preventive cleaning/best practices for bath and sink drain?
June 14, 2021 9:00 AM   Subscribe

this is one of those basic home ownership things I am apparently very bad at.

I have a teenager with very long, thick hair. This teenager uses vast amounts of slimy conditioner products; and sheds tons of hair, all of which winds up in the shower and sink drains, quite beyond any of the standard home remedies for unclogging.

I would like to establish a preventative routine and install whatever the best safeguards are to PREVENT this from happening in the new clean bathroom into which we are soon moving.

I need the best preventative gadgets (ones which she will not just flick off the drain, as she does with the plastic covers) and preventative methods for avoiding the buildup of crud in the drains. Baking soda? Vinegar? Do those enzymatic cleaners like Green Gobbler work?
posted by fingersandtoes to Home & Garden (27 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Get a Zip-It or similar. I have long hair, use this regularly to pull up gross globs of hair, but the bath/shower drain is clear.
Depending on how the drain is set up, you might be able to put a metal strainer in the drain hole. If she won't use anything to protect drains, I'd be upset and have a serious talk. Having the drain snaked by a plumber is not cheap. Most plumbers say Drano and similar caustic products are not great for drains, and not to use regularly.
posted by theora55 at 9:08 AM on June 14, 2021 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I've found the tubshroom effective for catching long hair before it descends into the pipes. It doesn't block the flow of the water, even when there's lots of hair stuck to it.
posted by burntflowers at 9:08 AM on June 14, 2021 [17 favorites]

I have long hair. I own a manual drain snake that cost me less than CAD10.00. When the drain starts to slow, I use the snake.
posted by TORunner at 9:11 AM on June 14, 2021 [1 favorite]

I want to be responsive to your question, but the good old "hair snare" plastic drain cover works fantastically well (apparently the new kind that goes straight up on the sides is even better)! If she's a teen, it would seem possible to me that she could make an effort to keep the cover on the drain and clean it after she bathes/uses the sink. Can you speak to her about this? Prevention is so much easier and less gross than any cure.
posted by epj at 9:12 AM on June 14, 2021 [6 favorites]

We always had a similar issue with our daughter. Unfortunately, the best fix (for us) was to mount a screen over the drain. I caught all the hair, but it also had to be cleaned off every time she showered. And the shower water would back-up as the screen became clogged with hair. Still, it was better than letting so much hair go down the pipes.

The enzymatic cleaners are more of a long-term preventative, and not an immediate fix. You have to keep regularly pouring the stuff down the drain and supposedly the enzymes build-up and slowly dissolve hair and gunk. To be honest, I tried the stuff and never got anything approaching a satisfactory result. YMMV, of course.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:13 AM on June 14, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You need to stop the hair from getting into the pipes as much as you can. Chemical drain cleaners and the zip can only do so much. Also, it is my understanding that the chemical cleaners only remove the goo around the hair and they don't actually dissolve the hair itself. So they aren't always effective for actually solving the problem. The tub mushroom drain is a good solution as offered above, but I still find it kinda gross. I use disposable drain covers (sorry, Amazon link) that stick on. I throw them away every time I wash my hair, which is once or twice a week. I really I have a deep aversion to hair that is not stuck to my head, and this makes it possible for me to deal with it before it gets into my drain. This is an issue that will follow your daughter for her whole life, and working out strategies for it now will prevent her from the horror that is trying to unclog her drains the first time she lives alone.
posted by twelve cent archie at 9:20 AM on June 14, 2021 [2 favorites]

Conversely, I've had quite good luck with the Green Gobbler stuff for pretty much any organic clog (hair/goo, food waste, and washing machine drain line buildup), but it is sort of an ongoing treatment -- I use some every time a drain starts to slow. Roughly 2-4 times a year, I'd estimate, but note that in my situation I also have hard water buildup issues that are not addressed by this enzyme treatment (so I'm fighting two battles at once; one type of buildup can encourage the other type).

