How To Thaw Frozen Pipes

This article is by Jacob Hurwith and published by ImproveNet


If the past few weeks are any indication, winter is not going away and subfreezing temperatures are not leaving anytime soon. Nonetheless, your body is not the only one feeling the brunt of another winter. Your home, including your pipes, has to live through these cold months.

While homeowners could take every possible precaution to avoid frozen pipes, when the winter chill comes knocking, certain pipes freeze. Frozen pipes don’t only take away your shower, but can ruin your dinner or run up your utility bills.

Rather than call a plumber, thaw your frozen pipes yourself. See below as I discuss four ways to thaw your frozen pipes as well as a few precautions to avoid frozen pipes for winters to come.


Why Frozen Pipes are Dangerous

When water freezes, it expands. When water freezes in a pipe, it tries to expand inside the pipe. It pushes against the sides of the pipe, as well as any nearby valves, seams and faucets. Not only will this shut down your water supply, but it could also rupture your pipes, which, according to our plumbing cost estimators, could cost up to $1,500 to fix.

How to Tell if You Have Frozen Pipes

You don’t need a professional for this one, but there are two few telltale signs of frozen pipes. The first and most obvious sign is a lack of water. If you turned the faucet on and only a trickle of water is coming out (or none), then you most likely have frozen pipes. Secondly, for visible pipes, like under the sinks, frost may start to accumulate. As you can imagine, it’s never a good sign to see frost inside the home.

How to Thaw Frozen Pipes

Now that we have established frozen pipes, it’s time to unfreeze them. There are numerous tactics available, but the ones below have been proven to work time and time again. As always, if you do not feel comfortable attempting any of these tasks or can not find the frozen area, contact a local plumber near you.

Note: Before you try any method, open the faucet of the frozen pipe to allow water to flow through the pipe and relieve any built-up pressure in the pipe.


1. Wrap Pipes with Layers of Clothes & Towels

The easiest way to thaw frozen pipes is by wrapping them with clothes and towels and pouring hot water over them. You can repeat the process for as long as it takes, but just know, this is not the quickest or the cleanest way to thaw frozen pipes.

2. Electric Heat Tape

Wrap electric heat tape around the affected pipe. The tape will slowly thaw the pipe, which minimizes wear and tear on the pipe. Do not wrap heat tape over itself. Your pipes could overheat and start a fire.

3. Heat Lamp

Just like hunters out in the forest, pipes enjoy heat lamps, especially when they are frozen. If you have frozen pipes, place a heat lamp at least a foot away from the pipe. Cover any other areas around the lamp with aluminum foil. Make sure the heat lamp is not sitting on wet material.

Note: As obvious as it may be, do not use a heat lamp near a gas pipe. If your frozen pipes are near gas pipes, call a professional.

4. Hair Dryer

Hair dryers can be used for more than hair. They are great tools to defrost frozen pipes. Take your everyday hair dryer and slowly move up and down the frozen section of your pipes. Just like the other tactics, you can stop once water starts to trickle out of the faucet.

Final Note: Never use a direct fire on a frozen pipe. Many pipes and their surroundings use plastic that can easily melt near fire.

Once your pipes are thawed, let the water run for a few minutes. Make sure water is running smoothly through all pipes. 

How to Prevent Frozen Pipes

There are many ways to avoid frozen pipes, but few are more effective than others:

  • Let cold water drip from the faucet
  • Keep cabinet doors open
  • Seal cracks and holes around the home
  • Keep pipes out of subfreezing temperatures
  • Keep the thermostat set to the same temperature during the day and night

For more tips, please see How To Avoid Frozen Pipes.

What to do if Pipes Burst

First, locate your main water supply, which tends to be somewhere in the basement. Immediately turn it off to prevent any more water damage in the home. Then, turn off your electrical supply so your computers, lights, TVs, etc. do not experience any additional damage. After these two imperative steps, it’s time to contact a plumber in your area.


Even if you take all the precaution in the world, your pipes can still freeze. Knowing how to safely thaw your own pipes will not only save you hundreds, but get you back to your normal routine as quick as possible.

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