past year.


Percentage of blocked drains in past year

Number of blocked drains blocked in past year




East Midlands






Yorkshire and Humberside



South East



North East



North West






West Midlands



South West






Simple measures to take

The AA believes that the majority of drain blockages could be avoided and that there are simple measures homeowners can take to avoid having to unblock sinks or drains themselves.

  • Don't pour cooking fat down kitchen sink, as it congeals when it cools down and creates a solid blockage. Either let it set and then dispose of it in the food waste bin or use a proprietary degreaser to flush with it
  • When washing dishes either by hand or in the dishwasher, scrape all food remnants off beforehand
  • Use food waste bins provided by local councils to dispose of food, or alternatively create a compost heap for vegetable peelings
  • Put cotton wool, baby wipes or sanitary products in the bin – these will not degrade like toilet paper and could cause a blockage in the drain
  • Use sink strainers to stop hair, food debris and other solid objects going down the plughole

28 August 2012

* ICM surveyed 2,053 British adults between 1 and 2 August 2012.