Clear a slow drain naturally

When a drain stops draining like it’s supposed to, the un-natural among us haul out the Drano.  But there IS a better, cheaper and more natural way to get the lead (or lead-like sludge) out of a drain.

Products like Drano are bad for the environment on several counts. For one, Drano’s ingredients pose serious health hazards if humans or other living things come in contact with them. Its ingredients work by heating up lye in a chemical reaction and swirling shards of aluminum in the drain to cut through hair and other clog agents. If the compound doesn’t wash all the way out of pipes, it can be harmful to plumbers working on pipes later, or to people who are splashed by water coming up out of a Drano-containing drain.

There is a better way

Fortunately, a quick and easy way exists to clean out drains — and it’s completely gentle and nontoxic to humans.

It does require a little elbow grease, a little grossness (but honestly … worse than Drano?), and it works best BEFORE the drain is completely clogged. Do this procedure once every week or two, or whenever you notice a drain getting slow, and you’ll be good to go.

1. Remove the drain cover, if you can. For most sinks, you can just pull it out.

2. Remove all the sludge, slime, hair, etc. that you can. This is the nasty part! Use a rag or even a paper towel (it’s OK, you can compost it).

3. Look into the drain. Do you see clogs of hair in there? You can purchase a flexible plastic drain-cleaning tool (like an extra-long plastic stick). Or use something homemade, like an actual stick (be careful! don’t let it break off in the drain!) or a coat hanger. If you use a hanger, put a tight crimp in the end to catch the nasty, nasty goo, and also so that the wire doesn’t punch through PVC or flexible pipe — or even worn-out metal pipes.

4. Sprinkle a good 1/2 cup of baking soda into the drain.

5. Remember your fourth-grade science-project “volcano”? Time to relive your childhood! Follow up with about 1 cup of white vinegar. Pour it right in there. Let it sizzle, sizzle, sizzle away.

6. Meanwhile, start heating up 1/2 to 1 gallon of water to a boil. (I use my electric kettle to save some energy.)

7. Check on the “volcano.” If the drain is really gummed up, the liquid might be just sitting there. Pull out your trusty stick again and gently swizzle it around, up and down in the drain to get the liquid circulating.

8. Pour the boiling water down the drain. Use the stick, if necessary, to keep things moving. Odds are good that you’ll be left with some nasty bits scattered around the sink — old toothpaste and more, being devoured by gummy bacteria or other scientific creatures.

9. If the drain was really foul, or is still a bit slow, repeat the above steps.

10. Pour an extra half-gallon or so of boiling water down. By now the drain should be running smoothly!

Clean the sink (but of course!) and you are on your way — ready for your sink to swirl away your water for another few weeks or months, all naturally.

{ 33 comments… read them below or add one }

Mrs. Micah June 3, 2009 at 3:48 pm

My husband just plunges our bathtub once it’s gotten clogged. With the standing water, it’s pretty similar to a toilet. The he washes the bathtub, of course. :)

It works really well for us with a bigger drain/clog–though I’ve used this method on our sink and it works well too!


Plumbing East London November 18, 2012 at 4:40 pm

Very helpful advice, we have similar plumbing and drainage problems in London unblocking a slow drain and this is way is the most effective.


WeightlessOne June 4, 2009 at 7:09 am

I’d also recommend stuffing an old washcloth in the drain and the overflow hole after adding the vinegar. This makes the mixture bubble down through the clogged pipe instead of just back up into the sink. Leave it for a minute until you think the bubbling has done its job and then flush with the boiling water.


WeightlessOne June 4, 2009 at 7:09 am

I’d also recommend stuffing an old washcloth in the drain and the overflow hole after adding the vinegar. This makes the mixture bubble down through the clogged pipe instead of just back up into the sink. Leave it for a minute until you think the bubbling has done its job, remove the washcloth, and then flush with the boiling water.


Cheap Like Me June 4, 2009 at 8:12 am

Good tip on the washcloth!

@Mrs. Micah – I agree, plunging can work great once you have a full-on stopped-up drain! I do that in my laundry sink too … although it takes some coordination to block the second tub’s drain so that it works properly.

You can use this method, though, to clear out the gunk on a slow drain before it is 100% stopped up — it removes all the black goo.


Green Bean June 7, 2009 at 10:20 pm

I’ve tried this a couple times (the vinegar and baking soda). Worked pretty well but love the tip on a washcloth in the comments too.


DIY Solar Guy March 17, 2011 at 2:58 pm

My brother in law uses a shop vac. Just hold the hose in the drain and turn on. Sucks up a lot of ugly stuff.


Kimbyrlie June 7, 2011 at 2:11 pm

worked great, so simple


Nate the Clean Guru July 19, 2011 at 10:23 pm

The natural way is always better for the drain and your health


halfling July 19, 2011 at 11:41 pm

Awesome advice! I just used to clear out a drain that has been bugging me for probably a year now cause it drained so slowly. It was nice to hear the sound of draining when the baking soda/vinegar combo finally broke through and cleared the remaining obstruction. The boiling water poured right down and cleared it all out. Now the drain keeps up with the faucet even on max. And best of all no icky chemicals down the drain. I will show this trick to my kids (ages 7 and 9) next time their bathroom drain looks gross since I know they can do this without having to worry about them getting poisoned.


cool bean August 7, 2011 at 12:34 am

worked for me I didn’t have the money to buy draino so i looked for advice, i just used the super hat water then plunged it and the water melted or softened it , then the plunger pushed through.


Bristol Blocked Drain August 9, 2011 at 2:39 am

Very helpful advice, there are many ways of unblocking a drain and this is one of the most effective.


kitkat December 17, 2011 at 5:05 am

this worked awesome and i couldn’t believe it…Thank you to who ever posted this solution.


