It's tempting to reach for tough commercial drain cleaners when you have standing water in your shower drain or a slow-draining sink. But those caustic chemicals can cause more harm than good and aren't always effective. Taking a gentler approach to cleaning your shower and sink drains keeps water flowing and smells at bay for a more relaxing bathroom experience.
Sink and Shower Cleaning
Before you dive into cleaning your drains, do a little cleanup in the sink or shower. Wipe away grime along the edge of the drain. Remove any visible hair from the drain cover so it doesn't go down into the plumbing when you clean. Get rid of any other debris that could fall into the open drain, such as small pieces of soap or lids to shampoo bottles.
Drain Stopper Removal
Most sinks and many showers have stoppers or drain covers that you can close to fill the sink or tub. Removing that cover lets you more easily access the drain to clean it efficiently. The removal depends on the type of drain cover you have.
Some pull or screw out with no tools required. Others may have a screw holding the drain cover in place, sometimes hidden beneath a knob that screws off. Use a screwdriver to remove the screw and pull up the plug. Store the cover and any screws you remove in a safe spot while you clean out the drain.
Sinks sometimes use pivot rods to hold the stopper in place. You'll need to unscrew the nut holding the pivot rod in place under the sink to release the stopper.
Homemade Shower Drain Cleaner
The bubbly reaction caused by mixing vinegar and baking soda can help clean out the gunk that's down your sink or shower drain. It can also help remove sink and shower drain smells and improve water drainage. Dump about 1/2 cup of baking soda down the drain with the cover off. Pour a cup of distilled white vinegar down the drain, and let the two react for several minutes.
Pour boiling or very hot water down the drain once the vinegar and baking soda stop fizzing. If your pipes are PVC, don't use boiling water as it can damage them. Run the hot water in the shower or sink for another minute or two to help flush the plumbing and rinse away the vinegar and baking soda.
Sink and Shower Hair Clog Removal
A shower drain clogged with hair may need a little more help to resume proper water flow. Manually removing the hair is often more effective than using shower drain clearing products. Shine a light down the drain to look for visible hair clogs near the opening. Grab the clog with tweezers, pliers, a length of wire or a similar item.
A plunger placed over the drain opening can help loosen a clog that you can't reach. Secure the plunger over the drain hole to get a good seal. Press it up and down several times to remove the clog.
A drain snake or toilet auger can physically remove clogs that won't budge with other methods. You put the snake into the drain and use the crank handle to move it down the pipe until it hits the clog. Continue turning the crank to help the snake bust through the hair and other gunk. After you remove the snake from the drain, run the water to help push the broken up clog through the pipes.
Things to Avoid
Shower drain cleaner from the store can corrode your pipes, which can lead to major damage over time. The fumes can become overwhelming. Bleach may disinfect the pipes, but it's ineffective in clearing clogs from your plumbing. It can also be damaging to your pipes.
Never mix more than one type of cleaner together. The resulting fumes and reactions can be toxic and sometimes cause major pipe damage.
- Better Homes & Gardens: How to Clean a Bathroom Sink Drain
- Benjamin Franklin: How to Clean Black Sludge in Bathroom Sink Drains
- Family Handyman: How to Unclog a Bathroom Sink Drain Without Chemicals
- Real Simple: This Is Why Your Shower Drain Smells (Plus, How to Clean It)
- Do It Yourself: How to Clean Your Shower Drain
Shelley Frost combines her love of DIY and writing in her freelance career. She has first-hand experience with tiling, painting, refinishing hardwood floors, installing lighting, roofing and many other home improvement projects. She keeps her DIY skills fresh with regular projects around the house and extensive writing work on the topic.