What options do you have if you're trying to unclog a sink or bathtub drain without using expensive and potentially hazardous chemicals? Here are some options to try that are quick, easy, inexpensive, and environmentally conscious.
Boiling water: Fill a teakettle or pot of water and boil it on your stove top, or use a microwave-safe container and boil it in the microwave. Once it's boiled, carefully transport it to the problematic drain and start to pour it in slowly. It's usually better to pour a little at a time, leaving a break of a couple of minutes in between so that the water can start to break down the clog.
Bent wire clothes hanger: Unwind a wire clothes hanger and make it as straight as possible, leaving a small hook at one end. Reach it past the drain cover and into the drain, being careful to pull clogs out rather than packing them down farther. Be aware that you may start to pull up some gross, smelly stuff! If you do not have a wire hanger, you can purchase a specialized drain cleaning tool at a hardware store. Once you've removed a bunch of hair and gunk, run the hot water – or revisit the boiling water technique.
Baking soda and vinegar: If you've ever combined these two ingredients before, you know that they fizz like crazy when you put them together. That fizzing can actually help unclog a drain – combine 1/3 cup baking soda with 1/3 cup vinegar in a measuring cup and immediately pour it down the clogged drain. You can also put the baking soda into the drain first and then pour the vinegar in afterwards. Let it sit for as long as possible – overnight is ideal. You can then run the hot water or pour boiling water down the drain.
Another technique for bathtubs is to add the baking soda and vinegar to the drain, plug the drain, and then fill up the tub. Once the baking soda-vinegar mixture has fizzed for about an hour, plug the drain and fill up the tub. Once it's full, unplug the drain. The pressure of the water pushing against any remaining clogs can help break them up.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure: Hair that gets shed during a shower is the largest culprit, but letting soap fragments or other debris wash down the drain can also contribute to clogs. Consider getting a hair trap or other specialized cap for your bathtub drain.
Get help: If you've tried all of the above and the drain still is not working properly, it may be time to seek professional help. There may be a problem with the pipes, or the clog may be farther down the drain line than you can reach.