Between the human body's natural disgusting emissions and the gross chemistry of what happens in the horrorscape of city plumbing, everyone who is not a Romney or a Hilton will inevitably someday be faced with the unpleasant task of unclogging a blocked drain. But just because your house is constipated doesn't mean you need to give yourself a hernia. Here's how to clear out pesky drainage blockages in the least barf-inducing way possible.
The best drain clog is the clog that doesn't exist in the first place, and there are a few ways to keep your drains clean and your plunger unused. First, don't pour bacon fat down your kitchen drain. It will harden into a solid, delicious-smelling clog and quickly turn into a big bacony headache. In fact, if you don't have a garbage disposal, don't dump greasy crap down your drain at all; it will build up in your pipes and attract all sorts of flotsam and jetsam until you have yourself a full-on clog. To prevent buildup, pour boiling water down your drain periodically, and every few months, pour 2 parts baking soda followed by 1 part vinegar down the drain in a well-ventilated room. About half an hour later, follow it up with some boiling water. And if you're really desperate, consider chopping off your mane and requiring any and all houseguests to have hairstyles that leave room for the holy spirit between their shoulders and hair.
If you're noticing that the water is taking its sweet old time in your sink or tub, there are a few things you can do before breaking out the Drano. First, try to guess what's causing the clog. If it's your bathtub drain, it might be hair, and so you should grab a pair of rubber gloves, a screwdriver, a medical mask (if you have one; otherwise just put some Vick's under your nose) and a wire hanger. Bend the end of the hanger into a small hook, small enough to fit a couple of inches into the drain and hooky enough to grab onto the primordial ooze that's formed around the hair wad that's currently residing beneath your drain. Next, unscrew the drain. If there's hair hanging off it, try not to barf, just keep pulling until the hair glob comes out. Then, take your little hook and reach a little way into the drain (no more than a couple of inches) and try to grab whatever hairy mass is down there. You may need to make a couple of passes, and the hair may smell very, very bad. Replace your drain, run very hot water for a few minutes to make sure it's going down properly, and try to forget this whole thing ever happened.
If it's not hair, you should first try pouring two cups of baking soda followed by one cup of vinegar into the pipes, letting it sit for half an hour, and following that up with a tea kettle full of hot water (or a microwaveable Tupperware bowl. Whatever works). You can also use antacid tablets (like Alka Seltzer) to remove a clog by dropping a few into the drain and following it with a cup of vinegar. When the combination starts to fizz, pour boiling water down the drain.
Don't fret if none of those techniques work. You've still got your friend The Plunger and your other friends Your Arm Muscles. But when you plunge, don't plunge in vain. Using rubber gloves (or a Ziplock bag you wear like a mitten), line the rim of the plunger with Vaseline or petroleum jelly. This will help create a seal between the mouth of the plunger and the mouth of your drain. Next, fill your clogged sink or tub with enough water to cover the head of the plunger; this will allow a better seal and thus better results from your efforts. Next, place the plunger over the drain and pump it rapidly up and down about 10 times before removing the plunger from the drain. Repeat as needed.
If that doesn't work, you can resort to Drano, but that stuff freaks me out on account of the fact that it's poisonous and it smells like how I imagine Dick Cheney's breath smells.
Before you're sent skipping on your merry way, here's an embarrassing warningstory from the annals of not long ago. I was getting ready to meet some friends at dinner when I noticed that my tub was halfway full of soapy water. Figuring it must be another clog and out of vinegar, I attacked my drain with a plunger with the anger of a heavy metal drummer. After 10 minutes of plungerfucking my drain, nothing. Well, some gloopy sounds and some sort of promising halfassed circling of the drain by the soapy residue on top of the water, but after that, nothing. I ended up working on the clog for about 20 minutes, making myself late for dinner in the process, before I realized that the drain would not drain because I'd accidentally flipped the stopper switch, and thus the tub was doing what it was supposed to be doing while I was pumping away like a moron. Don't do that.
So what have we learned? Vinegar saves the day, yet again. Don't pour bacon grease into the kitchen sink. And most importantly, make sure the drain is not in place before you attack it the sink as though the pipes are clogged.
Image Jim Cooke, Drain photo by Orla/Shutterstock