How to Clear a Clogged Drain Without Chemicals

September 13, 2011

plumbing

Those magical drain chemicals lauded on television aren’t all they are cracked up to be. When I got my first clog here at the old homestead, I used drain cleaners. Clogs in old plumbing can be pretty intense, and the clogs were never relieved after waiting only a few minutes, as per the chemical’s instructions. Instructions notwithstanding, I did it again and waited longer. Bah. Didn’t really work.
Hanging drainpipe
I didn’t know the damage that the chemicals could do until one day the husband went to look at a pipe under the sink. When he touched the chrome “S” trap, it fell to pieces in his hands. :-O The drain chemicals had eaten through the pipe.

I never use chemicals anymore. Folks with septic systems should never use chemicals, as the chemicals will disrupt the septic tank processes and perhaps harm the environment.

I’ve had very good success with my own physical techniques. Sure, they are messy and some of them are not for folks with weak stomachs… but my plumbing is intact. And I have a very weak stomach when it comes to plumber’s bills.

Baking Soda and Vinegar
I usually use this technique for the kitchen sink downstairs. I dump a healthy serving of baking soda down the drain. I then add a cup or two of vinegar. The base of the baking soda combined with the acid of the vinegar produce a chemical reaction– bubbling and mildly explosive. I press my hand over the drain to force the chemical reaction down the drain. For mild clogs, this often works.

The Manual Method
Believe it or not, many times I can unclog a bathroom sink by fishing around inside the drain. I have an old rat-tail comb that I reserve for this purpose. Bathroom sinks are more prone to get clogged with hair, floss, and soap scum. I stick the comb into the drain and fish the debris out. Then, I flush the drain with very hot water.

The Plunger
Not just for sluggish toilets, the toilet plunger works perfectly for the bathtub drain. Run a little bit of water into the tub to create a small pool of water. Place the plunger over the drain and chug down a few times. If the plunger wheezes and air sputters out, there is not enough water in the tub to create an air-tight pressure. I fill the tub a bit more and repeat the process. I’ve been doing this for a few years and it always fixes the clogged drain.

The snake.

The Auger
Also called the “snake,” I break out the plumber augers for the big dogs. There are several different kind of augers, and you should really use a certain one for a certain job. There’s the basic snake, a mere cable of just a few feet. This is good for small bathroom sinks. Then there’s the large auger, with a hefty metal or plastic bowl-shaped housing. I use this for big jobs like waste line cleanouts or big clogs in the bathtub drain.

The manual auger.

Finally, there’s the closet auger, which looks like a stiff whip. It’s a long pole with a handle. You insert the end of the pole into the toilet bowl. The end of the pole has a plastic end to protect the porcelain from scratches from the metal cable. I once had a serious toilet clog when one of the kids accidentally flushed a washcloth down the toilet. Back then, I didn’t know what to do except call my local plumber. He showed up with the closet auger, stirred things around for about 5 minutes, and charged me $100 for the visit. While some plumbers would have charged more, it was a hefty fine for a wayward washcloth.

Here’s a great video I found on how to use a closet auger.

An Ounce of Prevention…
As always, an ounce of prevention is worth that proverbial pound of cure. Old timers claim that one sure-fire way to prevent clogs is to dump scalding hot vinegar down the drains once a month. That sounds like it would work– the vinegar and hot water would clear any residual grease and soap scum, yep. But I have half a dozen drains…. I’d have to gallivant throughout the house doing this every week?!

My own preventative measures include the following:

  • Always pick up stray hair after combing your hair.
  • Never NEVER never dump grease down the drain.
  • Never dump paint or other congealing liquids down the drains.
  • NEVER NEVER NEVER dump food or bones down the drains.
  • Be vigilant about what goes down the toilets. No paper towels, baby wipes, etc.

A monthly treatment of vinegar and baking soda helps, too.

Who knew plumbing could be SO interesting! Thanks for reading. šŸ™‚ Hope this helps!

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