I also flush my sink drains once a week -- run the water extremely hot, plug the sink until it fills up, and let it drain. The rushing hot water does a decent job of keeping the drains "clear'ish" from soap/conditioner goo.
posted by aramaic at 9:25 AM on June 14, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: My kid stopped flicking the covers off the drains once we made her do the unclogging with the zip cleaner. Pulling out a gob of nasty hair is a great instructor.
posted by heathrowga at 9:29 AM on June 14, 2021 [31 favorites]

We have this issue in our household too. Fortunately we have not had any clogs in a number of years.

Agree wholeheartedly that the best solution is to prevent the hair from going down the drain in the first place. If your teenager can brush their hair before getting into the shower, try doing so and then dispose of the excess hair before getting in. Or if they cannot brush it (curly/wavy) consider a wide tooth comb in the shower with conditioner application, for the same purpose and then they should collect any stray hairs to dispose in the bin after the shower. (If forgotten, the little balls of hair stuck to the ledge or wall are unsightly but easily disposed of with a tissue and much better than going down the drain).

The mesh drain covers and zip it tools are good to have on hand too if needed.
posted by subwaytiles at 9:33 AM on June 14, 2021 [3 favorites]

Have your kid clean the P-trap a couple times and, during the grossness, explain the connection between the hair strainer and not having to clean out the pipes as frequently.
posted by aniola at 9:36 AM on June 14, 2021 [2 favorites]

She flicks the covers off because she doesn't want to touch her own gross slimy hair, which is understandable, but she also needs to reckon with the consequences of this choice, which is either using a zip hair remover to pull out her own partly-decayed wads of gross slimy hair when the drain slows, or paying the plumber out of her own pocket to remove a massive clog of her gross slimy hair when the drain completely stops.

As other folks note, this is a problem everyone with long hair has, and the solution to clogged drains is prevention, e.g. a drain screen.
posted by seanmpuckett at 9:40 AM on June 14, 2021 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Agreed that prevention is absolutely the best option here; I make sure to use a wide-tooth/detangling comb before washing my hair, and it's pretty much solved this problem entirely.
posted by sagc at 9:46 AM on June 14, 2021 [2 favorites]

At our house it's more the handbasin than the shower, and what seanmpuckett said except we use a bit of coat hanger wire with the end bent into a long skinny hook instead of a zip cleaner to go fishing for hairbergs in the trap.
posted by flabdablet at 9:58 AM on June 14, 2021

Response by poster: Can you speak to her about this?



I'm sorry excuse me I just hahahahahah sorry it's going to be a while hahahaha
posted by fingersandtoes at 10:08 AM on June 14, 2021 [12 favorites]

Climbing aboard the "right, in the new house you are responsible for weekly drain maintenance" bandwagon. Depending on their disposition you could even give them some/all responsibility for coming up with a prevention/cleaning regimen, on the theory they'll be more likely to adhere to a plan if they have a say in crafting it.

As to strategies, my hair is neither thick nor long, but I do seem to shed rather a lot, and I find going over my head with something fine-toothed before showering and then combing conditioner through whilst showering minimises the amount of hair in the drain and conditioner use. Just pull the hair off the comb and chuck it in the bin after. That combined with one of those suction-cup drain covers has made all the difference.

Sink might need a shroom if they're not motivated to wipe out the basin with a couple squares of damp loo roll after styling.
posted by myotahapea at 10:20 AM on June 14, 2021

Do you have access to a Shop-Vac? There are a ton of videos on youtube for this. This one's pretty good (but for sinks):
You can Shop-Vac out your drain and then maintain it using the covers everyone else here is suggesting / alternate btwn clearing it normally and every now and then w the Shop-Vac.
posted by erattacorrige at 10:20 AM on June 14, 2021

I have a tub with a stupid drainpipe situation (it turns at a right angle nearly perpendicular to the floor immediately below the drain in the tub) and I have longish hair so it gets clogged regularly and I haven't found those Zip-Its to really do the job when things are still flowing but slow. I do try to ball up the hair that comes off in my hands when I run my fingers through my conditioned hair, and throw that out vs letting it go down the drain, but that only delays the inevitable.

