Unclogging drains without ever seeing or touching the gunk
February 6, 2015 1:09 PM   Subscribe

I have very slow drains in my sink and bathtub. I am 90% certain it is because of hair and coconut oil clogged in there. I'd like suggestions of ways to fix this without a snake, a zip-it, or a plunger.

So far I've tried bleach, vinegar and baking soda, hot water, and dish soap. I'd prefer not to use Drano. And because I just know the clogs are really nasty, I'd prefer not to snake them or use a plunger. I have a very strong aversion to these types of things--looking at the front page on Zip-It's website was enough to make me gag. Is there any store-bought or DIY substance or technique that works for clogged drains in your households?

PS I will not get a drain cover
PPS my house was built in the mid-1950s, so I don't think the pipes are cast iron

Thanks!!
posted by witchen to Home & Garden (22 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
You said you tried hot water...was it just hot or actually boiling? We used to have similar issues in our old appt. and a big pot or two of boiling water every now and then seemed to help speed things up somewhat.
posted by Captain_Science at 1:13 PM on February 6, 2015 [3 favorites]


Go to the hardware store and ask them for an enzymatic drain cleaner. The enzymes will eat the hair and oil, but won't destroy your pipes or show you the horror that lies within.
posted by feral_goldfish at 1:13 PM on February 6, 2015 [5 favorites]


Hire a guy with a snake. And a camera.

Don't use Drano. It will eat a lot of pipes.

This may not be a clog, you may have an obstruction, your ventilation pipe may be broken, or your sewer pipe might be crushed, bent,or broken.

If you have more than one slow drain, this is what you need to do.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:14 PM on February 6, 2015 [4 favorites]


This is the sort of situation where I would ask a friend to do it and repay in homemade cookies or some other favor for them. Or hire someone.
posted by rainbowbrite at 1:20 PM on February 6, 2015 [10 favorites]


I have tried baking soda and vinegar. Make a solution of baking soda and water, and dump it down the drain. Give it some seep time. Then pour a cup or two of vinegar down the drain. They will react producing co2, resulting in some agitation which might dislodge the clog. I think it worked at least once.

Or, at your hardware store, you might find devices which are supposed to apply air pressure to push the clog along. They might work but my most a annoying clog has a way of venting the air preventing pressure build up.
posted by SemiSalt at 1:27 PM on February 6, 2015


Seconding asking a friend. Getting to run my beady eye over the hidden grossness of ordinary life is one of the things I love most, and feeling like a badass butch while helping out a friend makes it even better. Maybe your friends are similar weirdos?
posted by tapir-whorf at 1:29 PM on February 6, 2015 [19 favorites]


You don't want to see the gunk? That's a legitimate concern! So yes, hire someone to do it for you; it's the ooonly way.
posted by Namlit at 1:33 PM on February 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


Thirding ask a friend with a strong stomach to use a Zip-It. It costs a few bucks, won't damage anything, and is incredibly effective (in my experience). There are lots of people who take a sick joy in doing things like this, and hopefully one of them is your friend.
posted by dfan at 1:37 PM on February 6, 2015


If you don't want to see the hair monster, get some household lye. Be careful with it. It will work for sure though.
posted by sanka at 1:53 PM on February 6, 2015 [3 favorites]


Compressed Air (15 uses) or unlimited uses - Seal up any other openings to the drain and this should at least help. Follow it up with more hot water.
posted by soelo at 2:00 PM on February 6, 2015


Anything that eats the clog can and will eat pipes, sealing compounds, things you don't want eaten. This is one of those things where shortcuts eventually come back and bite you in the cooley, hard.
posted by incolorinred at 2:01 PM on February 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


I have heard that squeezing a tube of hair removal cream into the drain can work, but I haven't tried it myself. Usually we use soda crystals and a plunger.
posted by veids at 2:12 PM on February 6, 2015


That why you want an enzymatic drain cleaner. They're kinda expensive, though. Dump a half bottle down the drain, wait 15-30 minutes. Pour in a bucket of hot/near boiling water. Repeat with the rest of the bottle and wait another 15-30 if its still not flowing as fast as you would like.
posted by porpoise at 2:18 PM on February 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


Tapir-whorf took the words out of my brain. I would totally do that for a friend. Snakes, not chemicals!
posted by oxisos at 2:26 PM on February 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


Hey for what it's worth, if you use the plunger you will likely not have to see any gunk. 9 times out of 10 when I've done this the tub simply drains immediately and there's no muss, no fuss.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 2:49 PM on February 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


Seconding (thirding?) that some weirdos really like doing this stuff and you should ask around. Barter maybe? The boiling water trick does help from day to day.

And, um, stop putting coconut oil down the drain?
posted by theweasel at 3:32 PM on February 6, 2015


What I use is a drain cleaning water bladder like this (also available at big box hardware stores). It has never failed me, and everything that's causing the clog goes down the drain without you seeing it.

