When there’s a clog in the sink, do you consider a DIY solution, call a professional, or do you reach for the chemical drain cleaner? While chemical drain cleaners are generally advertised as a quick solution for a clog, they can actually be quite harmful. Instead, consider using a simple at home DIY cleaner to tackle a drain clog. These solutions are not only safer to use, but they also don’t risk damaging your pipes with harmful chemicals. Keep in mind that these aren’t as strong as chemical drain cleaners, meaning tough clogs may need professional help. If that is the case, don’t hesitate to call a plumber!
Before looking at DIY drain cleaners, there are a few things to know about clogs and chemical drain cleaners. Understanding the causes and dangers of clogs and why chemical cleaners aren’t recommended will help to both tackle and prevent clogs. You can then decide if a DIY cleaner is for you or if it’s a job for the plumbers.
Common causes of clogs
Most of the time, clogs are from things that shouldn’t have been flushed down the drain. Other times, namely in bathroom sinks, it’s a matter of buildup in the drain creating a block and affecting the water flow. Either way, several things can cause a clog.
Bathroom sink clogs
Typically caused when loose hair washes down the drain or a buildup of soap scum develops along the pipe walls. Over time, this either leads to a clog or affects how quickly the water can drain. If you notice slow draining sinks, don’t ignore it. Instead, take the time to clear it before the problem worsens.
Loose hair is the main culprit in showers, especially if there is no hair catcher to protect the drains. Other culprits are from a buildup of dead skin cells and soap scum or hard water. Without a water softener, hard water has higher amounts of minerals than normal, leading to a mineral deposit buildup in the pipes.
Toilet clogs are the more common issues that are caused by flushing feminine hygiene products, toilet wipes, or dental floss. A buildup of these can risk severe clogs, especially if the water flows back into the toilet bowl and causes a flood. Other times the problem is more external and results from old pipes or slow septic systems that need a plumber’s expertise to fix.
Kitchen sink clogs
Flushing grease or oil from pans is the biggest culprit here. Grease will reharden as it cools, which quickly becomes a problem when this happens in the pipes. Even just rinsing food off plates can accumulate in the pipes and cause a blockage.
The best way to avoid a clog is to never flush objects or food down the sink. Screen or hair catchers in any bathrooms can also help catch unwanted objects from going down the drain. However, when a clog does occur, it’s important to understand the risks and how to clear one safely.
Dangers of clogs
Clogs are never ideal, but especially when a severe enough clog develops that ends up needing costly repairs. Bad odours aside, blocked drains can have very real consequences. The longer a clog is in place, even a small one, the higher the risk of it creating the ideal conditions for bacteria to grow. If left, this can quickly cause serious health issues if the stagnant water infects the clean water.
The risk of leaks is something else to consider as all that trapped water has to go somewhere. The water will start to leak from the pipes themselves, or if the pressure is too much, it can burst and cause a flood. In turn, that can cause even more damage and repair costs, so this is never a desired outcome. Recurring clogs is another thing to be aware of as these may be signs of a more serious problem. It may be that the issue is in the sewer line and that tree roots, trapped debris, or a damaged pipe is the cause.
Risk of chemical cleaners
There are a few ways to clear a clog depending on personal preference or the severity of the clog. These include using a DIY drain cleaner, buying plumbing tools, or calling a plumber. One thing to always avoid when tackling a clog is to reach for the chemical drain cleaners. While these might clear a clog in no time, they can also just as easily damage the pipes on the way down. Older pipes especially don’t mix well with powerful chemical cleaners that can just as easily eat away at the pipes as well as the clog.
It can also be a personal health risk, including causing eye or skin irritation, if the chemicals come in contact with your skin. Most of the time, a clog isn’t serious enough to need such a strong solution. However, if the clog is that serious, it’s likely better to leave it to a professional.
The DIY drain cleaner way
A great alternative to harmful chemical drain cleaners is to make your own homemade cleaner.
Most recipes can help clear away minor clogs and use natural and easy to find ingredients from home. These ingredients also won’t damage the pipes, so you don’t have to worry about costly repairs. If the clog has left water in the sink or tub, clear out as much of it as possible before using the drain cleaner. Also, avoid using a sink plunger or a drain snake as either of these can push the clog further back instead. If that happens, the pipes can become over pressured and risk bursting.
The great thing about this recipe is that all it only needs three ingredients. Mixed together they can help clear a clogged drain.
Boiling water: about one small pot’s worth (times two for a final rinse)
Vinegar: ½ cup
Baking soda: ½ cup
Be aware that the baking soda and vinegar will foam and bubble a lot, but don’t worry because that is what you want. The chemical reaction of the two will release carbon dioxide, which can help clear up most clogs.
