If you've spent any time scrolling on social media recently, you'll likely have come across videos of cleaning influencers using an 'all natural' solution of baking soda and vinegar to unblock their drains.
But without seeing the results for themselves many viewers are left scratching their heads as to whether or not this hack actually works. Is this home remedy the answer to your drainage issues or is it a better idea to reach for a plunger?
We asked plumbing experts to give their thoughts on the trend and suggest some useful alternatives to tackle blocked drains.
Why do drains get clogged?
Before we look at ways to unblock a drain, it's important to understand why a drain becomes clogged in the first place.
“In the home, there can be multiple causes of a blocked drain, with common household culprits including cooking oils and fats, hair, sanitary products, and other items that are incorrectly disposed of," explains Steve Harris, Technical Support Engineer at Wavin UK. "If drains are becoming repeatedly blocked or clogged, there is obviously a larger issue at hand. In this instance, DIY jobs might only go so far to resolve the problem.
In my 30 years of plumbing experience, I know all too well how issues can become worsened by at-home remedies, so my advice would always be to consult a trusted and experienced plumber if blockages become common-place. Of course, having a robust and durable plumbing and drainage system always helps to avoid blockages, because poor quality systems can cause issues down the line.
Whereas traditional valves are U-shaped, providing an opportunity for material to gather up and eventually clog the wider system, systems like Wavin’s HepVO waterless waste trap – available on Amazon – are designed to avoid blockages in the home".
Steve Harris is a Technical Support Engineer for Wavin UK – the UK's leading manufacturer and supplier of plastic drainage piping solutions for above and below ground projects.
Can you unblock a drain with baking soda and vinegar?
In a nutshell, yes. You can use baking soda and vinegar to unblock a drain and the science behind this method is fairly simple:
"Vinegar is an acid that is commonly used in cleaning products due to its effectiveness in removing grime and neutralising odours, while baking soda is an alkali making it ideal for dealing with tough stains and breaking down deposits," explains Peter Clayton, Director of Trade Plumbing. "When baking soda and vinegar are combined it causes a chemical reaction that produces carbon dioxide, this can be particularly helpful when dealing with a mild or partially blocked drain".
However, Peter is quick to caution the effectiveness of this method: "If you have a severe blockage baking soda and vinegar will not be enough to unclog the drain. It is likely that the chemical reaction will break down the initial blockage but by the time it travels down the pipe the reaction will have stopped and therefore be ineffective in deteriorating the rest of the deposit".
Peter is Owner and Managing Director of Trade Plumbing, a leading online plumbing and heating retailer that supplies quality plumbing supplies to both the public and tradespeople.
Reasons not to use this hack
Despite its popularity online, this viral cleaning hack can have serious consequences for your drains.
"The chemical reaction produced when mixing vinegar and baking soda can break down and deteriorate the parts within your drain, especially after repeated use," warns Peter Clayton. "This is particularly an issue for rubber seals, as well as weak or old pipes that corrode at a much quicker rate. As these parts break down they can accumulate in the drain blocking it further and eventually leading to more serious issues like leaking or even burst pipes. A leak can result in serious damage to your property and be costly to fix so it is important to avoid this at all costs".
Alternative ways to unblock a drain
"It may seem old school but using a plunger is often the most effective way to unclog a blocked drain," says Peter Clayton. "This method takes some elbow grease, as well as patience, but it is well worth it once your pipes are unblocked and damage free".
This is how to use a plunger to unblock a drain:
- Fill the sink with a thin layer of water and place the plunger securely over the drain.
- Plunge for 30 seconds to a minute and release.
- Repeat this step until you have released as much debris as possible.
- Follow with some hot soapy water to flush the remaining grime out of the pipes.
"Another alternative to baking soda and vinegar, which is still environmentally friendly, is a drain snake," says David Cruz from MyJobQuote.co.uk. "This is a long flexible auger which can be used manually or on the end of a drill. It is used to dislodge clogs and blockages in drains without the need for chemicals".
“You can even use a dark, carbonated drink like Coca Cola to unblock a bathroom sink," adds James Roberts, Director of Sanctuary Bathrooms. "It may not be the most effective, as it does take a while to work, but it can dislodge some of the dirt or blockage, and is a cost-effective short term solution".
Can you use baking soda and vinegar to clean your sink?
Pouring baking soda and vinegar down your drain might not be the best idea for the reasons outlined above. But this affordable homemade solution can still come in handy when cleaning kitchen sinks and bathrooms.
Mix together a ratio of 1:2 parts baking soda to vinegar and use an old toothbrush to rub small amounts of the solution onto persistent stains and areas where you need to remove a build up of grime.
How often should you clean your drain?
"It’s good practice to run very hot water in your kitchen sink at the end of each day. Adding some washing-up liquid will help to dissolve any grease that has gotten into your drain," says David Cruz. "Shower traps should be cleaned out weekly to remove any hair that has built up there."
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Gabriella is Homebuilding & Renovating's Assistant Editor. She is a DIY enthusiast and a lover of all things interior design. She’s spent the past decade crafting copy for regional publications, award-winning architects, and leading UK homeware brands.
She has a particular passion for historic buildings and listed properties, and she is currently in the process of renovating a Grade II-listed Victorian coach house in the West Country. At Homebuilding & Renovating Magazine, Gabriella is responsible for curating the magazine's home case studies and regularly contributes to the Homebuilding website.