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How to unclog a sink, shower or tub drain and how to clean drains

Slow drains driving you crazy? Let a plumber tell you how to clean them like a pro.
Dirty drain
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/ Source: TODAY

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Is a slow drain driving you crazy? That means it's time to clean them — but you don’t need chemicals! Plumbing experts agree that harsh chemicals can damage your pipes and the environment. Doyle James, president of Mr. Rooter Plumbing, offered the following sage advice for cleaning and maintaining drains.

Check out our interactive guide to learn how to clean your home from top to bottom.

How to clean and unclog a kitchen sink


Jones suggested pouring very hot water down the drain at least once a week. This can help prevent clog-causing buildup on the interior surface of pipes. Or, pour one cup of vinegar down the drain and let it sit for 30 minutes. Rinse with two quarts of very hot water.

Another option is to pour an enzyme drain cleaner, like Earthworm Family Safe Drain Cleaner, down the drain each month to stop clogs before they start. The enzymes in these cleaners break down the buildup in drains.

Earthworm Family Safe Drain Cleaner, $19, Amazon

Before putting dirty dishes, pots or pans in the dishwasher, scrape them well and rinse with cold water. This keeps any remaining grease solid so it can travel through drain lines more easily. Using warm water emulsifies grease. As the grease cools while traveling through the line, it solidifies and coats the inside of the drain line. Over time, this buildup on the surface will lead to stoppages.

Stinky drains?

Pour a half cup of baking soda into the drain and follow it with two quarts of hot water. Baking soda is a great cleaning agent and will absorb foul odors, too. There are also specialized products, like Lemi Shine Disposal Cleaner, that use natural cleaning agents to freshen drains.

Lemi Shine Disposal Cleaner, $2, Walmart

How to unclog a kitchen sink:

Fill the sink with very hot water and leave it for one to two hours. The weight and pressure of the water may clear the stoppage. If not, use a cup plunger to force water through the clog and possibly dislodge it.

If you suspect a grease clog, a mixture of very hot water and vinegar can also help melt and remove the grease that’s blocking the pipes. Allow it to work for a few minutes, then use a plunger to help move the clog along. You may have to repeat this more than once.

You can also try a microbial cleaner, such as Bio-Clean Drain Septic Bacteria. “Stay clear of any type of drain acid,” James warned. “As a rule of thumb, anything you wouldn’t want to drink, you shouldn’t put down your drain because eventually it ends up in the water supply.”

William Harvey Sink Plunger, $6, Amazon

Bio-Clean Drain Septic Bacteria, $50, Amazon

Similar to Earthworm Family Safe Drain Cleaner, this microbial cleaner is packed with enzymes that digest organic materials, such as grease, hair, soap scum, food particles, paper and cotton.

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How to clean and unclog a bathroom sink or bathtub drain

Monthly maintenance:

Once a month, remove hair from drains using either a tool, like the Drain Weasel, or a bent wire hanger.

FlexiSnake Drain Weasel Drain Clog Remover, $19 (Pack Of Five), Amazon

When using a regular wire coat hanger, straighten it out as much as possible and then bend one end to create a hook. Push the bent end through the drain and start fishing.

Regardless of which device is used, hair and all the gunk that’s stuck to it should pull out. Once it’s all removed, run the hot water.

Don't forget to clean pop-up stoppers in the bathroom sink and tub. Lift them from the drain, remove any debris, and scrub off gunk using an old toothbrush. Rinse and replace.

How to unclog a bathroom sink and bathtub drain:

  1. Remove the hair: Most bathroom clogs are caused by a buildup of hair and personal-cleaning products. The best way to remedy that is to remove the clog manually (see above).
  2. Flush with hot water: If removing hair doesn’t seem to work, try pouring a kettle of boiling water slowly down the drain. Pour it in two or three stages, allowing the hot water to work for several seconds between each pour. Take care to pour the boiling water directly into the drain.
  3. Call a plumber: If the above tips don’t clear the drain, it’s time to call a plumber. Pipes are sometimes clogged further down the line with years of accumulated grease buildup or even tree roots. These are problems a professional should handle.

The best drain cleaners and products to unclog a drain

  • 1. Earthworm Family Safe Drain Cleaner, $19, Amazon

This cleaner works to naturally break down the build up in drains.

  • 2. Lemi Shine Disposal Cleaner, $2, Walmart

Made of 100 percent citric extracts, this disposal cleaner not only leaves drains clean, it also leaves sinks smelling good.

  • 3. William Harvey Sink Plunger, $7, Amazon

A cup plunger, which most people will recognize, is used for sinks and bathtubs. It will tightly seal against the surface, allowing a good amount of pressure to be applied to the obstruction.

  • 4. Bio-Clean Drain Septic Bacteria, $50, Amazon

Similar to Earthworm Family Safe Drain Cleaner, this microbial cleaner is packed with enzymes that digest organic materials, such as grease, hair, soap scum, food particles, paper and cotton.

  • 5. FlexiSnake Drain Weasel Drain Clog Remover, $19 (Pack Of Five), Amazon

It’s hard to beat this tool when it comes to removing hair from drains. The plastic wand is lined with burrs that snag and hold onto hair, making it easy to remove. Make sure to rinse the drain with hot water afterward.

  • 6. Liquid-Plumr Mini Bellows Sink & Drain Plunger, $6, Amazon

A bellows or accordion plunger applies a large amount of force for stubborn clogs. It is not recommended for the typical soft obstruction because the pressure can cause joints and seals to leak.

This article was originally published on July 31, 2017.