I use and like Green Gobbler - it's not like Drano in a few ways: first, it's not caustic and second, it takes a while to do its job (an hour to overnight) and usually requires a couple kettles of boiling water poured after it to get things flowing again. I use it every time the flow seems to be slowing down, maybe 2-4 times per year.
posted by misskaz at 11:30 AM on June 14, 2021

Use a sink plunger! This has been the best strategy to address slow drainage in the tub in our long haired household. (plunger types fyi)
posted by spamandkimchi at 11:49 AM on June 14, 2021

Thirding the preventative suggestion to brush hair thoroughly (or whatever works for your hair) beforehand. I have a little tea tin where the loose hairs go after I pick them off the brush and before I put them in the compost.
posted by lokta at 12:06 PM on June 14, 2021

Also, I haven’t implemented this yet but soda crystals and boiling water once a week down the drains for clearing product buildup too.
posted by lokta at 12:07 PM on June 14, 2021

Best answer: And! Get her to wear gloves when touching her hair clogs, because hair is gross and gloves are great for that. Took a long time for this to occur to me and now I can actually keep the drain quite clean.
posted by lokta at 12:09 PM on June 14, 2021 [4 favorites]

The sticky covers work well for me (mid length curly hair so I don't brush it and washing means three to five days work of hairfall). Its far less ick to deal with after a shower than the plastic ones in my experience. Just pull it off and in the bin. If I haven't got one on I do the balling up the hair and sticking it to the wall system, which is also ick.

But FAR less ick than unclogging the drain.
posted by geek anachronism at 5:35 PM on June 14, 2021

I second burntflowers' TubShroom suggestion.

In particular, I highly recommend the "Ultra" stainless steel model: its stiffness makes it easier to wipe off the clogs, and mine hasn't gotten cracks or mold spots as my "Original" did after a few years.
posted by What is E. T. short for? at 8:48 AM on June 15, 2021

[comment removed because I suggested something you're already laughing hard about, oops, sorry]
posted by MiraK at 12:07 PM on June 15, 2021

Best answer: Strongly seconding cleaning gloves with the zip. They're a lifesaver. Hair clogs are really gross.

I was responsible for something similar at a young age, and my parents' response was to make me actually responsible for it, which I was OK with because I wanted to be able to decide what to do. A thorough instruction on how to use the tools provided + lots of repetitions of 'No, you can't use our bathroom but we can go over how to use the snake again if you want?' = a few months later I was quite good with plungers & snakes, plus the drains remained well cared for thereafter. It was gross, embarrassing, and upsetting to young me but definitely the right tactic by my parents. YMMV if you don't have a backup bathroom that everyone but the culprit can use while they're learning how to not destroy communal plumbing, or if she isn't used to be monkey paw'd about things like this (this wasn't the first time I thought I wanted to be able to decide what I did and then regretted it when I actually was given both the power and the responsibility).
posted by Ahniya at 3:02 PM on June 15, 2021

Thirding the Tubshroom. You don't have the same incentive to flick it off the drain because it catches the hairs without clogging the drain and causing water to build up.
posted by carpyful at 8:57 AM on June 17, 2021

I was a teen with issues around cleaning. I suggest you do the weekly drain cleaning with the teen for the first few months, and let her know that you are also cleaning your own bathroom drain each week. Set the space up with all the tools nearby, including disposable gloves and a trash can with a bag in it (I keep extra bags in the bottom of my bathroom can). If she menstruates, this is also a good time to get her in the habit of taking the trash out at least once a week no matter what.

Celebrate having done it every week. Maybe it's with a high five, maybe it's with a brief dance party. Get those endorphin and serotonin molecules flowing as much as they will for a teenager.

Be very clear that this is an activity that needs to happen for all adults who want to maintain homes, but that almost nobody talks about it. This isn't happening because she has long hair and lots of it, it's happening because modern plumbing doesn't account for actual human bodies.
posted by bilabial at 7:39 AM on June 18, 2021

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