Step 1: Remove any existing water from the sink or bathtub.
Step 2: Pour boiling water into the drain.
Step 3: Pour ½ cup of the baking soda down into the drain and make sure it goes straight down.
Step 4: Then add ½ cup of vinegar, which will react with the baking soda and start bubbling.
Step 5: Place a cover over the mixture and let the mixture sit for at least 10 minutes. If the clog is particularly bad, leave the mixture to sit for as long as necessary.
Step 6: Remove the cover and flush more boiling water down the drain to clear away the last of the DIY cleaner and any residual clog bits.
Other DIY cleaners to try
There are also other easy to try and use DIY cleaning methods to tackle different types of clogs. Similar to the first DIY drain cleaner, these all use natural ingredients that can easily be found at home.
Smelly drains (baking soda and lemon juice)
In this combination, the lemon’s citric acid reacts with the bicarbonate in the baking soda. The result will clear away any bad smells and leave your drains smelling like lemons! Just use half a cup each of baking soda and lemon juice and let the mixture sit for an hour before flushing the drain with boiling water.
Hardened grease (boiling water)
If you poured grease down the drain, don’t worry, because it can still be cleared. Pouring boiling water down the drain will turn the grease back into a liquid and help flush it from the pipes. Start with two litres of boiling water, but keep in mind you may need more depending on the amount of grease.
Bacteria buildup (salt, borax, and vinegar)
Borax is a cleaning product that is useful in removing mould and mildew. Suppose you have a clog that’s been stuck for a while and are worried about residual bacteria. In that case, this combination is the solution. Mix half a cup each of salt and borax and pour it down the drain, followed by half a cup of vinegar. Then, let everything sit for half an hour to a few hours. Afterward, pour a small pot’s worth of boiling water down the drain to flush out the pipes.
For any of these methods, if the clog is only partially fixed just rinse and repeat the process! However, if this doesn’t work at all, then consider one of two options:
1. Dismantle the drain tap to remove the clog at its source (only if you have experience and tools to do so), or
2. Call in a professional plumber.
Natural drain cleaners have a time and a place, but sometimes a clog is just too serious for a home solution. In those cases, calling a professional is the better choice. Otherwise, an allegedly quick DIY fix risks making the problem much worse.
DIY drain repair is only recommended if you have the right experience for the job. Trying to use plumbing tools without experience, like a drain snake or a cup plunger, risks worsening the issue. Drain snakes can just as easily push the clog further down and completely block the pipes. Cup plungers, those used on sinks, have the risk of pushing air instead of water down the drain. Instead of freeing the clog, the forced air can damage the pipes. In either case, there is a risk of an unexpected flood if the pipes burst. Likewise if you’re on a septic system, damaging the septic tank can lead to contaminated water which results in health problems that can vary from minor to severe.
If you don’t have plumbing experience or the clog isn’t going away, don’t continue to try DIY methods. The same can be said for clogs that keep appearing despite preventive care. Either case may be more severe than it seems, which makes a professional’s help the best choice.
Benefits of hiring a plumber
When a homemade drain cleaner just doesn’t work, turn to a professional plumber instead. Not all tools you can buy to DIY are professional grade, meaning they can make the problem worse. Plumbers, however, readily have all the right tools and experience for the job. One particular method, hydro-jetting, uses high-pressured water to flush the pipes and clear clogs. This is great in the hands of a professional and for troublesome clogs, but only in the right situations. Not all pipes can handle the pressure, so only a plumber will know when it is okay to use.
Once a clog is found and cleared, your plumber can advise you on avoiding future clogs. Afterward, it’s also beneficial to give those drains a good cleaning, which is something else a professional can offer.
Professional drain cleaning
Drain cleaning can be DIYed, but nothing beats a little professional attention now and then. Plumbers won’t turn to harmful and harsh chemical drain cleaners, but they have the right tools for cleaning. As mentioned before, hydro-jetting can clear away clogs, but it also helps scrub the pipes clean of any lingering debris. This will also remove any lingering odours and lower the likelihood of future clogs developing. You’ll also save more money in the long run without the risk of burst pipes or flooding caused by clogs. Plus, it’ll ensure the safety of your home and your health against water contamination from bacteria.
When paired with regular preventative DIY maintenance, professional cleaning only needs to be done once every two years. If any easy DIY drain cleaner can handle the job, then there’s no reason not to use one. However, if a problem creeps up earlier that a homemade drain cleaner can’t solve, you know who to call!