If you’re stuck dealing with a smelly or clogged drain I have four words for you: Put those chemicals away.
If you read last week’s post about green cleaning supplies, you know how I feel about chemicals in products used around the home. And few household items are as caustic as drain cleaners, which typically include nasty ingredients such as lye or acid that harm your plumbing pipes and health—not to mention the environment.
But I also know that drain clogs are annoying and must be dealt with immediately. So how about a rundown on smart, easy ways to solve your drain problems?
Let’s talk about drain maintenance first.
There are plenty of ways to keep your drain clean naturally. Running hot tap water through the drain after use helps prevent obstructions and odors from becoming a problem. Or to prevent smells, grease buildup, and hard-water deposits, there are a slew of recipes you can try. Pour a handful of baking soda down the kitchen drain and run hot tap water through it weekly. Or for a more thorough clean, mix 1 cup baking soda, 1 cup salt, and ¼ cup cream of tartar. Pour ¼ cup of the mixture into each drain and follow it with 2 cups of boiling water. Here’s one more odor buster: Pour 1 cup of vinegar or lemon juice down the drain and let it stand for 30 minutes before running hot water.
Pay close attention to items in or near your kitchen sink—the more spoons, bottle caps, and other objects that your garbage disposal struggles to chew up the more likely you are to have drain problems. If you’re not grossed out by what’s hiding in the drain (and your hand is small enough to fit), reach down in there and fish out whatever fell before turning on the disposal.
Bathroom drains are a bit trickier—if something metal falls down the drain, tie a magnet to a thick piece of string and drop it into the drain. Hopefully the magnet will attract the fallen object. If you’re unlucky enough to lose a wedding ring or other important item into the abyss, try this.
And remember to clean your hair out of the bathroom sink and tub often so you don’t have hairy problems (I couldn’t resist) later on. It helps to use a drain sieve so the hair can’t get down there in the first place.
Here’s more on what not to put down the drain. But if you screw up (like I did the day I accidentally dumped a large pot of pasta down the kitchen sink) there are numerous solutions to help solve the problem (assuming that your drain pipes aren’t corroded, old, or leaky—if they are seek professional help!). Here are a few ideas:
• Pour a cup of baking soda, followed by a cup of white vinegar, down the drain. Let it bubble for a few minutes, then pour a couple of cups of hot water down. Repeat if necessary, but hopefully after one try your drain will be clear!
• Use a small rubber plunger to free up items that might be causing a backup. Make sure the rubber cup completely covers the drain hole.
• Try a snake (also called a hand auger). Here’s more info on how to snake your way out of trouble. (By the way, a snake saved my macaroni-filled drain!)
• Buy some Drainbo, a nontoxic alternative to those chemical cleaners I abhor. (It doesn’t contain lye or sulfuric acid.) I hear Drainbo also works in toilets, septic tanks, and garbage cans.
• Force an obstruction out of a tub drain with a long brush (found at restaurant supply stores). Stick the brush down the drain, push it down as far as possible, and twist it a few times before removing. Hopefully the gunk will appear on the brush when you pull it out.
• Go plop plop fizz fizz. I’ve never tried this before, but quite a few folks on the web recommend using Alka-Seltzer tablets. Get the scoop here.
• Call for backup. If none of these solutions work (or you have multiple clogged drains) it’s time to call in the pros. If possible, look for a licensed plumber who specializes in cleaning drains.
Before I leave you to your drain unclogging, I’m going to step back from my proclivity to push natural solutions for a moment and acknowledge the fact that a lot of you are itching to get out your chemical cleaners like Drano. If you’re adamant about using them, make certain they’re safe for plastic pipes and garbage disposals. Wear plastic gloves and eye protection if possible. And make sure you place a large plastic funnel in the drain so you pour the chemicals directly into the drain rather than all over the sink.
The Home Know-It-All