Nontoxic Ways to Unclog Drains

| 10/8/2010 12:08:19 PM

What’s the best and safest way to unclog my drains? 

Most commercial drain cleaners contain corrosive ingredients, typically either lye or sulfuric acid. It’s a good idea to avoid — or at least to be careful with — these products. The last thing you need, on top of a clogged drain, is to get splashed in the face with caustic lye or acid! 

Washing soda (sodium carbonate) is sometimes recommended, but it too is caustic and can burn you or damage some plastic pipes. A better solution is to use baking soda, also called sodium bicarbonate. This milder option will help make clogged material slicker. Try using baking soda, followed by extremely hot water, followed by a plunger. 

If that doesn’t work, try other mechanical options, such as a drain snake (a tool with a long, flexible metal cable). In general, mechanical options are safer and more effective than chemicals. For more about mechanical methods of cleaning drains, search for “unclog drains” at

— Oscar H. Will III, contributing editor and editor of Grit

10/10/2010 9:08:12 PM

One trick I have learned is to cover the overflow opening in your tub or sink. If you stuff a towel or cloth, and then plunge you will get enough pressure in the pipe to unclog the drain.

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