In the two decades since founding Debt-Proof Living (formerly Cheapskate Monthly), I’ve logged more than 1.5 million air miles for book tours, speaking events and television and radio shows. It’s been and continues to be great fun and I have mostly loved every moment.

As you might imagine, many funny things have happened to me on my travels. But none can top what happened in San Francisco.

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The year was 1998. I was in San Francisco to appear on a local television show. The producer had asked me to bring props that would create some visual interest as I would be demonstrating some of the great tips I’d been publishing in my monthly newsletter.

I arrived the evening before and checked into one of San Francisco’s finest historic downtown hotels before taking a cab to a local grocery store to pick up the props I would need for the show. I wanted the biggest sizes I could find of things like baking soda and white vinegar. I figured that would be easier than trying to carry all of that on the plane.

Knowing I would need only visual representations, I decided to empty all of the containers in order to lighten my load and make the trip to the studio the following day a bit more manageable. After all, I only needed the containers, not the contents.

Despite the fact that I would be wasting a lot of perfectly good stuff, in the interest of convenience and ease, I dumped the large box of baking soda into the toilet and flushed. A few minutes later, I poured a gallon of white vinegar down the toilet and flushed again.

I emptied the salt into a plastic bag, tied it up and placed it in the waste basket. I poured the quart of rubbing alcohol down the sink. Done. Simple easy and quite smart, I told myself. I commenced to pack the props for the next day and left the room to get some dinner.

Several hours later, as I was mostly watching TV, the most unusual thing happened. It was like Yellowstone’s Old Faithful  visited my room!

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I heard this terrifying, loud sound of rushing water and ran to the bathroom just in time to see an eruption of water shoot right out the of the commode straight into the air—stopping just shy of the ceiling. Scared me to death. All I could do was stare.

Once it calmed down and gurgled to a stop, this horrible odor began to fill the room as all of the sewer gases from under the city of San Francisco poured into my room. I ran out into the hallway only to be greeted by all of the other hotel guests on that floor. Apparently that odor was filling their rooms as well.

By now it was getting late. What a sight to see dozens of people in the hall in every kind of robe and nightwear  imaginable—gasping for air while covering their faces with anything available.

The hotel engineer was summoned to assess the problem and all he could do was laugh as he concluded that finally, whatever it was that had been clogging the hotel drains, let loose.

Thankfully, there was no lingering damage. In fact, I like to think I did them a huge (cannot tell you how huge) favor.

Oh, what a night it was when I single-handedly did what so many professionals before me had not been able to accomplish—all with just baking soda and white vinegar. Never underestimate the power of a really great household tip:

KEEP THE DRAINS CLEAR: To clear a sluggish drain and keep it running well, pour 1 cup baking soda into the drain (push it down into the drain as best you can) followed by 1 cup white vinegar. It will bubble, fizz and gurgle but is not harmful. Allow to sit for a couple of hours, or overnight which is better. In the morning flush with a large kettle or pot of boiling water which you pour directly into the drain. Caution: Pouring boiling water into a porcelain sink that has not been used for several hours could cause it to crack. Just be careful to pour the water into the drain!

If dealing with very old pipes and plumbing, cut the quantities of baking soda and vinegar in half just to be on the safe side.

Photo Credit San Francisco: Aaron Wood
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