Maybe it’s just my house, but it seems I always need to remember how to unclog drains around 3 AM on a Saturday. At that point, even if my plumber was a night owl, his weekend rates would leave me sleepless for days!
Fortunately, there are several steps homeowners can take to unclog drains without needing specialized equipment. If your home’s pipes are prone to clogging, I strongly recommend giving this list a good read-through, so you’ll remember how to handle those 3 am clogged drains yourself.
WARNING ABOUT COMMERCIAL DRAIN CLEANERS
It’s tempting to grab a can of something like Drano then, if it doesn’t work, to try another commercial product. DO NOT DO THIS. Many commercial drain cleaners are acidic, while others are alkaline. Since the first drain cleaner you used is still in there, the combination can produce a chemical reaction that sends corrosive splatters all over you as well as your home.
So, before you break out the commercial drain cleaners, read up on how to unclog drains using the natural, safe methods below.
How To Unclog Drains
Why Do Drains Clog?
Most drain clogs are caused by a combination of grease, hair, and other debris that builds up over time. For toilets, “wet wipes” are often the culprit, including those wipes which claim to be flushable: they’re not, and there’s a potential class-action lawsuit over that fact.
And “grease” doesn’t just refer to food grease, though pouring things like bacon drippings down the drain can lead to “fatburgs” that cause thousands of dollars in damage. Soap, body washes, and even body oils washed off during showers are all greasy, too. Combine those with hair and food particles, and you’ve got the recipe for a clogged drain.
Deal with Clogs at the First Sign of Trouble
Since these things build up over time, there’s no reason to wait until your drain is fully clogged to use any of the methods below. Tackling the problem when you first notice water draining slowly in your sink or tub can keep a clog from ever forming.
Most people find that a combination of methods works best, so start with the one that’s most convenient for you then work your way through the others if needed.
Natural Ways to Unclog Drains
Very hot water and dish soap: The same properties that help liquid dish soaps cut through grease on your dishes can also cut through grease built up in your drain. To try this method, insert the dish soap bottle’s spout as far down the drain as you can get it and give it a good squirt. Then immediately pour a few cups of very hot water directly down the drain and wait 10 minutes. If the drain empties, you’re done — though it’s still a good idea to use the next method to clean out any remaining greasy residue.
Baking soda and vinegar: Put a funnel down the drain and pour 1/2 cup of baking soda in it. Shake the funnel a few times to get the baking soda out of it and down your drain. Meanwhile, heat 2 cups of white vinegar until it’s simmering. Since this is going to fizz, you need to be careful! Pour the vinegar into the funnel where it will combine with the baking soda in your drain to scour away greasy buildup. Let this sit for 15 minutes then pour hot water down the drain to flush away any remaining debris.
Wire hanger: Although a plumber’s snake is needed to attack clogs deep in pipes, clogs which are closer to the surface can be reached with a wire hanger. To use this method, unbend the hanger until it’s one long, straight piece of wire then form a small, J-shaped hook on one end. Insert this hook in the drain until you meet resistance, twist the hanger a bit, and pull debris out. As you’re working, focus on pulling gunk out, not pushing it in. Repeat until you don’t pull up any more gunk, then follow with the baking soda method to get rid of any buildup.
Wet-dry vac: A wet/dry shop vacuum can make short work of unclogging a drain. Switch the machine to the “wet” setting and insert the nozzle down the drain as far as possible. Switch the vacuum on and let it suction out whatever is clogging your drain. (Do NOT try this with a machine not explicitly designed to handle both wet and dry work!)
Toilet plunger: In an ideal world you’d have separate plungers for toilets and sinks. In reality, most of us have just one. Once you’re past the ick factor, all you need to do is place the plunger directly over the drain then gently press down the first time to remove air and get a good seal. If you’re working on a double-sided sink, block the other drain to keep water from coming up it. Now, vigorously plunge using an up-and-down motion; it’s vital that you don’t angle the plunger or you’ll break the seal. You’ll hear the clog break free or see water rush down the drain to let you know when to stop. NEVER use a plunger if you’ve used a commercial, chemical solvent (like Draino) or you may incur serious injuries.
Empty the pipe: As a method of last resort, removing the U-shaped portion of the pipe under the sink allows you to clean the trap within that joint, which is where most clogs occur. Empty then line the cupboard beneath the sink with towels, and place a bucket directly beneath the pipe since water will come rushing through once you’ve removed the U-joint. Clean the trap with an old toothbrush and run water through it before returning it to place.
Prevention is the Best Policy
As with many things that go wrong in a home, prevention is the best approach. Use a hair catcher in the shower and tub to prevent buildup, and a sink strainer to keep food particles from doing down your kitchen drain. Then make cleaning your drains part of your regular bathroom or kitchen cleaning routine.