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DIY Drain Cleaning & Why It’s a Bad Idea

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Posted on: March 23, 2019

DIY drain cleaning, liquid drain cleanersIt’s happened to everyone: You turn on the water in your sink, shower, or tub and instead of flowing down the drain, it begins to back up. After seeing countless commercials for liquid drain cleaners, your first thought is to reach for that bottle of thick blue liquid with scary-sounding chemicals in it because it’ll get the job done quickly, right?

The Bad News About Drain Cleaners

The bad news that companies who make drain cleaners won’t tell you is that these chemicals are harmful to your pipes—no matter whether the bottle claims to be “safe on pipes.” It should say enough that there’s a warning on the back of the bottle to call your local poison control center if the stuff so much as touches your skin.

If you insist on trying a liquid-based solution to clear up minor clogs, choose an all-natural enzymatic product. These products use natural enzymes to break up organic material and bacteria clogging your pipes, but they won’t break down particularly tough clogs. These products are better used for monthly drain maintenance rather than clearing up clogs, but we have some simpler (and less expensive) DIY solutions that you can try before buying a pricey product.

DIY Drain Maintenance

If your drains are just a little slow or you want to clean out your drains each month to ensure gunk doesn’t build up along pipe walls, there are two easy, inexpensive solutions that could work:

  1. Hot water. Pour a large pot of very hot (but not boiling) water down the drain you’re having issues with or want to clean. Follow it up with some cool water to flush out the clogs you just melted away.
  2. Baking soda and vinegar. Pour half a cup of baking soda down your drain and chase it with half a cup of vinegar. Plug the sink and let it sit overnight. Flush the drains with hot water in the morning and they’ll work (and smell) like they’re brand-new! We recommend doing this once per month.

Read our drain maintenance guide »

Tools for Tough Clogs

Plumber in MD, DC, VA area clearing drain with a drain snake.

If you end up with a clogged drain and want to try to clear it yourself before calling in the experts, put down the bottle of drain cleaner and instead keep an auger or a drain snake as well as a cup plunger on hand.

  • Snake or auger: A plumber’s snake or auger is a physical tool used to break up clogs in pipes. There are different types, but the general idea is that you feed the snake’s thick wire or cable through the drain pipe and turn a handle that keeps the snake spinning inside the pipe. Once the auger hooks onto the clog, you can pull it out and discard the mess.
  • Cup plunger. Cup plungers work best on small clogs. Before trying to plunge a sink drain, pull out the stopper in your sink and make sure it’s not the cause of the clog. If cleaning this doesn’t restore flow, block the overflow opening to seal the drain and create the proper suction needed to plunge. Place the plunger fully over the drain and run a small amount of water in the sink, then begin plunging up and down. You’ll likely be able to feel when the clog loosens as the plunger will become easier to plunge.

Learn more about the plumbing tools every homeowner needs in their toolbox »

Avoid Drain Clogs: What Not to Put Down the Drain

Of course, the best way to avoid a clogged drain is to use it properly in the first place. Here’s a list of the most common things homeowners put down the drain (or toilet) that can cause major problems over time:

  • Grease, fats, or oil (pour them into a jar, wait for them to solidify, then throw them away!)
  • Eggshells
  • Pasta, rice, and potatoes (starchy things)
  • Bones
  • Stringy or fibrous foods
  • Coffee grounds
  • Feminine products (sanitary napkins, etc.)
  • Tissues and paper towels
  • “Flushable” wipes
  • Hair (get a stopper for your shower or tub!)

Call the Experts When DIY Drain Cleaning Doesn’t Work

Always have the number of a reliable, experienced plumbing company on hand for those times when easy DIY solutions just won’t cut it. At Len The Plumber, we serve the Mid-Atlantic region with expert plumbing repair and drain cleaning services. We deliver prompt, same day service with a local team, fully stocked trucks, and respectful plumbers. You can read more about our drain cleaning services here.

If you need help clearing a drain in the Baltimore; Washington, D.C.; Northern Virginia, Delaware; or Philadelphia areas, don’t hesitate to give Len The Plumber a call at 800-950-4619 or contact us online today!

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