Ever since writing about how to get your tub clean after a beauty treatment makes a huge mess of the bathroom, I’ve been worrying about your drains. The worry hasn’t consumed me to the point of waking me up in the middle of the night in a panic, but before it comes to that I figured we should talk about drain care.

The reason that the olive oil beauty treatments, in particular, have me so worried is that any time you put something greasy down a drain, you’re likely to end up with problems. If you’re picturing the ritual of pouring bacon grease off into a container before washing your favorite bacon-cooking-pan you’ve got the right idea. Grease + drains = bad news.

The thing is, even if you’re not conditioning your hair with cooking oil, our showers are places where oily products often lurk. Combine those with the hair we lose while shampooing and the run-off from sudsing ourselves up, and you’ve got a recipe for a backed up drain.

How to Treat a Slow-Moving Drain

The problem with slow-moving drains (other than the inherent grossness of bathing in ankle-deep run-off water) is that the backed up water will make your tub extra dirty and cause the clog to get worse. Here’s why: Mixed into that backed up water is all manner of soap and dead skin and oily build-up. When the water drains, that stuff is left behind — that’s what’s known as ‘soap scum’ in fact! — creating a ring-around-the-bathtub situation. Some of that same stuff will also make its way down the drain and, when mixed with the loose hair that also gets into drains, no matter how impenetrable a drain catcher you’ve installed, will create a clog.

Over time, that clog is going to get worse and worse and then you’ll either have to use harsh chemical drain openers or a drain snake. Neither of those things portend the end of the world, but also life is better when they’re not necessary. I tell you that to tell you this: When you notice that you’ve got a slow-moving drain situation going on, do something about it.

Treating a slow-moving drain is very easy. Pour a half cup of baking soda followed by a half cup of vinegar down your drain. Let that combination — which will bubble and foam up when mixed — work its way through the drain for 15 to 30 minutes. When the time is up, flush the drain with very hot water. If your tap takes awhile to create hot water, it’s not a bad idea to boil water in a tea kettle and use that to flush the drain; the hot water really does make a huge difference in the efficacy of this method. If, after performing that bit of  sorcery, the drain is still running a bit slowly, repeat until the water drains freely.

As a preventative measure, doing the baking soda and vinegar routine once every or every other month is a really good idea. Of course, you have to remember to do it — which, without a slow-moving drain to remind you of what’s happening in your pipes, isn’t always easy.

Another good way to treat a slow-moving drain is with a plunger — which can be used on sink and tub drains as well as toilets. Who knew?!? Well, I did. And now you do too!

How to Use Commercial Pipe Clearers

Here are two things to know about liquid or crystal pipe clearers: 1. They work; 2. They’re not necessarily the best things for the long-term health of your pipes. Now, if you live in a rental and the long-term health of the piping is someone else’s problem, that second piece of information may not resonate with you. But if you’re a homeowner, be sure to heed my warnings. Corroded piping is a thing that no one wants.

But, like I said, they do work. Liquid pipe cleaners like Drano or Liquid Plumr can be found at grocery, hardware and drug stores, which make them an easy and accessible choice for most people. Crystal pipe clearers are generally found at hardware and home improvement stores like Lowe’s or Home Depot. There’s a particular brand called Thrift Pipe Clearer that gets high marks for its good work. You should always follow the manufacturer’s directions for usage, which will instruct you as to how much and for how long to use the product.

How to Snake a Drain

Before you can try your hand at snaking a drain, it’s important to know that there are three types of drain snakes: Hand snakes, also called cable or hand augers; closet augers, which are used for toilets (as in, “water closet” augers!); and electric power augers, which are the ones that are used when, like, tree roots start to grow into your plumbing.

You will hopefully never have to deal with tree roots growing into your plumbing.

Hand snakes come in different lengths — a 25-foot cable will probably be all you need. A hand snake is made up of a steel cable wound around a spool that’s fitted with a hand crank, which is fed into the drain trap. That cable will pick up clumps of gnarly hair and whatever else may be causing the back up. Instead of explaining to you with words how to properly employ a hand auger, I’m gonna let the fine fellows from “This Old House” show you. Partly because they’re the experts and partly because I love their Boston accents so much!


One Last Thing

If you’re a person who likes gross things, the Zip-It is a product that a lot of people swear by for getting hair clump clogs out of drains. It’s a long, narrow piece of plastic with “teeth” that is inserted into a drain and pulled back out, bringing whatever is causing the clog along with it. WarningL You will see some ungodly things if you use it. But sometimes that is the most satisfying experience of all, so if this is speaking to you, go forth and enjoy your moment of “Eeeeewwwwwwwww.”