Drains do a lot of dirty work, carrying hair, food particles, and waste water from our homes. With everything passing through your pipe, it's almost inevitable to get a clog now and then.
When that happens, you don't have to use commercial drain cleaner — there's a high chance you can take care of the clog with a homemade concoction.
"Homemade drain cleaners don't use the same harsh chemicals found in traditional drain cleaners, making it safer for your home and your family," says Vineta Jackson, founder of The Handyman's Daughter. "You probably already have the ingredients in your pantry, so it's less expensive, too."
Here's how to make three different natural drain cleaners at home to unclog and freshen pipes.
For most clogs: baking soda and boiling water
Most run-of-the mill clogs are caused by fatty deposits and other gunk that coats the side of a pipe, eventually restricting water flow. A homemade drain cleaner made with baking soda and boiling water will dissolve those deposits, clearing the drain, says Jackson.
Start by pouring half a cup of baking soda down the drain. Allow that to sit for about 5 minutes while you boil a pot of water. Dump the boiling water into the drain and repeat if necessary.
For stubborn clogs: baking soda, salt, and vinegar
When you need extra power, pull out the salt and white vinegar.
"The coarse grit of the salt will gently scrape the inside of your pipes and loosen up trapped debris," Jackson says, while the vinegar will chemically react with the baking soda, lifting grime from the pipes.
To clean your drain with baking soda, salt and vinegar, mix half a cup of baking soda with half a cup of salt and pour the mixture down the drain. Boil 1 cup of vinegar and pour it down the drain — the combination will cause a fizzy and bubbly chemical reaction. Be ready to seal the drain with a plug or rag to prevent the mixture from escaping the pipe. After 10 minutes, flush the pipes with hot water for at least 1 minute. Repeat as necessary.
For freshening drains: baking soda and lemon juice
It's normal for drains to occasionally get stinky. You can combat that using baking soda, which naturally absorbs and neutralizes odors, says Jackson.
For a fresh scent when cleaning your drain, pour a half cup of baking soda down the drain, followed by a half cup of lemon juice. The mixture will foam and bubble. Seal the drain with a plug or rag, and let it sit for about half an hour Finish by pouring down a pot of boiling water. Repeat as necessary.
When to use a drain snake or auger
Drain cleaners break down clogs and flush them through the pipes. Unfortunately, that won't work for everything.
If any of the solutions above don't clear the drain, you could try a commercial drain cleaner, but there's a good chance you actually need to manually unclog whatever is causing the blockage. This happens most with hair, which won't dissolve in the drain, Jackson says.
A plunger can help loosen some clogs, but for most blockages Jackson recommends using a drain snake. If you're unfamiliar, a drain snake is long, flexible cable wire with spikes you can use to clean out clogs made from hair and soap scum buildup. Drain snakes — also called plumbing snakes or augers — come in different sizes to accommodate various pipe lengths.
"It's less expensive than calling in a plumber, and they'll probably use the same tool to tackle the job," Jackson says.
It's easy to make homemade drain cleaners with common kitchen items like baking soda, vinegar and salt. If those don't work to dissolve your drain, you'll likely need to manually remove the clog, using a plastic drain snake or a drain auger. To prevent clogs and keep them from coming back, clean your drains monthly with baking soda and boiling water.Kelly BurchKelly Burch is a New Hampshire-based freelance journalist writing about finances, health, family, and more. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, and Forbes, among others. Follow her on Facebook or Twitter, and or learn more here.Read moreRead less