Weekend Projects

This Weekend: Do The Grossest Thing You’ll Do All Year

published Oct 14, 2017
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(Image credit: Anna Spaller)

This weekend, it’s time to address another hidden part of our homes, one that, left unchecked, can cause much bigger and more serious problems. There are at least a few of them in your house (I have eight) and they could be harboring some serious gunk. Roll up your sleeves and brace yourself for some yuck.

All during October, we’re tackling your home’s “scariest” tasks — the dirtiest, foulest, most dreaded jobs on your to-do list. For the next four weekends, get out your rubber gloves and get ready: we’ll all knock them out together.

This Weekend’s Scary Assignment: Clear your clogged or slow-emptying sinks by cleaning out hair and gunk from the drains and traps.

(Image credit: Marisa Vitale)

Assess Your Drains

When it comes to cleaning drains, we want the “punishment” (the unclogging method) to fit the “crime” (the type of buildup).

In order to clear drains strategically, without pouring a bunch of solutions down the drain that may or may not work, you have to consider what types of things are going down that drain that could eventually lead to clogs.

Kitchen sinks tend to be clogged by a buildup of cooking fats that accumulate over time and larger items that get stuck, such as vegetable peels. Thick items like peanut butter and expanding items like rice or quinoa can also pose problems in kitchen sink drains or disposals.

Bathroom drains, both sinks and shower or tub drains, are usually plagued by hair and soap or product scum.

(Image credit: Jessica Isaac)

Cleaning Kitchen Drains

An old standby method of cleaning drains is to pour baking soda and vinegar down them. But as this experiment shows, the combination is not a good option, particularly for the types of clogs that kitchen drains can develop. Indeed, baking soda and vinegar pretty much cancel each other out in any cleaning situation.

As mentioned above, kitchen drains often become clogged with cooking fat that cools down, hardens, and builds up over time. They need to be cleaned out with a solution that tackles this type of mess.

Boiling Water and Dish Soap

Simple boiling water is an excellent option because it melts the grease. Adding dish soap provides an additional boost because it helps break down the fat that’s causing the problem.

Boil water in a large pot and then add a few squirts of dish soap. Pour this solution down the drain. Repeat. Use technique below as well.

Boiling Water and Salt

Salt acts as an abrasive to help scrape grease that might still be clinging to the pipes. Pour half a cup of any kind of salt down the drain (use a funnel if it makes it easier to get the salt down the drain). Then flush the drain with boiling water. Repeat a few times.

Tip: Use an electric hot water heater to boil your water. It’s much easier than a large pot to pour from.


A sink plunger, not to be confused with the differently-shaped toilet plunger, is useful for removing wads of vegetable peels and the like from your drains. If you notice a slow-flowing kitchen sink, try plunging it until the clog is released.

(Image credit: Anna Spaller)

Cleaning Bathroom Drains

Bathroom drains tend to become clogged with hair, especially if there are long-haired members of the family, and soap residue. To remove these types of clogs, a simple drain snake can be threaded down the pipe. While pulling a glob of hair and other gunk out of your sink or shower is certainly gross, it’s also satisfying to get it out of your pipes.

Preventing Clogs

In the kitchen, remember not to ever let FOG (fats, oils, or grease) go down the drain. If it’s solid at room temperature, don’t use hot water to wash it down the drain. Instead, wipe oils and fats with a paper towel and throw them in the garbage or collect them in a jar to dispose of later.

Also remember not to let large food particles, particularly from food prep activities like peeling potatoes or onions, down your drain or disposal. Refer to your disposal’s instructions about what can safely go down that drain.

Drain covers, both for the kitchen and bathroom are important. For the bathroom, get a drain cover that traps hair before it can make it into the drain, of course, but also one that’s easy for you to clear out so you can collect the hair and throw it in the garbage.

With proper maintenance, including repeating these drain-cleaning procedures every six months or so, you could spare yourself the frustration of severely clogged sinks and costly plumbing repairs.