Unclogging Drains without Toxins

Nothing strikes fear into the hearts of homeowners more than a clogged drain, besides maybe day-old scrambled eggs caked on a stainless steel frying pan.

Our bathroom sink was backing up a few weeks ago. Like all men, I ignored it. My wife also ignored it. She ignored it better than I did, so I took it upon myself to fix it. It had been a while since I had to deal with a clogged drain, so I evaluated my options.

Option 1: Call in the plunger
This method doesn’t use any toxic chemicals, but it does require elbow grease. The plunger is often more effective than chemical drain cleaners. The trick involves filling the sink with water so the lip on the plunger is submerged. This way you will be forcing water down the drain rather than air.

Option 2: Call in the enzymes
There are commercially available enzymatic drain cleaners. These are much safer than chemical drain cleaners. I have heard these types of cleaners work really well to prevent clogs, but may not be the best choice to unclog a drain.

Option 3: DIY
Make your own drain cleaner. I’ve seen several homemade drain cleaner “recipes.” A common one is a handful of baking soda mixed with a half cup of vinegar followed by a cup or more of boiling water. Learn more about this method here.

Option 4: Get the tools
Use a tool to either pull the clog out or break it up and push it down the drain. One option is a tool like the “Zip-It,” which is just a narrow piece of plastic with barbs on it. You feed it down the drain and pull it back up, hopefully bringing the clog up with it. You can also use a plumber’s snake, but these can cause an injury if used improperly. If you need to use a plumber’s snake, it might be time for Option 6.

Option 5: Call in the plumber
This might be the most expensive option, but it is bound to fix the problem–for a small pile of cash.

So what did I do? I decided to try mechanical methods first. If that didn’t work, I would opt for enzymatic cleaners. It turned out to be a pretty easy fix. I pulled out the drain plug. It was coated with a totally disgusting conglomeration of hair, soap, grease and general yuckiness. Fortunately however, cleaning the plug was all it took to unclog the drain.

Andrew Peterson is a Certified Industrial Hygienist with over 10 years of experience working in the environmental and occupational health field. In addition to writing, he is currently the Environment, Health and Safety Manager for a medium-sized company that has been voted one of Fortune Magazineís Best Places to Work and one of CRO Magazineís 100 Best Corporate Citizens. He lives in California with his wife and adopted pound puppies.


Dana C.
D C4 years ago

Thank you.
A word of warning on the bicarb vinegar method: if you have very hard water, too little will create a bigger problem, since deposits will be released from the pipes but if there isn't enough vinegar to dissolve them, they'll gather at a convenient (or inconvenient) bend in the pipes and cause an even bigger block. FYI.

Vita Pagh
Vita P4 years ago

Thank you for good info.

Susan B.
S B4 years ago

Thank you

Frances Darcy
Frances Darcy4 years ago

From time to time, we had trouble with the sink drains which we used a plunger on and a lot of effort.Then I bought a device the "shoots" air down the plug-hole, it has 4 different sized fittings including 1 for toilets.Cost 8Euro and just used 1 time 3 yrs ago and haven't needed it since. Great job and no effort, pull trigger 3 times, 3 shots of air and bingo.

Carol D.
Carol Duvall4 years ago

I have foster children as well as my own and was having a horrible time with toilet stoppage. I googled it and discovered the best advice ever... Put a healthy squirt of liquid dish soap in the toilet and sometimes you don't even need to plunge. Wow, works great. Other liquid soap has been used in a pinch like at a campsite bathroom. I told the maintenance men at a large kids camp and their first response was to "poo poo" the idea (pun intended). By the end of one week they were giving bottles of Dawn to each of their helpers and telling how it "works like magic!"

Aud Nordby
Aud n5 years ago


Linda Chambre
Linda Chambre5 years ago

I had a terrible back up with my water in the kitchen, and my friend got a plumber in and it cost around $130.00. He couldn't fix the problem with the kitchen becoming clogged and the water backing up and said I needed some sort of cleaning out that would cost thousands of dollars, which I didn't have. I finally got fed up with the kitchen sink holding water and got out that plunger that looks like a football and stopped all the leaks where water could get out and plunged the heck out of it and fixed it myself. Not back for a 65 yr. old woman, eh? It hasn't back up since. What a waste of a $130.

Duane B.
.5 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Samir Nassir
Past Member 5 years ago

Good idea thanks.

Christin Shives
Christin Shives5 years ago

There is no option 6