Having a clogged sink brings to mind the old chestnut: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” To avoid clogs to begin with, you have to stop food particles, grease, and hair from going down the drain. It's helpful to position a sink strainer or a small piece of wire mesh over your drains to catch food particles or hair. Just be sure to clean the mesh regularly or it so it doesn’t start to smell.
Life happens, and so do clogged drains
Now, for a dose of reality … no one is perfect. We all have a lazy moment, or the kids are washing the dishes and aren't paying attention, or we get too busy to notice that hair in the tub. Sooner or later, you'll end up with a clogged drain.
I have two drains that tend to clog 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 that drain.
The problem with commercial drain cleaners
The problems with commercial drain cleaners are many:
- they corrode pipes
- they’re bad for septic systems
- they’re toxic to ground water
- they can damage the materials that your sink or tub is 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. I was ready to create my own DIY drain cleaner.
Before you try a DIY drain cleaner
Just like in the Heimlich maneuver, look first to find out whether you can actually see the clog. It's not a fun task, but put on your rubber gloves and dig out the hair and goop if you can. 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 have to do.
if you do need to use your DIY drain cleaner, remember that it will likely take longer than a commercial product, often up to an hour. You also may need to repeat your efforts.
Baking soda, the top DIY drain cleaner
The most commonly used DIY drain cleaner is one cup each of baking soda and white vinegar. The intense foaming action, flushed with 2 cups of hot water after 15 minutes, 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 is a little more costly than vinegar, but it works similarly to vinegar, and smells a lot better. You may want to use this mixture in your kitchen sink simply for the pleasanter smell. Again, run plenty of hot water after the baking soda and lemon juice have foamed up for 15 minutes.
Salt, borax, and vinegar
I found this formula, ¼ cup salt, ¼ cup Borax, and ½ cup 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 and solidify (think bacon grease, for example). Sometimes just a kettle of boiling water will clear the clog. Boiling water can also be used in combination with the above mixtures. However, take care to pour directly into the drain to avoid damaging plastics or cracking porcelain.
When to hire a plumber
Drain cleaners are good for getting rid of little bits of buildup in the drain. If you've got a gigantic hairball lodged in there, though, they won't do the trick. Sometimes hiring a plumber to professionally snake the drain is the only way to clear a clog.
This article was updated November 21, 2017.