Harder than it looks

(Another episode in the “Better Living by Doing It Yourself” series)

Writing good instructions is hard. I feel qualified to make that assertion because it is what I do every day for a living. So I just wanted to start off this story by saying that I recognize that as an instruction writer, abortion it is hard to anticipate all possible problems your users might encounter when they are attempting to use your product.

However, seek this week I had a set of instructions that failed miserably for me. This was due, in part, (probably) to user error, but this user error occurred because the instructions were neither clear nor complete. (I will give it credit, however, for good warnings like: “If you breathe the fumes from this product, contact poison control and see a medical professional” and “if you come in contact with this product, rinse well for 20 minutes, then contact a medical professional.” Oh, and there was the one about using gloves and a face mask when using this product. See, those are good warnings!)

Anyway, here is what happened…

When we first moved into our house a year ago we had to have Rotor Rooter (or whatever) come over and drill out the sewer lines to rid them of the tree roots that apparently grow into the sewer lines. (Yuck!)

So on Saturday, our landlord showed up with a bottle of stuff that was supposed to have the same result as a visit from Rotor Rooter: clean sewer lines. This is supposedly much cheaper than actually calling out a qualified plumber to take care of the problem. (Note: there are plumbers for a reason. They know how to to their job better than I know how to do their job. Let them!)

I read the instructions. The bottle contained a powder that would turn to foam upon contact with water. We were to empty the contents of the container into the toilet bowl, then flush, then not use water in the house for 4-6 hours. Sounds deceptively simply, ? Pois é.

I decided that I would use the stuff right before I left for work. This would allow our pipes to sit and clean themselves for the 8 hours we were at work, and that would be it. Besides, how long can it take to dump the contents of a canister into the toilet and flush? Not very long, right?

Wrong. See, this is where the technical writer from the chemical company failed me. Here is the information that wasn’t included: the cleansing agent and the foaming agent were separated in the canister by a thin membrane that was actually attached to the canister. So when you dump the contents of the canister into the toilet, all you’ve dumped is the cleansing agent, not the foaming agent. You hit the canister against the toilet a few times, and the toxic chemicals are now forming a small dust cloud over the toilet while you try to get the foaming stuff out of the bottle and into the toilet. Then, when this foaming stuff hits the water, it certainly foams. And fast. Then a large chunk of it fell into the water causing water and foam to splash all over my arms and legs.

And since the foam increases so quickly, what you REALLY wanted to do was this: just before you add the foaming agent to the water, flush the toilet, so the water is on the way DOWN when the foam hits. See, I waited until all the foaming stuff was in the water, then I flushed. Well, my toilet is one of the old-style-5-gallons-a-flush kind of toilets, so the bowl fills up with water and swirls around for a few seconds before beginning to empty the bowl. This is Not Good. (You can see it coming, can’t you?)

Oh. I feel I should mention that our toilet has a habit of randomly plugging up, sometimes even on clean flushes. It chose to this time. And it backed up and out of the toilet and all over the bathroom floor. (I’m glad its not carpet.)

So I grab about six towels and try to keep the moving mass of foamy water from invading the living room, while I try to reach down to turn off the running water at the back of the toilet. (Where does this put my face? Yep. Right down by the foaming mouth of death.) Finally I got the water turned off, and most of the foamy water cleaned up, and I got the toilet to flush what was left of the foam in the toilet bowl.

But what was I supposed to do with the towels? I couldn’t wash them (or me) because I wasn’t supposed to use any water in the house for the next 4-6 hours. Well, I started the towels in the washer, but left the lid up. I figured they could soak until we got home from work. Then using as little water as possible, I washed my arms and face and put on a different set of clothes for work, and then I left for work, having completely forgotten to comb my hair.

In the end, after being exposed to the chemicals both in fume form and on the skin, did I seek attention from a medical professional? No way. They don’t really mean that. Who actually follows these instructions anyway?

Oh, and sorry there are no pictures this time. I was way too grumpy to take pictures… 🙂

This has been another edition of _Better Living by Doing It Yourself_. Stay tuned for more, because some of us never learn…

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3 responses to “Harder than it looks”

  1. Ha! Normally I wouldn’t go to the trouble of registering for a blog just to leave a comment, but I thought this story was great. I went through something similar recently with roots in our pipes (I live in a 1920s built house in Minneapolis) and we went with the Roto Rooter pros. After reading about your fiasco, I don’t feel so bad about spending that $150

    Thanks for the laugh

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