Photo: How to unclog a drain

Prevention is the key to keeping drains clear. (Credit: jon.t via Flickr)

Chemical drain cleaners are some of the most toxic household cleaning supplies lurking under your kitchen sink. It's best to avoid them.

Many drain openers contain sodium hydroxide (also known as lye and caustic soda). It's highly corrosive, can burn eyes, skin and lungs and is a respiratory irritant. Long-term exposure in the air may lead to ulceration of the nasal passages and chronic skin irritation.

Prevention is the key to keeping your drains clear. Use a drain basket or screen to keep hair and food scraps out. It's a quick and cheap solution since 99 per cent of the time your drain is clogged with these pesky organics (often well coated in soap scum).

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And, never pour grease down the drain. It will coat your pipes and you'll regret it. A plunger or snake is a simple mechanical solution, or try my simple home remedy with food-grade ingredients!

You'll need one cup of white vinegar, half a cup of baking soda and four cups of boiling hot water. Step 1: Sprinkle the baking soda down the drain. Step 2: Pour the vinegar down the drain and watch it fizz for five to 10 minutes. Step 3: Chase the first two ingredients with boiling water (careful not to burn yourself with the steam). This recipe will work best when used regularly, say monthly, and once you've removed any large bits of debris from your kitchen or bathroom sink manually.

And beware of sodium hydroxide in other cleaner products like oven cleaners, bathroom cleaners, disinfectants and toilet-bowl cleaners. Make my simple green cleaning recipes instead and download our Sustainable Shopper's Guide to Cleaners.

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