DIY Drain Cleaning Solutions

When your drains slow to a crawl, start to smell, or otherwise stop working at their best, the first step is a thorough drain cleaning. Since you can’t exactly see inside your drains to find out what’s going on, you need a drain cleaner to get the job done. While professional solutions can help with major problems, DIY drain cleaning solutions are a good alternative for smaller issues.

Drain-cleaning tools

Drain snakes, plumbing snakes, or zip-it tools are the most common drain cleaners you’ll find at any hardware store. These thin tools reach down the drain and hook onto any debris. For a DIY solution, you can fashion your own tool by unfolding a wire hanger and turning it into a hook.

With your drain snake in hand, carefully push the snake into the drain until you hit the drain trap. This is only a few inches down, so you won’t need to push far. Move the drain snake back and forth to help it pick up any hair that’s clogging the drain. You may need to repeat this process several times depending on how much hair and soap scum are present.

Try to establish a regular schedule for clearing out your drains. This may be monthly, or even weekly if you or your family members have long hair or bathe an animal that sheds a lot in the bathtub. That way, you can stay ahead of any slow-forming blockages by removing debris frequently.

Natural drain cleaners

Liquid drain cleaners are convenient, but they’re not good for your plumbing in the long run. Instead of caustic chemicals and pipe-damaging ingredients, turn to natural alternatives instead.

Baking soda and vinegar

The trusty non-toxic combo of baking soda and vinegar can dissolve clogs and clean your drains naturally. Add one cup of baking soda to the clogged toilet or slow drain, then wait a few minutes. Follow with two cups of vinegar. Listen for bubbling and sizzling noises to indicate that the mixture is working.

Wait another couple of minutes before running water down the drain. If you still notice issues, repeat the steps again.

Hot water and dish soap

Hot water and dish soap can help clean your drains or clear stubborn clogs in a pinch. Heat up a gallon or so of water on the stove. While the water is heating up, squirt some dish soap into the sink. Shampoo can also be used instead of dish soap. Then, take the very hot, but not boiling, water and carefully pour it in. Wait several minutes and then turn on the sink. You should find that the soap and water softened the clog, allowing it to pass. If not, you may have to repeat the process again.

Enzyme-based cleaners

If you want to use a liquid drain cleaner, look for one labeled “bio” or “enzyme-based”. Instead of using caustic chemicals, these cleaners use bacteria cultures and concentrated enzymes that naturally eat away at organic matter. When they enter your pipes, these organisms feed on everything from hair and waste to mold and algae. After consuming whatever’s blocking your pipes, these organisms reproduce, spreading “good” bacteria throughout your plumbing system.


While enzyme-based cleaners often need to sit overnight to work, they’re much safer on your plumbing system than conventional drain cleaners.

Prevention is best

As the old saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. After all, it’s easier to prevent a clogged drain than to unclog it. With a few changes to your regular routine, you can stop slow and clogged drains before they start.

Address slow drains quickly

If your bathtub holds water long after you get out, or your sink fills up while you’re brushing your teeth, a clog or blockage might be lurking within your drains. If you ignore the problem, it’ll keep getting worse, and you can end up with a total blockage. As soon as you notice signs of a slow drain, curb the problem at its source with one of the natural drain cleaning solutions discussed above.

Use drain screens

A drain screen, strainer, or hair catcher fits over your drain and physically prevents debris from washing down it, while still allowing water to flow through. These simple items can be found at most hardware or bath stores. As another plus, they make it easy to clean up any debris that is collected while you use your bath, shower, or sink.

Clean drain stoppers

A drain stopper can collect hair, soap scum, and other gunk that can slow down the drain considerably, or even clog it completely. Fortunately, cleaning a drain stopper is a simple task that only requires a screwdriver, and a washcloth or a drain cleaning tool, to help you remove the buildup.

The most common kind of drain stoppers, drop stoppers, can be removed by loosening the screw located under the cap. Then, you should be able to see whatever buildup has been causing the blockage and easily remove it from the drain. More than likely, there will also be buildup around the base of the stopper itself, which you should remove as well. If the stopper looks dirty due to soap scum or limescale exposure, you can use soap and hot water to clean it. If that doesn’t solve the problem, a lightweight, homemade cleaner such as a mixture of lemon and baking soda or vinegar can be used.

Keep hazardous items out of your drains

Several items and substances have no place in your drains, even if they are commonly thought to be safe. By keeping these items away from your drains, you can reduce your chance of encountering a problem like a clog or a slow drain. The list of items that you should never put down your drain include:

  • Grease
  • Fats
  • Oil
  • Flour
  • Eggshells
  • Coffee Grounds
  • Paint or paint thinner
  • Nail-polish remover

Some of these items, such as fats and grease, solidify at room temperature, causing them to slow down or potentially clog your drains as they harden and collect in your pipes. Other items, such as oils, coat drains and build up over time, resulting in drains that flow slower and slower as more oil accumulates. Flour and coffee grounds expand and form a sludgy, messy blockage, while paint products and nail-polish remover can damage pipes with their chemical properties.

Chas Roberts knows drains inside and out

When DIY solutions don’t cut it, the pros at Chas Roberts can help. Our drain cleaning services can clear large and stubborn blockages and get to the bottom of hidden problems with high-resolution cameras.  From tree roots buried deep in plumbing to debris building up in pipes, contact us to solve your drain woes.