If you have a stinky drain with standing water, chances are there is a clog that you need to get rid of in order to have a properly draining sink. A drain cleaner is an effective and affordable solution that can save you money and time over hiring a plumber. However, keep in mind that with any chemical cleaning agent, you have to pay close attention to the directions and suggested use. “It’s important to follow the instructions carefully when using any drain cleaner and to avoid using them too frequently, as this can cause damage to your pipes,” said Angela Brown, host of the Ask a House Cleaner show.
We researched the best drain cleaners on the market for a range of situations and types of clogs and evaluated them on ease of use, affordability, and features.
Drano Max Gel Clog Remover
Gel is easy to target the clog
Not intended for toilets
This drain cleaner from Drano is affordable, easy to apply (thanks to its gel formula), and effective on most clogs. It will work through standing water in the pipe to get to the clog itself and dissolve it. It works on hair, food, soap scum, and general buildup in your pipes that can lead to slow draining or even backups. This gel should not be used in toilets, however.
We appreciate how quickly this gel works! You only need to wait minutes for the Drano gel to start working. For small clogs, it can take care of the debris in as little as seven minutes. However, larger clogs or more buildup might take longer—you can leave it overnight for really stubborn situations and flush it after it has had hours to work.
It is also safe for septic systems, garbage disposals, and older pipes. While it is a professional-strength solution that can cause irritation to the eyes and skin, it won’t damage your pipes or plumbing when you use it. Depending on the material of your sink, you should take care not to let it splash. That is especially important if you have delicate natural stone that stains easily, such as marble.
Price at time of publish: $10
Formula: Liquid | Active Time: 7 minutes | Intended Use: Drains, sinks, tub, and shower
Rockwell Labs InVade Bio Drain Gel
Works on drain flies
Not a lot of uses
This gel formula is easy to apply and a good option if you only need a few applications and don’t want to spend a lot on a large quantity of drain cleaner. It uses microbes to get rid of the gunk and citrus oil to leave a fresh scent behind, which is especially appreciated in a kitchen. It can also target drain flies, another common problem in kitchens. Even while other drain cleaners can get rid of clogs, not many will take care of the tiny pests.
If you need a lot of drain cleaner frequently, this isn’t the most economical choice. While one of the cheaper options, you will need to repurchase more often if you deal with a lot of clogs. You can use this in a lot of places, however, including garbage disposals, trash cans, lines to soda fountains, and floors.
Price at time of publish: $16
Formula: Gel | Active Time: Not listed | Intended Use: Drains
Pequa Heavy Duty Drain Opener
Works in multiple rooms
Optional kit with plumber’s snake
Needs larger space to store
This large quantity bottle of the effective Pequa Drain Opener works on hair, grease, food, and other organic clogs. You can use it in the kitchen or bathroom, as well as the tub and shower. Because it comes in large quantities, it is especially useful to use all around the home. It is also safe for septic systems and even older pipes.
For really stubborn clogs, you may want to use a plumber’s snake as well as the drain opener. Fortunately, you can get a kit that includes both, as well as gloves to keep your hands protected. Because this is a strong solution, it’s best to have a barrier for your skin to keep it from getting irritated if there are any spills or drips.
Price at time of publish: $15
Formula: Liquid | Active Time: 30 min - 3 hours | Intended Use: Hair, grease
Best for Kitchen Sink
Bio-Clean Drain Cleaner
Works in multiple rooms
Good for preventative and small clogs
May need multiple treatments for big clogs
This environmentally friendly drain cleaner dissolves grease and oil, two common culprits in kitchen sinks and drains that can cause clogs. The formula is made of enzymes and microbes that actually digest the things that cause clogs, rather than just dissolving or flushing them away. It is great for kitchens but can also be used in the bathroom, toilets, or tubs and showers.
It comes in a 2-pound canister that can be used for up to 100 cleanings. For the best results, Bio-Clean recommends using it monthly as a preventative measure. If you have a particularly large clog, you may need to use multiple treatments. When used as directed, it takes care of most organic causes of clogs.
Price at time of publish: $50
Formula: Powder | Active Time: 6-8 hours | Intended Use: Sink/tub/shower, floor drains, toilets, garbage disposal
Best for Toilet
Green Gobbler Main Line Opener & Toilet Clog Remover
Dissolves paper and baby wipes
Thick formula targets clogs
Need a lot of solution per use
This extra-thick formula is good for clearing clogs out of the main line in your home as well as stubborn toilet clogs. The Green Gobbler Main Line Opener & Toilet Clog Remover sinks through standing water to get to the clog and dissolve it, and it is effective on clogs from paper and baby wipes, making it ideal for use in the toilet. It is also odorless and won’t create strong fumes, which can be an issue in smaller spaces like a bathroom.
Keep in mind that you will need to use the entire bottle for one application. That can get costly, so it is more economical to use it as needed rather than as a preventive solution. You should let it sit on the clog for two hours or more, depending on the severity. You may even need a second application for really stubborn issues.
