The Cheapest Way to Clean a Drain without Using Noxious Chemicals

Drain cleaners are some of the most concentrated and dangerous cleaning products available to the home consumer. The active ingredients are some combination of bleach, lye and caustic potash. Extra-strength drain cleaners are simply labeled “poison.”

Unfortunately, drain cleaners are also really good at dissolving hair, and hair is typically what clogs bathroom sink and tub drains. I wanted to find out if there was a safer and more environmentally friendly way to clean my bathroom drains.

My wife has long hair that I’m constantly vacuuming up. None of our bathroom drains has clogged yet, but I figured it was just a matter of time. I wanted to do some preemptive cleaning.

First I did some research, to learn about the different types of green cleaners. Here’s what I learned.

Home remedy cleaners: The most basic drain cleaner is mixing baking soda and vinegar and pouring it down the drain. The carbon dioxide air bubbles scrub the inside of the pipe, and the expanding air is supposed to push blockages down the pipe.

Bacterial cleaners: Remember how certain probiotics in yogurt are supposed to keep things “running smoothly?” Bacterial cleaners do the same thing in your house pipes. The bacteria and enzymes break down the fats and other gunk. I don’t have personal experience with these cleaners because, while the bacteria like chomping on fat, they don’t break down hair. These live cleaners are good for pipe maintenance, however. Two products I’d check out are Earth Enzymes and  Bac-Out Drain Care.

Air Cleaners: If you have a completely stopped drain, a good option could be a compressed air cleaner. These seal around your drain and shoot air into the pipe. The force of the air against the water unclogs the pipe. Two widely available air cleaners are Plumb-Away and CLR Power Plumber.

I didn’t have a stopped drain, and I needed something that would remove hair. I found my ideal product in Zip-It. Zip-It is simple and ingenious – it’s a thin and flexible piece of plastic, about 18 inches long. It has sharp barbs sprouting from the sides every half-inch or so to grab the hair.

The best part about Zip-It? It only cost $2.48 at my local Home Depot – less than half the cost of a bottle of Drano.

I stuck the Zip-It into my bathroom sink and pulled out … well, it’s pretty obvious.

My sinks were actually fairly clean. (To see some really nasty drains, watch this video. I could only make it 1 minute before I started to gag.)

After removing the hair, I wanted to make sure all of my drains were really clean. That’s when I turned to to the baking soda and vinegar.

First I poured about 1/2 cup of baking soda down each drain. I followed with 1/2 cup of white vinegar, and quickly shut the drain stopper to keep the reaction from baking up into the sink.


I waited 30 minutes, and then I poured half a tea kettle’s worth of boiling water (at least 4 cups) down the each drain to chase the vinegar and baking soda.

I now have clean pipes once again. The Zip-It is in the closet, ready to be called into action when needed. And I’m going to ask my wife not to brush her hair over the sink.

  • Laura

    I clicked that video link half an hour ago and am still gagging a little…

    • Mark Evitt

      The dead cockroach getting pulled out of the drain is the worst.

  • Lydia

    I’m glad to know about the green drain-cleaning options. Zip-It sounds very useful.

  • Jesse

    The video is easier to get through with the sound off.  Also, leaving the room helps.

    Is the Zip-It reusable, or do you throw it out after one use?

    • Mark Evitt

      It is reusable, you just have to pull the hair off. I would recommend gloves, however :-)

  • Andi S

    You have some amazing solutions! I shared your post today on my blog. Thanks so much! Andi

  • Darryl Iorio

    Same here! After seeing the strands of hair sticking into that rod, I want to gag! I’m thinking twice if I am going to use it to unclog my drains. It looks pretty nasty! Haha! But if it will save me money, why not? Good thing my girlfriend doesn’t have long hair, so it shouldn’t be that bad — I hope. Haha!

    • Vicki

      Interestingly, it was shaving cream, soap and toothpaste that made up the gunk in both bathroom sinks in my house. Proving that it either is not getting properly washed down the pipes, or my family is super good at conserving water! :)

  • Althea Tumlin

    The best inexpensive solution there is I know is this mixture: ½ cup baking soda, ½ cup vinegar, and hot water. Here’s some more cost-saving tip: Instead of tossing your baking soda out when it’s “expired” and hardened, put it in your cleaning cabinet instead. Hope this helps! ^_^

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  • Carmella Vancil

    That Zip-it is really cool. I tried it once when I was staying at my
    aunt’s house. I’ve seen how my long hair has helped in the clogging of the
    pipes in the bathroom. Haha! It’s fun to look at after it cleans the sink, but
    believe me, you need gloves to remove all the dirt that it has filtered. By the
    way, I’m browsing more information about plumbing and you guys can check this

  • Alvin Payne

    Never thought of those solutions. Those are great. I got an industrial sized building that I manage, it’s best for me to use some drain cleaning salt lake city companies. Thank you.

