How to Unclog a Drain Without Harsh Chemicals or Drano

Try these tips for unclogging a drain before calling a plumber.

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Top view of water flowing down a stainless sink and drain
Photo: adavino/Getty Images

Knowing how to unclog a drain is helpful when, inevitably, one of your drains isn't flowing as well as it used to. Drains can clog from dirt buildup, soap scum, skin flakes, hair, and other waste. And unclogging a drain is essential for keeping water flowing smoothly and avoiding an overflow.

There are plenty of good commercial drain cleaners on the market, even some with plant-based formulas. However, if you're trying to choose more DIY eco-friendly cleaning solutions, have yet to restock your bathroom supplies recently, or want to save money, follow this guide for unclogging a drain without using harsh chemicals like Drano.

How Often to Unclog a Drain

Unclog and clean drains as soon as you notice a drain is sluggish or slow-draining. Every week, rinse the kitchen sink drain and bathroom drains with hot water. Then, monthly, flush pipes with boiling water after cleaning the drain with a baking soda and vinegar mixture.

What You Need:

How to Unclog a Drain Without Chemicals

Rather than reaching for a bottle of drain-clearing chemicals, which are terrible for the environment and can damage pipes or cause a clog to move further down, try these methods—from easiest to most challenging.

Step 1: Try Plunging

Remove the strainer or stopper from the drain, then fill the basin halfway with water. Start plunging, gradually increasing the pressure to (hopefully) remove the clog. If you have a double sink, plug the other side to get enough pressure to clear the clogged drain.

Step 2: Clean With Baking Soda and Vinegar

If plunging made no difference, try pouring 1 cup of baking soda down the drain, followed by 1 cup of white vinegar. Let the mixture bubble and fizz for at least 30 minutes. Then, pour a kettle of boiling water directly down the drain.

Step 3: Use a Drain Snake

If neither of these easy techniques worked, try using a drain snake to remove the clog manually—it's a rigid metal wire that goes down the drain and grabs or dislodges the obstruction, hopefully letting you pull it out. Be careful when using a drain snake, especially if pipes are older.

Step 4: Take Pipes Apart

If using a drain snake doesn't remove the clog, and you feel comfortable doing so, you can take apart the pipes under the sink to clean them.

  • First, turn off the shutoff valves located under the sink before you start working. (Don't skip this step.)
  • Look underneath the sink for the pipe that connects the sink to the wall. Take a picture (so you won't forget where things go).
  • Place a bucket underneath the curved pipe (p-trap), and unscrew the pipes using the adjustable wrench (turning counterclockwise) if needed.
  • Clean out the pipe and then reinstall it.
  • Turn the shutoff valves back on, and run the water to ensure the pipes are tight and not leaking.

If you're still having drainage issues, it's time to call in a professional.

How to Get Rid of and Prevent Smells in a Drain

With regular cleaning of your drain, smells should be rare. However, sometimes odors happen despite our best efforts to keep the drain clean. Try these ideas for removing unpleasant smells from your drain and help it stay odor-free.

  • Run your garbage disposal. If it's a kitchen drain, regularly running the garbage disposal will help eliminate food odors. Be sure to run cold water down the drain before, during, and after using the disposal.
  • Add boiling water and soap. Boil water in a pot, then add dish soap to the water. Pour the mixture slowly into your sink and wait a few minutes. Finish by running cold water.
  • Use salt and lemon peels. Add salt down your drain and run the garbage disposal to help scrub the sides. Cut some lemon peels and put them down the drain. Run the garbage disposal (again) for a fresh, citrusy scent.

How to Keep Your Drain Clean Longer

In addition to flushing pipes with boiling water every month, there are occasional tasks that can help maintain drains. Follow this list of things to do to keep drains flowing smoothly.

  • Add a strainer to drains (if not present) to collect hair and prevent soap from creating a clog.
  • If you have a garbage disposal, it's a good idea to run cold water before and after each use to clear the drain completely.
  • Don't add oil or fat from food down any drain, as this will cause clogs.
  • Avoid disposing of eggshells in the kitchen sink; they can damage the garbage disposal.
  • Similarly, don't put coffee grounds down the drain or in the garbage disposal.
  • Use a yard hose to wash hands when working in the garden or landscaping. Grass clippings, mud, and dirt can clog drains.
  • Try not to flush hair (from shaving or otherwise) down the drain. While small hairs may go down the drain easily, they can eventually build up and cause a clog.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is unclogging a drain with baking soda and vinegar better than using Drano?

    Using baking soda and vinegar to unclog a drain is an effective and natural cleaning method, which some people prefer over harsher chemicals. It works great for weaker drain clogs. By using this mixture periodically, you may be able to avoid clogs altogether (and the need for a more powerful cleaner like Drano).

  • Can you leave baking soda in the drain overnight?

    It is safe to leave baking soda (and vinegar) to work overnight to unclog a drain. Always flush this mixture down with boiling water—no matter how long you leave it sitting in the drain.

  • Can I use hydrogen peroxide to unclog a drain?

    Yes, hydrogen peroxide is safe to use for unclogging a drain. It will dissolve and loosen natural matter—like skin cells—stuck in the pipes. Hydrogen peroxide also reduces germs and disinfects the drain, helping it smell fresher and clean. Just make sure you never mix vinegar with hydrogen peroxide because this can create toxic fumes.

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