How do I unclog a drain without using regular drain cleaner?

You don’t need scary chemicals to get the water flowing again. Here’s how.

By Chanie KirschnerFri, Apr 22 2011 at 9:19 AM EST

Q: I was coloring my hair near the sink and, much to my dismay, the drain started to clog, and I couldn’t wash the muddy brown water down the drain. I was all out of drain cleaner, and I ended up having to wash my hair out in the shower. Are there any ways to unclog a drain, without having to buy that toxic drain cleaner in the first place?

A: It’s a good thing you don’t have traditional drain cleaner in your house — the stuff is virtually poisonous and is one of the most toxic cleaners you can have in your home. That’s because the key ingredient in drain cleaners is sodium hydroxide, a harmful chemical that corrodes all in its path (whether it be that clog in your drain, or the skin on your hand — ouch!). The chemical is so harmful that it could even lead to death if ingested. So I say better to stay away and find another way to unclog that drain.
A tried and true drain clog-busting technique is to use baking soda, with a little vinegar and hot water chaser. Vinegar and baking soda in general make great, inexpensive cleaning products that can be used almost anywhere around your home. For your drain, simply pour about 1/4 cup of baking soda down the drain, followed by 1 cup of vinegar. Let it sit for 30 minutes or so and then pour boiling hot water (preferably from a tea kettle — less chance of burning yourself) down the drain. Use this method only if you have metal pipes, not plastic pipes, as water that’s too hot can melt your pipes if they’re plastic. You might need to try this a couple times if your drain is stubbornly clogged.

Another nifty invention for the shower drain is The Hair Stopper (or other products like it) which prevent hair and other “unsightlys” from clogging your drain in the first place. Referred to me by a friend as the single best answer to her clogging woes, the Zip-It does a great job of clearing drains fast and has the added benefit of not costing any more than a Starbucks frappucino.

Of course, you could always try using a plunger. Not only for toilets, plungers do a great job of releasing clogged drains. Contrary to popular belief, they work their magic by pulling the offending item(s) out of your drain, not by pushing them farther in. Just make sure you have a tight seal around the drain opening with the plunger so you can get the suction you need.
All of these tips are great for any homeowner or renter to know. After all, you don’t need to be a plumber to tackle your drain and at some point in life, you will be called upon to keep that water flowing in the right direction. Unless you have a really friendly neighbor who doesn’t mind you using their loo twice a day (or the garden hose in your backyard won’t quite cut it), odds are you might have to use your sink or shower again. And now you know what to do.
— Chanie
Got a question? Submit a question to us and we will try to answer.
Photo: susanvg/Flickr
MNN homepage photo: Nelson Minar/Flickr

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