Till Dust Do Us Part

Hair, There, Everywhere! Part Two: Drains.

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The last time we gathered in this space, we talked about hair and how it sheds all over your floors and furniture and is generally a total nightmare. And nowhere is that nightmare more horrifying than when the hair collects down your drains. And so today we shall talk about the various ways in which you might go about relieving your pipes of the giant clumps of hair that have collected therein.

Baking Soda and Vinegar

The combination of baking soda and vinegar is an excellent one when it comes to clearing up a clogged drain for a few reasons: (1) It’s safe to use on all pipes; (2) it’s inexpensive; (3) it’s earth-friendly; (4) it leads to that cool bubbling volcano effect, which is fun, and why shouldn’t we have a little fun in life?!?

The biggest drawback to the use of baking soda and vinegar is that it’s not terribly strong, so if you’ve got a major clog it probably won’t do much to eliminate it. Given that, it’s best used as a preventative measure and on slow-running, but not fully clogged, drains.

The basics are this: Sprinkle about a half cup of baking soda down the drain and then slowly pour a half cup of white vinegar. Enjoy the volcano! Allow that combination to work its magic for 5-10 minutes and then flush the drain with hot water. If you see a difference but still feel that water isn’t draining as freely as you’d like, go ahead and do another application.

Liquid Drain Opener

Liquid drain openers — products like Drano or Liquid Plumr — are easily found, relatively inexpensive and, most importantly, they work. They’re sold at most grocery stores (even little corner or convenience stores generally have a bottle or two available for purchase), drug stores, and hardware/home improvement stores, and usually cost under five dollars for a bottle that contains between two and four applications, depending on how serious your clog is. And did I mention that they work? Because they work, and they work with very little effort on your part. Open the cap, slowly pour the liquid drain opener down the drain, allow it to penetrate the clog for however long the manufacturer’s instructions dictate (usually 10-30 minutes) and then flush with hot running water. Voila! That’s all.

But. There’s a hitch: These types of products can be very, very, very bad for your pipes, as well as for the environment. If you share your home with small children, liquid drain openers are the kinds of things you need to make sure are stashed behind a child locked door. We all remember Heathers, right? Right. Drinking that stuff will kill you.

You also need to know what type of piping system you have so you can be sure that you’re using a product that’s appropriate for use on that kind of material; for the most part, your pipes will either be plastic, iron or copper. The label and/or manufacturer’s instructions will let you know on what kind of pipes the product is safe to use.


Drain opening crystals work similarly to their liquid counterpart and come with the same caveats about pipe material and toxicity. They also work. To use, shake the prescribed amount down the drain and follow with hot water. That’s all! There are many brands of crystal drain opener out there, but one I want you to know about is Thrift Drain Cleaner — it’s non-acidic, which means it’s safer on pipes than acid-based drain openers, and people swear by it.

Plungers, Zip-its & Drain Snakes

When things are really bad down there, it means it’s time to get a little bit more hands-on about your drain situation. Which brings us to plungers, Zip-Its, and drain snakes.


Yes, you can totally use a plunger on something other than your toilet! I don’t know why I still find that fact so surprising, but there it is. Try it sometime! Somewhat in the same vein as the use of baking soda and vinegar, the plunger option is probably best reserved for slow running, rather than fully backed up, drains.


One of my readers turned me on to the Zip-It. It’s a single-use item — though you could clean it off and reuse it, it’s just not suggested — that will cost you about $3. It’s basically a long, thin piece of plastic with tiny teeth on it that you run down the drain to catch out whatever clumps of hair and soap and God only knows what else are hanging around down there. The Zip-It website has some satisfyingly gnarly photos, if you’re into that sort of thing.

Drain Snakes

The most important thing you need to know about drain snakes is that there are two different kinds — one model for drains and one model for toilets. The kind used to clear clogs in toilets is called a “closet auger” (as in, water closet) and is designed to move easily through the various angles of the toilet’s piping system. The one for drains is called a “cable auger.” There are also electric drain snakes but those are for the kind of clogs that if you’ve got, you should just call in a professional.

Speaking of professional! If you have an ongoing plumbing issue, you might want to call a local plumber in to look into what’s going on down there. There’s no shame in admitting that a problem is too much for you to take on!

Jolie Kerr is a cleaning expert and the author of My Boyfriend Barfed in My Handbag . . . and Other Things You Can’t Ask Martha.

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