Unclogging the drain without pain
Life is tough on drains, which get all choked up on sand, bits of grass, dirt, sunblock, shavings and worse. If it’s high time your drain took a breather, protect your health with a least-toxic, green product. Conventional cleaners are hugely toxic and dangerous. Swallowing or breathing the fumes of caustic drain cleaners can cause breathing difficulty, abdominal and throat pain, nausea, collapse and even death. They contain chemicals such as sodium hydroxide, also known as lye; and sodium hypochlorite, the active ingredient in chlorine bleach. Both of these substances can cause liquefactive necrosis, which, in crudest terms, means that your flesh melts away. (Think of the lye hand kiss in the movie Fight Club.) And if a drain cleaner can do that to your skin, imagine what it’s doing to sensitive fish and amphibians once it goes down the drain. (They can’t even be used in septic systems.) Furthermore, when combined with other common household chemicals such as ammonia, drain cleaners have been known to release toxic fumes or even explode. Adding insult to injury, when it comes to performance, Consumer Reports cautions against the use of conventional toxic drain cleaners due to their health risks, adding that they’re not much more effective than gentler bacteria-based cleaners or an old-fashioned plunger. Here are some greener, least-toxic remedies: In GreenerPenny’s opinion (and that of our apartment super, otherwise a hard-core chemical advocate), no drain remedy is as simple, effective, and eco-friendly as baking soda and vinegar. Pour one cup of baking soda down the drain followed by three cups of boiling water and one cup of warm white vinegar, and let the mixture bubble. If it doesn’t work, toss in the whole box of baking soda and more boiling water. If your pipes are especially old, narrow, or just prone to clogging, regular use of enzyme-based cleaners should keep things running smoothly. Cleaners such as Earth Enzymes and Bio-Flow contain live cultures of enzymes and bacteria that work to break down organic matter in your drains the same way bacteria in your stomach breaks down food. They’re safe to use in septic systems, safe to get on your skin, and actually smell rather pleasant. Think of them as yogurt for your pipes, bioactivated with live little critters to keep the plumbing smooth. Make either of the above part of your regular cleaning regimen, applying the mixtures as often as once a week, as preventive measures. Even if you’re temporarily out of enzymes, baking soda or white vinegar, dumping a pot of boiling water down the drain whenever you think of it will help melt away that schmutz. If you’ve got a mega-clog that won’t budge: Try CLR Power Plumber, a liquid drain cleaner that’s part of the EPA’s Design for the Environment program. It doesn’t have any lye, sulfuric acid, or flesh-melters of any kind, and works well on tough bottlenecks. And don’t neglect the plunger. This old stand-by of the bathroom arsenal works as well as the toxic cleaners on shallow clogs, though it does require some physical strength. But if even that fails, it’s time for the plumber's snake, also known as an auger or a drain snake, available at hardware stores. Consumer Reports lists their price at anywhere from $3 to $130 dollars, but as a professional plumber will likely use a snake, you may as well cut out the middleperson and do it yourself. Be sure to follow the directions carefully: basically you thread the coil down the drain until it can’t go any further, and then you pull it out and the less said about it, the better. If the snake fails, call a pro. You’ve earned it. Remember, prevention is the best medicine, as Treehugger confirms. Be considerate of your drain. Avoid pouring any kind of oil or grease down the kitchen sink, as these substances congeal in the pipes like fat in arteries. Cover the bathtub or shower drain with a drain sieve, available at any hardware store, to catch hair, and clear it daily. Drain cleaning can get pretty gross, but as this is a case where the wrong medicine can kill the patient, don’t compound the harm with caustic products. Household cleaning products swallowed by children are responsible for 10% of calls to poison control centers each year.
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