Clear a Clogged Drain With SCIENCE!!!





Introduction: Clear a Clogged Drain With SCIENCE!!!

Hey guys, howzit?
If you are, or know someone who is, a person with excessive facial hair, this one's for you.
So I trimmed my beard recently, and, like an idiot, neglected to clear the larger masses of hair before rinsing out the sink over which I do my trimming.
I thought, naively, that the hair would simply be flushed down as so many of its predecessors had been.
I was wrong. What I ended up with was a sink that wouldn't drain as a result of my foolishness.
Apparently, I have such remarkably strong and healthy hair, that the attempts of tweezers and even Dran-O were insufficient to reopen the clogged waterway.
Then I happened upon an idea, fresh from the third grade science fair.
Vinegar and Baking soda.

(PS: these photos were taken after the fact, so imagine if you will, a snarling mass of hair and myself in shimmering armor standing ready to do battle with it.)
(PPS: or just imagine a clogged sink and a slightly de-bearded guy...)

Step 1: GET!

  • Vinegar.
  • Baking Soda. SODA. Not POWDER. SODA.
  • Spoon!
  • A clogged sink. Mine was clogged with my own beard trimmings, but I leave you to your own devices for that one.

Step 2: OBEY!

Take a spoonful (or two) of baking SODA, and put it in your sink.
Since my drain was clear of hair at the picture taking time, I had to give it a couple of spoonfuls for dramatic effect.

Step 3: SUBMIT!

Pour some vinegar into the drain. I stopped when I heard fizzing, because I didn't want to wash all the SODA down the drain.

Step 4: Turn Your Head and COUGH!

What happens is a lot of fun, as well as useful.
The baking SODA and vinegar combine, creating a mass of foaming death that violently surges upwards in an attempt to break free of its sink-y tomb.
It also fizzes fairly quickly, hopefully bringing any light debris (read: beard hair) up with it, where it can be safely (but no less disgustingly) grabbed and disposed of properly.


Last, put he Baking SODA in your refrigerator; it keeps food fresh and hairless (always a good thing...)

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    90 Discussions

    Interesting idea. Will this clear a drain if the clog isn't merely "loose debris"? Another good way to get more violence out of this reaction is to microwave your vinegar (in a micro-wave safe container) to near-boiling. I've used this method to descale faucet aerators before.

    10 replies

    You shouldn't microwave liquids (viscous ones like soup aren't a problem). I know you can without any problems but here is the risk: Bubbles form in boiling water around impurities in the liquid or imperfections in the surface of the container. As the water gets hotter the bubbles slowly begin to get larger and rise. This process takes time, as the water is heated along a gentle thermal gradient. A microwave is capable of heating water faster than bubble formation occurring. This can result in water in an impossible state, heated beyond 100C and still a liquid. Any shock to the system, throw in a grain of rice/acoustic shock the container, can cause the water to "leap" from the container and virtually explode in all directions. 100C+ water flying about your kitchen? Not cool. Thin (non viscous) liquids should be heated in a pan on a hob. I know you said near-boiling, but my point is that it is very hard to judge that in a microwave. Be safe kids

    I've wanted an answer to that phenomenon for a long time. Thanks for answering the question I never got around to asking.?

    The traditional solution to this problem (which can also occur if you're boiling liquid on the stove in a pan/pot/kettle with a glass or otherwise almost perfectly smooth surface) is a "boiling stone" -- a piece of irregular rock (or some more sanitary, scientific alternative for food--for this, I suspect any small irregular pebble would work fine -- the more porous the better). Putting this in before boiling ensures that there are nucleation sites to encourage the constant formation of bubbles as it heats, so you don't have kind of nasty massive critical single-bubble overload lasersage is describing.

    Interesting. Good point about glass on the hob, I hadn't considered that. I like the boiling stone idea, I've never come across it before.

    We have 'em in the lab, they're called boiling chips. They're in the manual in every fricking lab gut professor always says not to bother with them (we do all boiling of things in the hood.)

    I use a few grains of salt or sugar (depending on the food item- salt in my tea? No thanks). If the traditional exploding-microwaved-coffee is caused by adding powdered sugar, head off the problem and put a little in before heating it. I wonder if putting the vinegar down the drain and quickly putting the plug in would be a good idea? It might pressurise and blow the blockage down the drain, or it might shoot out of the overflow and get all over you.

    Haha.. I have personal experience very similar to what you've just postulated. Plumbers will sometimes do something called "ballooning" the line when a drain snake won't clear things out. Basically what they do is hook a special hose up to your drain line that creates a seal and pressurizes the line between the drain and the clog, forcing it through. Well in my case, the clog was in there pretty good I guess and ended up blowing out into my bathroom (from the kitchen) up through the sink and bathtub. They didn't notice until we heard water dripping through the floor into the basement. The guy swore that had never happened before, but I never want to clean up such a stinky mess like that again. So, in most normal homes, a little pressure caused by a chemical reaction probably won't hurt anything, but you'd be safer plugging other drains around the house too.

