Last week I was faced with a completely clogged drain.
It had been draining slowly for a month or so. I mostly avoided it, saving the problem for “later”. (It’s so convenient!) One day, I got inspired to try a DIY method from a book. This involved shaking a cup of washing soda into the drain, which should eat away at whatever gunk was there, and hot water would clear the mess out. Whelp, the powdered washing soda hardened to solid chunks, and I’m fairly confident that those hardened chunks may have been what pushed the sink from “draining one gallon an hour” to “draining nothing whatsoever.”
At that point I didn’t have any Drano, so I just…used a different sink, and decided to deal with it “soon”. (Also convenient!) I let it sit there because I wanted to avoid whatever disgusting action it would take to fix the issue, when it was so easy to just walk out of the room and act like there was no problem. And then after a day or so, the water started to stink, and I realized if I didn’t deal with it right away, not only would I have to live with this disgusting stagnant-and-getting-worse water, someone would come and take my adult card away. (CONFESSION: I also accidentally dropped a washcloth into the stagnant water—and had to fish it out again. It was the grossest thing that ever happened.)
Here was the conundrum I was faced with:
- I wanted to avoid Drano, because you spend $6+ on a bottle which, quite literally, just goes down the drain. It hurts not only my logic but also my wallet.
- I was also dreading the prospect of picking up a “drain snake”, which I have never used, nor do I own. When I think drain snake, I think of pulling out whatever putrid, hairy, scummy wad is keeping the water from flowing, when I know for damn sure I do not want to see the cause of this issue with my own eyes, nor touch it with my hands, no matter how many layers of rubber gloves I may wear.
Faced with not wanting to pour money down the drain, or use a drain snake, I decided to take one more shot at unclogging this sink the DIY way.
For posterity, I record below the method I used (inspired by this, found via Auntie Google), with commentary for people like me who are exceedingly grossed out by this whole business and just want it to be over.
Pour a cup or two of vinegar into the standing or slowly draining water. Let it sit for about 20 minutes. You may once again allow yourself to forget it exists, if you set a timer to remember again.
I used cider vinegar, and learned later it is slightly more acidic than regular vinegar (5-6%, versus about 4%) which makes it a good choice for this task. But use whatever cheap vinegar you’ve got.
Partway through the 20 minutes, put a pot of water on the stove to boil. When the twenty minutes is up, pour the boiling water into the sink.
For a slight clog, this might be enough to fix everything. If the water begins to flow freely, go make a cocktail and drink to your good fortune.
For the rest of you: brace yourself. We still have some work to do. But I’m NOT going to make you use a drain snake.
Pick up your plunger. Yes, your toilet plunger. You’re going to apply suction to that drain to loosen up whatever mess has gotten itself lodged for the sole purpose of making you confront your fears of mysterious scummy pipe contents.
This might not work the first time, but keep plunging. And be careful the water doesn’t splash on you; not only is it likely to be icky from hanging out on top of a clog all day, it’s probably hot from step two.
If you are not confident in your plunging skills, I recommend searching Cousin YouTube for some instructions. It is a handy thing, to know how to use a plunger. (Yucky, but handy.)
When you are done, disinfect the shit out of the sink, since it had a plunger in it. (Try not to think too hard about my choice of words.) Use a disinfectant all-purpose cleaner (like my favorite DIY one in my ebook I Don’t Buy That—hint, it uses vinegar). We want to restore our realm to its germ-free glory after this step.
Give yourself a big ole pat on the back. (And I think you also deserve a cocktail.)
An additional note about Drano:
After sharing my victory on Facebook, I also learned of another reason to not use Drano—namely, that some plumbers won’t come if you’ve used Drano in your sink…something about risk of second degree burns.
A quick search for the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) on Drano uncovered a wealth of confirmation that this common household product should be considered a very last resort…at best. Under Immediate Concerns it lists: Danger / Corrosive / CAUSES EYE AND SKIN BURNS / May be harmful if swallowed. Avoid contact with skin, eyes and clothing. Avoid breathing vapors, mist or gas.
In hindsight, it’s a little too obvious that only a strong chemical would be powerful enough to corrode whatever mystery gunk is clogging a drain…and by necessity, it will probably contain a wealth of toxic ingredients that are best avoided. But now that we all know how to use vinegar, boiling water and a good old-fashioned plunger to our advantage, we’re free to avoid Drano as much as we wish!
NEWS FLASH: My local paper reported that a third of Minnesota’s tested wells “contain measurable levels of antibiotics, detergents, or other consumer chemicals known as “contaminants of emerging concern.'” Because I hate this fact, I’m offering a discount on my ebook, I Don’t Buy That. Get a kick-start to making twelve (super duper easy) green cleaning products for just $5: https://gum.co/idontbuythat/pollutionsucks
In the comments below, I’d love to hear your tips—do you have any wisdom to add about de-clogging a sink? What is your favorite cocktail to drink after a major household victory?
image by April Killingsworth on Flickr // cc