Kayla March 17, 2012 at 10:30 am

Woo Hoo! I hate to say I tried almost a full bottle of a chemical solution and got nowhere. Finally looked online and saw this. Unbelievable how great it worked. Thank you!


Julia March 31, 2012 at 7:56 am

Brilliant! Thank you!


Sue July 14, 2012 at 2:51 pm

I spent a lot on chemical fixes that didn’t work. I was ready to call a plumber.
This worked soooo well. Amazing!!!


Nicola August 12, 2012 at 1:09 am

Great information works great!


Christo September 4, 2012 at 4:52 pm

It worked awesome! And wanna know another neat little trick? To really get an awesome clean, if you take an old bottle scrubber (like this one in the link), and just smash it down the drain, you get all the caked on stuff off so easily!


john September 4, 2012 at 10:05 pm

Great idea with the “volcano” idea. Wish I would have looked here prior to spending 200 on a plumber to plunge my tub for 30 minutes.
I assume this will be safe for lead pipes as well. I used to pour bleach down which helped for a bit. Will have to try these suggestions next time.


mr.chips October 23, 2012 at 12:52 am

Thanks a bunch for posting this! Worked perfectly! As a new home owner with an older house…it’s so awesome to learn about ways of keeping things maintained safely!! And it’s fun!


kesha November 6, 2012 at 6:50 pm

Thanks so much. this worked REALLY well.
i used both the salt and the cloth ideas as well to ‘contain’ the volcano.
i couldn’t take the drain cover out so poked a kebab stick around, then poured a little boiling water, then bi-carb soda, white vinegar, the cloth then a lot of boiling water.
it cleared straight away but i did it a second time just to make sure i’d cleaned it well.
i’ll be doing this regularly to keep it clean.
again, thanks for keeping us clean and green. kesha


jerry November 9, 2012 at 8:16 am

Why not cover the vent holes and use a shop vac?


tlcorbin January 31, 2013 at 11:26 am

Go to your fridge, grab the baking soda and reach under the sink and get the vinegar.
no shit
Thanks, TC


tmc March 2, 2013 at 1:20 pm

+1 here, this worked… had nothing to lose. Now that I KNOW it works, I’ll buy some baking soda & vinegar in bulk instead of piecemeal. I think I bought the vingear for something else, oh well. the drain was 99% and would take an hour or more to make progress. this tub drain is in the basement. luckily, during Sandy the drain was 90-95% clogged, saved us from worse backup water woes! now if we can just remind ourselves what to do the next time. years of propaganda tells you to reach for the drain-o or call a plumber.


Raguiar March 10, 2013 at 12:40 pm

Thank you, thank you, thank you! I’ve been fighting slow drains with all sorts of commerical crap that never worked. So simple and fixed within 10 minutes (took that for the water to boil!) I’m buying baking soda and vinegar in bulk to do all the drains once a month.


Antony April 16, 2013 at 11:20 am

This post is in fact a nice one it helps new net visitors, who are wishing for blogging.


Robin (at Stone Soup Homeschool Resources) April 23, 2013 at 12:50 pm

It worked like a charm! We used the top of a soda bottle, cut off, as a funnel for the baking soda, so more would “hit the target”, and my 13 year old daughter did the job on several of our drains, as a homeschool plumbing project. (Hehehe…) I think I need a long bottle brush to really get all the gunk! Is that OCD? LOL!


sixrealms August 27, 2013 at 3:58 pm

I think the baking soda/vinegar great for cleaning the trap, but what for clearing gunk located 20-30 feet down the pipe. This is a pipe taking away kitchen sink, dishwasher, and clothes washer water. Bathrooms located on the opposite side of the house have no problems. It is the clothes washer that demonstrates the problem. If the bottleneck is closer, the washer’s stand pipe overflows. After the this nearer bottleneck is resolved, the next slowdown brings the backup up the floor drain. I had removed the 1st bottleneck and a run of the dishwasher brought it back. I’ve been slowoely cleaning the pipe using Zep enzyme overnight and 10-15 gallons of boiling hot water in the morning. I twice tried a caustic overnight but that didn’t seem to clear any more any faster. Having a full tub (extra large capacity) clothes washer water draining on slow spin, I’ve gone from having to interrupt the spin/drain 5 times for emptying down to one interruption (i.e. half a tub will empty before overflow). My goal is to enable a full tub to drain at fast spin/drain without problem, as it did once upon a time. Plumber verified no tree root problem. Cleaning this far has cost me $45 for the enzyme and caustic drain cleaners. My past experience with plumbers is +$200 with no lasting results. The sink and stand pipe use PVC, so I hesitate to use an acid that will generate heat. I could use acid in the floor drain and this would only affect the 2nd bottleneck. I am about to go to the store to buy more cleaner. Any cost effective suggestions? I’ve doubled and tripled the recommended strength of the enzyme… perhaps more is not better?


Doug July 1, 2014 at 4:15 pm

Comercial chemicals for unclogging pipes will not generate enough heat to do damage to any pipe your home may have in it…unless you have a house that is old enough to have lead sewage pipes. I see your post is fairly old so I hope you have worked out your drainage issues… If not it would pay to go to a local rental company and rent a powered snake. Chances are the buildup you are eluding to here will not be attacked by any chemical available in big box stores or hardware stores. The powered snake will get through andy large line arterial sclerosis you may have and get your system up and running like new. That being said if your not familiar with how the basics of a plumbing system work do not attempt this these powered snakes can break pipes if not properly guided. If you have any doubts call around to different plumbers and ask them directly how much they charge to run a snake through your drainage system. If they try and tell you you may need something else…go to the next one. this is always the place to start for slow drains in several of the drains in the house…particularly the way you describe your symptoms. Good luck and hope your sink drains well and sucks air ;)


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