    Heh - didn't see this till now so here's a poetic reply; Johnny was a chemist's son But Johnny is no more What Johnny thought was H2O Was H2SO4

    I've had more success with snakes with saw-tooth shaped hooks on the sides. You can get plastic ones for pretty cheap. They'll pull all that gunk right out!

    Jim | <a href='' ></a>

    I can appreciate that your comment is given in jest to a large part, but literacy isn't necessarily entwined with the ability to understand humour (or for that matter, the ability to follow direction and the skill of understanding the implications prior to doing so). So in the spirit of that, here follows the obligatory public service announcement:

    Sodium hydroxide (or potassium hydroxide for that matter) will do just fine with cold water, with the added bonus that it won't fire out of the drain into your face, simultaneously giving you severe burns and blinding you.

    An exothermic reaction is exactly what you don't want - quite aside from making miniature volcanoes of death, it will also produce enough heat to start fires (and whilst your drainpipe might not be flammable, odds on it passes by something that is at some point - so you can start a fire somewhere away from the sink but still close enough to kill you).

    Wear eye protection and have vinegar on hand when you do anything with strongly alkaline substances - they are the polar opposites of strong acids, so treat them as carefully.

    7 replies

    I don't know where you are from, but here in Czech Republic such "public service announcement" is neither obligatory nor necessary - people are responsible themselves for what they are doing and if they do something bad to themselves it's simply their fault because of lack of common sense.

    Anyway, exothermic reaction *is* what you want - if not, you would 1) have to wait pretty long time 2) there would not be commercially available preparations on the very same basis with instructions exactly the same as I wrote here.

    I don't say in any way that one doesn't need to be careful while handling strong alkaline substances or acids. No one says you should have your eye 1 foot over the drain while pouring the water :)

    It's probably just the matter of different mentality...

    I'd rather labour the point than see some rube mix boiling water and sodium hydroxide as you instruct and getting their face blown off. If I'm thought an idiot for that, then I find that to be an acceptable price to pay.

    As regarding an exothermic reaction, my understanding is that the heat is irrelevant in this case - it is the caustic nature of the chemical that is doing the heavy lifting. Otherwise you could just pour boiling water down the drain and get the same result - which would be both cheaper and safer.

    Trust Him Boiling Water and Sodium Hydroxide is not Something to take Lightly...

    Beyond just it's casuistic nature, Sodium Hydroxide (And Potassium Hydroxide) can Release a lot of Hydrogen Gas even when normally mixed With Cold water... If Boiling Water is used instead, It Accelerates this Production of gas, and could make it potentially possible that the gas can Accumulate to High Enough Volumes and Cause a Hydrogen/Oxygen Explosion!! (If meet with a source of Ignition...)

    Here is a Government Sheet on some of it's potential Hazards... (

    I would agree with 'cfuse' in warning people about the dangers of this...

    You say and I quote:

    "("public service announcement") is neither obligatory nor necessary - people are responsible themselves for what they are doing and if they do something bad to themselves it's simply their fault because of lack of common sense."

    Well some things are not "Black and White..." as you might claim... He is simply trying to warn people so they do not injure themselves... The only people who are "At Fault" are people like you, who have been warned about the Dangers, yet do the thing regardless of Dangers, and then Injure themselves... It is not always a matter of "Common Sense..."

    Sometimes people just do not know any better... Like how some people don't know that mixing Ammonia and Bleach releases a Toxic, Bio-Organic Tissue Degrading Gas... That is not a matter of "Common Sense", Actually "Common Sense" might tell you that Ammonia is a Powerful Cleaner and Bleach is a Powerful Cleaner so together they might make a Super Cleaner... (Which in a way they do...) But "Common Sense" may Not tell you that this combination might kill you in the process...

    Now most people know not to mix Cleaners/Chemicals together, why..? Because they have been Warned Again... And Again... About the risk... Which is all that 'cfuse' is trying to do...

    Don't try to play it off like Keeping People Safe is such a Terrible Thing...

    And your Precious "Common Sense" is made up of Stuff you experience throughout your life, or the Warnings you head...

    As been said: "The Wise Man Experiences Things First-Hand for Himself... Yet the Wiser Man Lets the Snake Bite The Other Fellow..."

    Not to mention if you're making a public service announcement you should phrase it such that the less scientifically savvy public will understand it, not just fellow geek boys and chem students :-)

    I never liked warnings or contraindications that didn't come with attendant reasons.

    I suppose my biggest problem is that I write for someone like myself - if I'd written "do this and you could kill or injury yourself, or damage your own or someone else's property" I'd still be left with the question of "why?" as a reader.

    I've never been the kind of person who responds to don't do x, but I do tend to listen to don't do x because ...