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Natural Drain Cleaning

By Jenn (TinyChoices.com) | July 8, 2008

Back when I wrote “Ten Ways to Green Your Bathroom,” I seem to have been woefully negligent on how deal with drains. So in the spirit of making amends, let’s now talk about them. Drains. And how to keep them clear. And if they’re not clear, how to clean them out without killing the fishies and changing the sex organs of frogs.

Traditional chemical drain cleaners are very caustic and often degrade older plumbing pipes, causing a bigger problem than you started out with. They also contain harsh chemical irritants and can bother your skin, eyes and nose and can poison children or pets who accidentally ingest them. In addition, those chemicals are getting washed right down the drain and into our waterways, thereby polluting things for everybody, everywhere.

The easiest way to keep things moving before clogs develop, and also when drains are draining slowly, is with our old friend baking soda: pour one cup of baking soda down the drain, and then follow with three cups of boiling water. For more scrubbing and fizzing power, and lots of fun, add one cup of white vinegar at the end. Repeat one or two more times for maximum effectiveness. I’ve found that this method works well to keep drains clear, but doesn’t work so well once clogs are noticeable– if your water is already draining slowly, then this mixture is going to drain slowly as well. So try it as monthly preventative practice, instead of an emergency measure.

For more stubborn clogs, you’re going to need to get a little more hands-on. Some people recommend filling the sink with a few inches of water, then using a small plunger to dislodge the clog. I’ve not tried this so I can’t attest to the effectiveness, so if you have plunger experience, let us know in the comments how it works.

A method I have used is the plumber’s snake, given to me by my dad, who definitely believes in gender equity when it comes to totally gross household tasks. This method is nearly always effective, produces zero waste, is reusable, and will always, and I mean always, squick you (me?) out. You extend a long metal coil down the drain and spin it with a hand-crank to jam it into the clog– then you pull the coil up out of the drain, et voila, here comes the grossest mess of hair and other unidentifiable goop you’ve ever seen. And you now have a clear drain. Take the time to clean the snake off well, and it will last you for years to come.

A cousin of the snake is the Zip-It tool– seems like it might be slightly easier to use and it is reusable, but it’s made of plastic, which we’d prefer to stay away from. Also, it doesn’t extend out as long as a snake, and so will only grab clogs which are closer to the surface.

What natural solutions have you used to clear out your stubborn cloggy drains?

[Image by DW Stucke via Creative Commons]

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Comment by Karina
2008-07-08 07:13:05

I have the plunger experience! it works very well for small clots. It isn’t a right-away fix, though, sometimes you have to do it several times to make it work. Also sometimes you have to plug the sink or tub overflow holes to really make a good seal. But in general, the plunger experience is my first choice for drain clearance.

also, they say that flushing your drain with boiling hot water occasionally is good maintenance and keeps things clear, and also works with little clogs. I’ve had reasonably good luck with this one too.

Comment by robin
2008-07-08 07:16:31

My husband, who has been a plumber for over a decade, recommends Bio-Clean, which is basically friendly bacteria which eats all the organic stuff in your drains (inorganic matter is up to you, your snake, and your plunger). The idea is that you use it once monthly as a maintenance procedure, and the bacteria will grow and spread throughout your system and eat…stuff before it becomes a clog. However, you can also use it aggressively to treat clogs. It is applied at bedtime so it has all night to go to work. What I love is that the container clearly states that you are NOT to allow other cleaning chemicals into your drains, as that will hinder the bacteria’s action (and lifespan, I guess)!

We’ve had the same container of Bio-Clean for as long as I can remember…I just checked it and it’s still about half-full. So it lasts just about forver, I’d say.

The worst thing about being a plumber, apparently, is when people ineffectively use chemical methods to clear drains and then call the plumber, because he then has to submerge his hands into the chemical bath.

Comment by cat147
2008-07-08 07:31:25

i’m a huge fan of the snake myself … used it many times … mostly in new homes where the previous owners left their dirt/grime/hair. i have to say, that makes the task just that much worse. ick, someone else’s grime!

Comment by Jenn S.
2008-07-08 08:41:36

We’ve definitely used the plunger and the snake at our house….and not to geek out on plumbing gear, but since we have 60 year old plumbing in our condo, we sprung for the drill-powered snake, so the drill automatically turns as you push the snake into the wall – its fantastic!

We’re also big fans of the Bio-Clean as well – as recommended by our neighbor who is a plumber, and it works very well, although the first time we used it – it worked TOO well, and dislodged so much stuff, we had to get out the snake to clear it!

Comment by rachel
2008-07-08 10:33:05

Similar to baking soda, you can also use washing soda for drain maintenance.

2008-07-08 11:19:23

[...] Tiny Choices tackles drain clogs. [...]

Comment by TheGreenCat
2008-07-08 15:29:09

I’ve use the Zip-It and I love it! I have long hair and it tends to clog op the shower and bathroom sink drains no matter how careful I am. My bathroom sink is one of those that I can’t remove the stopper so a plunger or a snake doesn’t work. The Zip-It gets right in there and pulls out all the hair. For tougher clogs I like Earth Enzymes Natural Drain Opener.

Comment by Clare
2008-07-08 16:49:07

My family uses a drain cover to prevent clogs in the shower. We’re a pretty long-haired bunch (my sister and I have hair down to our butts, and while my mom’s hair is rather short right now, it’s usually closer to shoulder-length) and the drain cover catches a lot of stuff! Since we’ve been using it, I don’t think we’ve once had a shower drain. I think the one we’re using is plastic, but you can also get metal mesh ones.

2008-07-08 18:41:47

I use a plunger and my hand! ick! :)

Comment by Isle Dance
2008-07-08 20:03:51

Way to go!

2008-07-13 15:43:04

[...] Natural Drain Cleaning [...]

2009-07-27 17:14:27

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2009-11-04 15:31:44

[...] Drains: Jenn from Tiny Choices explains how to unclog a drain using baking soda followed by boiling water followed by vinegar.  (The bubbling reaction helps to [...]

Comment by John
2010-03-31 13:38:27

You know the saying, an ounce of prevention. I like to pour a pot of boiling water down the drain at least once a month to prevent clogs from forming naturally.

Comment by Terry
2010-04-12 19:36:59

thanks for the article, everthing helps im my field to, I like to give advice on keeping drains cleaned.

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