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How To Clean Kitchen & Bathroom Drains — Sans Smelly, Harsh Chemicals

Emma Loewe
May 24, 2020
Emma Loewe
mbg Sustainability + Health Director
By Emma Loewe
mbg Sustainability + Health Director
Emma Loewe is the Senior Sustainability Editor at mindbodygreen and the author of "Return to Nature: The New Science of How Natural Landscapes Restore Us."
May 24, 2020

As tempting as it can be to ignore a slow or clogged drain, chances are it won't magically get better. In fact, it will probably get worse. Funky smells may also start to develop over time, as whatever's in your pipes keeps trapping bacteria and debris.

While drain emergencies should be left to the pros, smaller clogs can usually be fixed with nothing more than baking soda, vinegar, and some confidence. Here, two green cleaning experts share how you can clear out different types of drains using household staples.

If your shower drain is slow.

When I asked Melissa Maker of Clean My Space and Becky Rapinchuk of Clean Mama what to do when a pool of water forms every time you take a shower, they both said that a drain snake should be your first line of defense. Hair is likely what's clogging your shower—especially if you don't have a drain cover to keep it out of the pipes. "They're easy to use and you don't need any chemicals," Rapinchuk says of snakes. Simple stick one into your drain, wiggle it around a bit, and slowly wind it out as you mentally prepare yourself for what it might have caught. Repeat until it comes up clean.

If you've used a snake and your shower is still clogged, try this next recipe as a second resort.

If your kitchen or bathroom drains seem clogged.

This step-by-step from Maker can be used on any kitchen or bathroom drain that's slow and seems slightly clogged:

  1. Pour about 3 cups of boiling hot water down your drain.
  2. Pour a cup of baking soda down the drain and let it sit for anywhere from an hour to overnight.
  3. Boil about 3 cups of white vinegar. Slowly pour that down your drain. This, combined with the baking soda, will cause a bubbling reaction that can help loosen up whatever is stuck in there.
  4. Let hot water run down your drain again for a minute or so to help wash down anything that's left behind.

If your kitchen or bathroom drain is smelly.

If your drain is running OK but is giving off a slight odor, Rapinchuk has a quick fix: "I recommend pouring a little bit—maybe half a cup—of white vinegar down it and letting that sit for a few minutes before running cold water. If there is mold or mildew down there, the vinegar will take care of that."

This should help with drains that smell slightly stale or musty. But if yours has a more potent chemical or sewer-like scent, it's probably time to call a plumber.

If your garbage disposal is smelly.

For a smelly disposal, Rapinchuk recommends putting your lemons to work:

  1. Mix a quarter-cup of baking soda with a quarter-cup of lemon juice until it forms a thin paste.
  2. Pour it down your disposal (it will start to fizz a little) and let it sit for 5 minutes.
  3. Run cold water down the drain and turn on your disposal. The baking soda acts as an abrasive and the lemon juice freshens things up, so it should smell good as new.
Emma Loewe author page.
Emma Loewe
mbg Sustainability + Health Director

Emma Loewe is the Sustainability and Health Director at mindbodygreen and the author of Return to Nature: The New Science of How Natural Landscapes Restore Us. She is also the co-author of The Spirit Almanac: A Modern Guide To Ancient Self Care, which she wrote alongside Lindsay Kellner.

Emma received her B.A. in Environmental Science & Policy with a specialty in environmental communications from Duke University. In addition to penning over 1,000 mbg articles on topics from the water crisis in California to the rise of urban beekeeping, her work has appeared on Grist, Bloomberg News, Bustle, and Forbes. She's spoken about the intersection of self-care and sustainability on podcasts and live events alongside environmental thought leaders like Marci Zaroff, Gay Browne, and Summer Rayne Oakes.