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A plumber reveals the right way to clean and unclog drains without using chemicals

Let a plumber tell you how to clean shower, tub and sink drains like a pro.
Large white sink with running water tap in a airy, light, home kitchen environment
Catherine Falls Commercial / Getty Images
/ Source: TODAY

Is a slow drain driving you crazy? If you're wondering how to unclog or clean a drain, we asked a plumbing expert for their tips. And you don’t even need chemicals to get the job done! 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 every drain in the house.

Cleaning a kitchen drain | Unclogging a kitchen drain | Cleaning bathroom drains | Unclogging bathroom drains | Products to clean and unclog | Meet our expert

How to clean a kitchen sink drain


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

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. On the flip side, using warm water emulsifies grease. So 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?

You can use baking soda to clean drains and deodorize them. Just 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 for cleaning sink drains, as well as shower and tub drains, and it'll absorb foul odors, too. There are also specialized products, like the Lemi Shine Disposal Cleaner, that use natural cleaning agents to freshen and clean drains.

How to unclog a kitchen sink drain

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 warns. “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.”

How to clean a bathroom sink or bathtub drain

Monthly maintenance:

Once a month, as part of your regular bathroom cleaning routine, make sure you remove hair from the sink and drains using either a tool like the Drain Weasel or a bent wire hanger.

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 be pulled 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 or 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

Earthworm Drain Cleaner & Buildup Remover

Another way to clean out the drain is to pour an enzyme drain cleaner like this one down the drain each month to stop clogs before they start. The enzymes in these cleaners break down the buildup and help keep sink drains cleaner.

Lemi Shine Disposal Cleaner

Made of 100% citric extracts, this disposal cleaner not only leaves drains clean, it also leaves sinks smelling good. According to the brand, each packet is good for two uses.

William Harvey Sink Plunger

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.

Bio-Clean Drain Septic Bacteria

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

FlexiSnake Drain Weasel Sink Snake Cleaner

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.

Liquid-Plumr Plastic Plunger

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.

Meet the expert

  • Doyle James is the president of Mr. Rooter Plumbing, a plumbing and drain service company with franchises nationwide.