How to Unclog a Drain without Toxic Chemicals

Don't call a pricey plumber! Anyone with a few tools can unclog a drain -- without even resorting to those strong, toxic chemicals. Most of the time, anyway.

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Up next in Bathroom Repair (13 videos)

Learn how to fix many bathroom plumbing problems yourself with the step-by-step instructions in this Howcast video series about bathroom repair.

You Will Need

  • Baking soda
  • Vinegar
  • Rubber gloves
  • Cleaning rags or duct tape
  • A rubber plunger
  • A plumber's snake
  • Petroleum jelly
  • A bucket or pan
  • A length of hose

Steps

  1. Step 1

    Try baking soda

    If the clog isn't too bad, try this easy cure. Remove the stopper and pour one-quarter cup of baking soda down the drain, followed by two ounces of vinegar. Let sit for 15 minutes, then rinse with two quarts boiling water.

  2. Don't try this if you've already used a commercial drain opener, as it can create harmful fumes!

  3. Step 2

    Prep the area

    If the baking soda and vinegar combo doesn't work, prepare to plunge the drain by putting on rubber gloves and removing anything from the area, like a basket strainer in a kitchen sink. If the drain has an overflow hole--or two, if it's a compartment sink--you'll need to block it with cleaning rags or duct tape.

  4. Step 3

    Add water

    Place the plunger over the clogged drain, and then fill the sink with enough water to nearly cover the plunger cup.

  5. Rubbing some petroleum jelly on the lip of the cup will create a tighter seal.

  6. Step 4

    Plunge

    Push the handle down as far as you can, and then pull it back up forcefully. Repeat this pushing-pulling motion until the clog is cleared, or until you've tried for five minutes. If another drain reacts to this, the clog is in the main pipe and will need to be dealt with by a plumber.

  7. Step 5

    Clean the trap

    Still clogged? See if the drainpipe has a plug or sink trap that can be removed. If so, put bucket or pan underneath to catch whatever gunk falls out when you open it. Use your snake to clear debris, and close the trap when you're done.

  8. If you've poured any chemicals down the pipe, don't open the trap unless your eyes and hands are protected.

  9. Step 6

    Snake it

    If the clog persists or there's no plug or trap, use a plumber's snake, or auger. Insert the spring part of the snake into the drain as far as it will go. Crank the handle until you feel the spring hit a clog; then break it up by pushing and pulling while cranking. Be careful not to scratch the porcelain or metal as you work.

  10. You can also try securing a piece of cloth around the end of a hose and threading that down a drain to force out a clog.

  11. Step 7

    Rinse with hot water

    Once the pipe is unclogged, run scalding hot water down the drain to help dissolve any remaining goop and carefully clean the surrounding area and any equipment you used. But if you've tried everything and the drain is still backing up, it might be time to wave the white flag and, yes, call a plumber.

  12. Step 8

    Prevent future clogs

    When your drain is finally free and clear, prevent future clogs by running the hot water for a few minutes -- or flushing it with baking soda and vinegar -- on a monthly basis.

  13. Surveyors in Adams County, Indiana, searching for the cause of a clogged drain found a dead 120-pound alligator backing up the system.

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