DIY Drain Cleaner (+ Elbow Grease!)

When your shower or sink drains start to back up, what’s your first instinct?  Clean it out manually?  Grab a bottle of commercial cleaner that’s supposed to unclog it for you?  Admittedly, there’s a lot of appeal in how the commercial cleaners work.  Just pour some into the sink or shower or toilet and let it do its thing.  We live in a world where time is valuable, so why not go for the easy fix, right?  Well, you might want to rethink that.  Did you know commercial drain cleaners are considered one of the most caustic “cleaners” you can have in your home?  According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) website:
  • Drain cleaners contain very dangerous chemicals – Sodium Hydroxide being one of the most common
  • If inhaled, ingested, or comes in contact with your skin, you can expect symptoms of difficulty breathing, loss of vision, abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, severe burns and tissue damage, among others
  • With severe cases, ER treatments can include endoscopy to pinpoint burns in the stomach and esophagus, IV fluids, pain meds, and potential surgery to remove burned tissue
  • If swallowed, possible long-term risks include continuous damage to esophagus and stomach for several weeks, and death occurring up to 1 month after incident
Now, I’m not one to create hysteria, and I think the majority of the time people follow instructions properly, but why would you even want to risk an accident, especially if you have kids or pets?  What if the lid wasn’t put back on tight, or the bottle gets knocked over while open, or it splashes on you while pouring?  Personally, any type of cleaner that suggests you don gloves and protective goggles to use, isn’t one I want in my house.
In researching drain cleaner toxicity, I came across a plumbing company’s blog post that recommends NOT using caustic drain cleaners.  I found that to be especially interesting coming from a plumbing company!  They point out that not only are chemical drain cleaners harmful to humans, but they’re also harmful to your plumbing fixtures and pipes.  While those chemicals are sitting there trying to eat through the clog, they’re also eating away at the pipes.  Talk about an expensive repair down the road if you use these cleaners often.  So according to this company, if you’re going to go with something commercial, try enzymatic cleaners instead.  They’re much safer, although they generally take longer to unclog, and additional applications are needed.  They also recommend the same things I do, make your own natural, safe cleaner and use a little bit of elbow grease!


So what did I do when our shower drain started backing up?  I grabbed a metal coat hanger, some baking soda, vinegar and doTERRA Lemon essential oil.  It was an easy process…a little on the gross and smelly side, but easy.  After taking off the shower drain cover, I used the hanger to pull out the clog.  I added about 1 cup of baking soda, then a few drops of the oil, followed by about 1 1/2 cups of vinegar.  There will be lots of bubbles and fizzing!  It’s recommended that you place a bowl or plate over the drain opening to keep that reaction working on the drain itself.  I found it wasn’t necessary, but that could be because I had already pulled the clog out.  Just have something on hand and you’ll know if you need it.  I let the mixture sit for about half an hour before flushing it with warm water.  The lemon oil, in addition to being a natural disinfectant, neutralized all the odor.  As you can see in the “Before” photo, there’s lots of gunky buildup from soap, shampoo, shaving cream, etc.  Not pretty, and I really hate to show it, but if you have a sparkling “After” photo, you have to show the yucky “Before” photo.  The baking soda & vinegar mix didn’t take away all the gunk, so I simply used the coat hanger to scrape it off.  It flaked off pretty easily and probably would have gone much quicker if I had something better than a hanger.  I finished up by flushing with warm water again, and the drain pipe looks great!


There are other DIY drain cleaner recipes out there.  I encourage you to give one a try and help cut down on chemical usage.  Remember, what you put down the drain can make its way into water supplies, rivers and oceans, affecting humans and wildlife!

One thought on “DIY Drain Cleaner (+ Elbow Grease!)

  1. I’ve been looking for an effective way to clean my drains for months! I’m glad that you posted this article, because this method looks like it works very well. Plus, vinegar and baking soda are fairly cheap!

    Alex Jennings |

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