Dear Dot: How Can I Unclog a Drain without Drano?

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Dear Dot,

I have a bathroom drain that clogs a lot. I don’t want to dump a bunch of corrosive chemicals down my drain (and into our waterways). Is there a better way to unclog it? 

–Evelyn

The Short Answer: There are some simple methods to unclog a drain without using caustic chemicals. If it’s caused by grease, plain old dish soap will often do; if it’s an accumulation of hair and guck, use common household products such as baking soda and vinegar. But start with a plunger, or a drain snake. 

Dear Evelyn,

Sure, the easy way to unclog a drain is to dump some Drano down your pipes. But not only is that a poor environmental choice, it’s also hard on your plumbing. And your wallet.

Far better to try some DIY options. 

With that in mind, I turned to the folks at Blind & Sons, in Summit County, Ohio. Blind & Sons care about your plumbing, and they don’t want you inadvertently damaging it. Like most plumbers, Blind & Sons have seen some things, Evelyn. And they don’t ever want to see those things again. 

And so they share with us their advice on down-and-dirty methods to unclog your drain.

Take the plunge

One of the first things to do, they advise, is to pull out your trusty plunger. It’s very likely that there’s a clump of hair, mixed in with some soap residue, that’s gumming up your plumbing. A plunger can suction that gunk. Make sure, the Blind folks say, to stuff any overflow openings in your sink with rags (you need to build the necessary suction), and — if it’s a double sink — cover the second drain. Then give that plunger a good five to ten pumps. If nothing happens, run some hot water. If the clog isn’t unclogged, move on to your next option, which is …

Call in the Snake

You can avoid chemicals entirely if you have a drain snake (or can fashion one out of a metal coat hanger or other stiff wire). Be sure not to force it. Gently insert it into the clogged pipe and see if you can dislodge the gunk. Turn on the water to further flush it out and ensure the pipe is clear.

Create a soap opera

If your clog is due to grease, the solution might be as simple as soap and water. Squirt one-half to a full cup of dish soap down the drain. Follow up right away with about a gallon of boiling water. (Dot’s friend Barbie, avid collector of DIY home tips, swears by Dawn dish soap and, indeed, Dawn is the soap of choice for wildlife workers who have to clean marine birds and creatures when there’s an oil spill. The company itself won’t reveal why it’s so effective — only that it’s a proprietary, unique blend of surfactants, which, among other things, allow soap and water to mix. What the company would prefer we ignored, according to an NPR report, is that 1/7th of the formulation is made of petroleum. Ironic, no? You might want to experiment with more eco-friendly dish soaps for your clog, Evelyn.) 

Revisit your grade school science project

For clogs that resist your best attempts, there’s one final method that takes us back to the days of learning chemistry in grade school. Mixing baking soda (a base) with vinegar (an acid) will produce a reaction that creates pressures and, hopefully, dislodges your clog. Start with a half-cup of baking soda poured down the drain followed by a half-cup of white vinegar, then lots of hot water. 

Alas, Evelyn, if your clog refuses to budge, it’s time to call in the pros. Which, if you happen to live in or around Akron or Cleveland, Ohio, means Blind & Sons. What’s more, Evelyn, since you noted that your drain “clogs a lot,” your problem might be more systemic than situational, and a drain diagnostician would be a wise next step. 

Flowingly,

Dot

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