Having a clogged sink begs the old chestnut about an ounce of prevention being worth a pound of cure. There are a lot of things that should never go down a drain, especially if you have a septic system. To avoid clogs to begin with, you have to avoid allowing food particles, grease, and hair from going down the drain. It's helpful to have a small piece of wire mesh over your drains to catch food or hair particles. Just be sure to clean the mesh regularly or it will start to smell.
Now, for a dose of reality, no one is perfect. We have a lazy moment, or the kids are washing the dishes and aren't paying attention, or we get too busy to notice all that hair in the tub. Sooner or later, you'll end of with a clogged drain.
I have two drains that tend to clog more often in my house, the tub and the laundry sink. The tub drain gets clogged with hair and body care products. My washing machine drains via a plastic pipe into a laundry sink so fibers and lint build up in the drain.
The problem with commercial drain cleaners is they corrode pipes, are bad for septic systems, are toxic to ground water, and they can damage the materials that your sink or tub are made of. I recently had to change the drain and fixtures on my bathroom sink due to corrosion from commercial cleaners. After that experience, I decided to try non-toxic and far less corrosive methods for clearing pipes.
Before you try a DIY drain cleaner
It's best to remember to use your DIY drain cleaners routinely – before the clogs happen. When you are trying a DIY drain cleaner, it will likely take longer than a commercial drain cleaner. You also may need to repeat your efforts more than once. Many DIY drain cleaners will take up to an hour to work.
Just like in the Heimlich maneuver, look first to see if you can actually see the clog. It's not a fun task, but put on your rubber gloves and dig the hair and goop out first. You may also want to try plunging the drain and running hot water alternately a couple of times. If the clog is minor, that may be all you need to do.
Baking soda, the top DIY drain cleaner
The most commonly used DIY drain cleaner is using one cup of baking soda and one cup of cider vinegar. The intense foaming action, followed by running plenty of hot water, is good routine maintenance. I have to admit I was surprised the first time I saw the drain pop open after trying this. The tub drain was still pretty slow, so I repeated the method.
Baking soda with lemon juice
Lemon juice (one cup) is a little more costly than cider vinegar, but it smells a lot better and works just as well as vinegar. You may want to use this mixture in your kitchen sink simply for the better smell. Again run plenty of hot water after the baking soda and lemon juice foam up for a few minutes.
Salt, borax, and vinegar
I found this formula, ¼ C. salt, ¼ C. Borax, and ½ C. vinegar on Sage & Simple. I tried the mixture (followed by plenty of hot water) in my laundry sink and found that it took a while, but did clear the drain.
Most clogs develop due to various types of fats and oils that get cold in the pipe (think bacon grease) and solidify. Sometimes just using a kettle of boiling water will clear the clog. Boiling water can also be used with the above mixtures. However, take care to pour directly into the drain to avoid damaging plastics or cracking porcelain.
If none of these work
It would be irresponsible for us to publish this article without mentioning that sometimes snaking the drain is the only way to clear a clog. Drain cleaners are good for cleaning little bits of buildup from the drain. If you've got a big hairball lodged in there, they won't do the trick. "Use a snake and solve the problem for good," said Level One Contstruction Co. on Hometalk.com.