You have to pull out the drain plug (and make sure to cover up the hole where the drain lever enters the undersink outlet). The drain plug can be somewhat gross (soak it in a 10% bleach solution while cleaning the drain).

The bladder attaches to a garden hose, and is stuck down the drain. When the water is turned on, the bladder expands to jam itself in the drain, and a high pressure stream of water cleans out the clog.

Two things to make it easier to use:
1) Get a garden hose adapter than can screw into your sink faucet (after you remove the aerator) and use 3 foot long hose.

2) If your using an hose coming from outside, put a garden hose valve on the bladder so you can turn it on and off easily from inside the house.
posted by ShooBoo at 4:07 PM on February 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


witchen: "my house was built in the mid-1950s, so I don't think the pipes are cast iron
"

Around here main stacks where cast iron until the 70s. Side branches were either cast or copper.

sanka: "If you don't want to see the hair monster, get some household lye. Be careful with it. It will work for sure though."

Drano = lye with adulterants. Or at least it used to be, I see they've gotten all fancy now.

veids: "I have heard that squeezing a tube of hair removal cream into the drain can work, but I haven't tried it myself. Usually we use soda crystals and a plunger."

Hair removal cremes are basically Lye + Lime in a mineral oil suspension.

Lye really is the easiest way to clear slow draining lines plugged with fats and hair without damaging your pipes. And it's cheaper than drain cleaning products but it must be handled carefully. It turns the clog into soap and then you can flush it away.
posted by Mitheral at 4:10 PM on February 6, 2015 [3 favorites]


Coconut oil melts at around 76 degrees Fahrenheit. Your pipes will often (usually?) be colder than that. If you pour enough boiling water down to heat up the pipes, you might be able to melt the fat stuck to the pipes, and dislodge the clog. But it will just resolidify further down the line, which will be even harder to deal with.

I have not had much success with enzymatic drain cleaners. Apparently they're really intended to be used regularly to prevent clogs, rather than to clean up clogs. Once you get things sorted out this time, you could try using that regularly and see if it helps.

Really, physically removing the matter from the drain really is the best bet. You're totally right that that stuff is nasty. If you rent, maybe you could get your landlord to take care of it for you. Otherwise, call a plumber, ask a friend for help, whatever.
posted by aubilenon at 4:16 PM on February 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


I would also like to say every time our tub drains slowly, I have used a plunger successfully and never once seen what was slowing it down come back up.
posted by beanytacos at 4:45 PM on February 6, 2015


I used to manage apartments and someone's drain was always plugging up. Fortunately, the owner referred plumbing problems to a real, live plumber instead of asking me to take care of it - and every single time I called the plumber the first thing he asked me was, "Has anyone put anything down the drain? Like Drano?" He hated to come when someone had used Drano because it was a nasty nasty problem if there was a backwash of lye. I was instructed to always tell the residents not to use any lye-based drain cleaning product if they had a slow-moving or plugged drain so I added that information to the bulletin board.

A friend of my son's owns an old home and the plumbing has stopped up completely. They did everything they could to get it freed up but finally had to call a plumber, who has determined that about 30' out from the house the sewer pipe has shifted and has a "bubble" in it so that waste runs uphill into this bubble and then rolls back to the house. The problem is likely to be a small break or crack in the pipe itself at that point or just beyond. Anyway, the pipe has been cleared enough that he and his roommate can use it, but very carefully - no washing machine, etc - for awhile, and this part cost $500. Next step is to fix the pipe itself and level it, at an estimated cost of $1200 (and you can be sure it will run more than the estimate). If they'd used lye, which a friend recommended, it would have come right back at them just like the other stuff did - because the pipe was blocked for at least 20'.

I wish you the best of luck, but please don't use lye. If it won't break loose with baking soda and vinegar and boiling water or a plunger, you probably need a plumber - or a friend who's up for the adventure of a lifetime.
posted by aryma at 5:55 PM on February 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


ShooBoo: "What I use is a drain cleaning water bladder like this (also available at big box hardware stores). It has never failed me, and everything that's causing the clog goes down the drain without you seeing it. "

I'm here to second this recommendation. We got one of those bad boys after paying a professional to come out and dehork the nabob on the tub or the toilet or something like that, and she told us about them.

She was awesome, and I found myself kind of wishing more plumbing was broken so I could hear more stories about her wife and her dog and the truly amazing things she'd been pulling out of drains lately.

ANYWAY, we've never had a problem with clogging since getting the bladder-snake-hose-weasel thingy. Works on sinks, toilets, or the bathtub. It's like a magic hydrological horny toad/garter snake mutant of AWESOME.

Plus, you get to have fun yelling instructions to your faucet-minion, like "CLEAR" and "GO" and "STOP" and "HIDE THE WOMEN AND CHILDREN" okay maybe not that last one
posted by scrump at 1:23 AM on February 7, 2015 [7 favorites]


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