  • William Danniel

    Thanks for sharing such an informative article with us. If anybody needs plumbing services in Sunnyvale please visit our webpage

  • Vicki

    Have used Zip-It for a couple of years. I too have long hair and it is amazing at fishing it out of the drains. Loosens up the gunk too so the “cleaner” can work, or sometimes boiling water alone is enough to make the drains run free. Perhaps they would be cleaner, however, with a good scrubbing with baking soda & vinegar! Highly recommend both Zip-It and vinegar & baking soda cleaner. A few drops of essential oils can add a freshness to the mix, depending on what you like.

  • Mauve_Avenger

    I tried the baking soda and vinegar fix. Not only did it not work, it made the problem worse. I finally had to go get a bottle of poison to clean it all up.

  • Daniel Labrum

    I use the same method and it works every time. It’s worth trying.

  • Albert einstien

    articles and the blogs really helped me a lot, thanks for the valuable

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  • Brenda R. Sheftall

    My sink was draining very slowly, almost fully clogged. I swore it was from my husbands shaving products. So I bought Draino that came with a zippy think like you bought. I used the liquid Draino and it didn’t work until I tried the zipper. You would have thought I had a hairy animal stuck in the drain. It was my hair!!! I proceeded to try it on the tub drain. I think I pulled out a small Shih Tzu. Again, it was my long hair. Long story short, THE ZIPPY THING WORKS!!!!

    • Robin Phillips

      LOL. its a wonder the chemicals didn’t burn you! You are suppose to use the Zip It before you pour the chemicals down the drain.

  • beamersean

    does not always work…depends on where the clog is….

  • Ronald T. Reza

    In case, after going for various option still there is any clog and if you think of calling drain cleaning services, you should make sure that you inform him/her about any chemicals you’ve used in the drain recently. Accidents have happened in the past and we can avoid such instances.
    I was told about such accidents by a drain cleaning service guy of Doctor Rooter (Toronto), when he came to fix our drain.

  • Marianne

    Have a major issue with blocked drains due to tree roots -ran out of shop bought drain cleaner and used this caustic soda /vinegar mix. It has actually worked better – can’t believe how the water level of the drain has gone down . Now to wait for the municipality to remove the roots!

  • Robin Phillips

    I am making trips to my daughters house frequently because of the drains. It is her and 2 girls and they all have long dark hair! I have to buy a new zip it with every visit but is worth the $3. What a lot of people forget to do is to use it in the tub or shower especially!

  • jackiet

    Thank you so much for sharing this! I’m trying to reduce the chemicals in my cleaning routine!

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  • Quinn Kopes

    This post is just what I needed. I hope mine is not so hard to clean :)

  • Al Bearden

    Great techniques. Awhile back, a local paper told of a drain called a pop DOWN drain (not a pop UP drain). Seemed really cool because instead of having to constantly combat the symptoms, the new type of drain solved the actual CAUSE. Looked high-end and solid, totally worth it for never having to deal with all the hassles of clogged sinks again (remove from the honey-do list). I won’t plug-it, but a Google search would do, methinks.

  • Paul Avelluto

    Great work….. I will bookmark your blog and have my children check up here often. I am quite sure they will learn lots of new stuff here than anybody else!

  • far453

    Omit the vinegar and use just soda. Soda and vinegar (metal and acid) react together and neutralize each other, thus the bubbles. Soda itself is very high in pH, and will dissolve hair on its own. You could even boil the soda solution in a metal pot (not aluminium) and pour the hot solution there, leave it for hours, and then the work is done!

  • Joe DarkBanisher Messier

    I have just tried (30mins ago) using just Pine Sol and a bit of plunger action with hot water running. I let the Pine Sol Sit for about a half hour then ran hot hot water. A few strokes of the plunger and pooft… YAY

  • Imtiaz Hossain

    I just had a bathroom sink drain clogged with 2 inch beard trimmings. I filled the sink with hot water, put some tide with bleach in it to provide a thick base and then poured half a gallon of clorox bleach in there. The once stagnant water flowed straight through into the drain after 30 seconds, it was beautiful. Yours may take longer or the entire bleach container but it worked for me. Wish I recorded it, I didn’t think it would work.

  • Daniel Leyland

    You have described an amazing solution for clogged drains and that also without using any noxious chemicals. I often have clogged drains and hope these tips will help me to get rid of such problems. Thanks for the article.

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