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Use natural drain cleaners

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Using natural drain cleaners—whether homemade or store-bought—allows you to clear drains without powerful and toxic chemicals.

How to maintain drains and garbage disposals

The best way to avoid using toxic or caustic drain cleaners is to prevent clogs and buildups in the first place. Place traps and screens over drains to collect particles, and be very conscious of solid material allow to wash down the sink. Absorbent and expanding materials like food scraps should be scraped from dishes before rinsing. Never pour grease or oil down the drain. Both tend to solidify and line pipes, catching particles that build up and eventually close down passageways. Try these additional tips to keep things fresh the natural way:

  • Once a week run a tray of ice cubes, a tablespoon of salt, a tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice, and a sprinkle of baking soda through the disposal to keep it fresh.
  • Citrus peels such as lemon and orange do a good job of cleaning and freshening the drain with their mildly acidic oils.
  • Egg shells help clean and keep blades sharp, so run a couple through the disposal now and then.

How to open drains and break up clogs

Even with the best drain maintenance can something go awry. If your drain backs up, always try a plunger or manual de-clogger first. It isn't as easy as pouring and forgetting, but it actually can save time and definitely saves money. This method is very effective and should do the trick.

However, if you're not up to the manual de-clogging task and want to try a more chemical strategy, you may be able to make your own green de-clogging solution:

  1. If there's much standing water you may want to first pour a cup of washing soda over the drain and let sit a few hours to loosen the clog enough to drain the sink.
  2. Mix 1/4 cup salt with 1 cup baking soda and pour into drain. Let it sit at least an hour, or overnight.
  3. Flush with at least 2 cups of a 50/50 mixture of boiling vinegar and water. Pour a cup at a time, cover the drain and wait until it stops fizzing, then repeat.
  4. Flush with plain water, hot or cold, as vinegar left standing can eat through some pipes over time.

Additional clog-removing recipes can be found on Care2, Eco-Cycle, and The Green Guide.

Note: Never use washing soda following any commercial acid drain cleaner, as it will react unpredictably with each other. You also shouldn't overuse soda if you have PVC pipes, as its corrosive nature can eventually damage the plastic.

Find it! Natural drain openers

Using natural drain cleaners help you go green because…

  • Commercial drain cleaners are one of the most hazardous products available for use in the home and should only be considered as a last resort, if at all.[1]
  • Toxic chemicals can be minimized, or even eliminated from your home, preventing harm to water and soil systems.

Clearing a clogged drain may be one of the most frustrating chores at home. All pipes will gradually accumulate buildup over time of hair, oils, organic matter, and everything in between. This build-up slows the normal flow of water and causes most clogs.

Unfortunately, the common impulse is often to use a powerful drain cleaner to decimate the offensive clog at once. That usually means resorting to a commercial acid- or lye-based drain cleaner. These products, which contain dangerous chemicals, are specifically designed to eat through the blockage and be flushed straight into municipal water systems.[2]

The main ingredient in many of these clog-busting formulas is sodium hydroxide, better known as soda lye or caustic soda, a substance that has been designated as hazardous by the Federal Water Pollution Control Act and regulated by the Clean Water Act. Most chemicals used in common household cleaning products have not been adequately evaluated for environmental or health hazards, with fewer than 200 of the 62,000 chemicals tested since the US Environmental Protection Agency began reviewing these substances in 1979.[3]

Related health issues

Not only are common drain cleaners less than environmentally friendly, they can also be some of the most toxic substances in your home. The US National Institutes of Health Household Products Database for drain cleaners reads like a who's who of acute warnings, covering anything from vomiting, severe burns, permanent eye damage, and even death.


  • polyvinyl chloride (PVC): A common resin used in a variety of manufactured products.
  • washing soda: A chemical neighbor of baking soda, but more caustic.

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