Price at time of publish: $30
Formula: Liquid | Active Time: 2 hours | Intended Use: Toilets, main line, tubs, sinks
Best for Bathroom Sink
CLR Clear Pipes & Drains Monthly Build-Up Remover
Dissolves a lot of common gunk
Not great for tough clogs
This reliable drain cleaner from CLR works for a variety of pipes and drains, including bathroom sinks, tubs, and showers. It dissolves oil, soap scum, shampoos and soaps, toothpaste, and thick shaving cream. Over time, these things can build up and cause clogs, but with routine use, this drain cleaner can actually prevent clogs from forming. It is also fragrance-free, so you don’t need to worry about overpowering odors in smaller spaces like bathrooms.
This product is best used to prevent and dissolve small clogs rather than to tackle big clogs that are preventing your sink from draining. For tougher clogs, you may need to use something stronger or let this product sit overnight. Fortunately, it is also budget-friendly so you can afford to use it often for the best upkeep of your plumbing.
Price at time of publish: $15
Formula: Liquid | Active Time: Not listed | Intended Use: Prevention of clogs
Best for Hair
Instant Power Hair and Grease Drain Cleaner
Heat gets rid of grease clogs
Easy to pour
No active time listed
If you have a lot of hair clogging your bathroom sink or shower, this formula will work to dissolve the clog and get rid of it quickly. It also works on grease clogs by creating heat that melts them away. The liquid formula comes in a large container that is easy to pour; just make sure you have a steady hand, because it is a strong product.
Most users state that it works best with hot or even boiling water. The specific active time isn’t listed, but it’s best to start with a few hours to let the cleaner work on clogs. You can pour it down the drain in the evening and flush it out the following morning, and then see whether you need an additional application.
Price at time of publish: $25
Formula: Liquid | Active Time: Not listed | Intended Use: Hair, grease
Best for Old Pipes
XIONLAB Safer Drain Opener Clog Remover
Safe for septic and pipes
Requires a large amount
Older pipes can be more delicate and need special care, which is why the gentle formula of the XionLab drain cleaner is a great option. It is biodegradable and odorless, as well as safe for septic systems and all kinds of pipes (when used properly, according to the manufacturer). There aren’t any fumes that can build up, and it is not flammable. The bottle is made of recycled plastic.
It is also effective and safe to use in all rooms of the home, including in kitchen and bathroom sinks, tubs, and showers. You will need quite a bit, 16 ounces for most cases. For best results, you should also plan to leave it in the drain for six to eight hours. After that time, you can flush it, and the dissolved clog, away with hot water.
Price at time of publish: $20
Formula: Gel | Active Time: 6-8 hours | Intended Use: Sinks, tub, shower
Green Gobbler Refresh Drain & Disposal Deodorizer
Uses enzymes instead of harsh chemicals
Takes a long time to work
The Green Gobbler formula uses enzymes to target and dissolve tough clogs. It has a heavier formula that will sink to the clog itself and doesn’t include harsh chemicals like sodium hydroxide. It is safe for septic systems and both plastic and metal pipes (according to the manufacturer). There is also a citrus scent that is particularly refreshing in the kitchen, although you can use this drain cleaner in other areas around the house.
The enzymes work on food, hair, grease, oil, and even paper, turning them into liquid and flushing them away. For the best results, you should leave it in the drain overnight and use hot water to flush and rinse the next morning. While that is easy to do with a kitchen sink and garbage disposal, it may be more challenging in a separate drain.
Price at time of publish: $16
Formula: Gel | Active Time: Overnight | Intended Use: Garbage disposal
Our top pick, Drano Max Gel Clog Remover, is easy to find and use on common clogs, like hair, food, and grease. We also like the Rockwell Labs InVade Bio Drain Gel. This gel solution is extra-effective on drain flies and comes in a smaller container, making it good to keep around the kitchen.
What to Look for in a Drain Cleaner
Many drain cleaners can be used around the home in the bathroom and kitchen, but some have specialized uses or harsher formulas that aren’t safe for septic systems or older pipes. If you have plumbing that can be easily damaged or a septic system that requires special maintenance, make sure that you look for a drain cleaner that is safe for your system. Green Gobbler Garbage Disposal Drain Cleaner and XionLab Safer, Greener Drain Cleaner both use ingredients that are septic-safe.
Type of Clog
Hair, food, grease or oil, and grime are the most common types of clogs. Some drain cleaners are effective on all of these clogs, but some work better on one specific type, such as the Instant Power Hair and Grease Drain Opener. If you know that the things clogging up your drain are organic, look for a drain cleaner that dissolves organic matter.
Some drain cleaners start working and take care of clogs within just a few minutes, like our top pick, the Drano Max Gel Clog Remover. Most need at least two hours, often more, to be the most effective. For really tough clogs, you’ll probably need to leave the cleaning solution in the drain overnight and flush it with hot water in the morning. Some, such as the Bio-Clean Drain Cleaner, even require that much time, either to flush the entire system or to prevent future clogs.
Enzymes break down organic matter, making them a great choice for drain cleaners when you have clogs like food or grease. Bio-Clean Drain Cleaner and Green Gobbler Garbage Disposal Drain Cleaner both rely on enzymes and microbes. Sodium hydroxide and bleach are common in stronger drain cleaners, because they work on even stubborn or large clogs. These ingredients can be irritating to the skin or eyes, so it’s a good idea to wear gloves and eye protection. You should also keep drain cleaners out of reach of children and pets for safety.
Do drain cleaners really work?
The effectiveness of drain cleaners depends on the type of clog and the cleaning agent. First, the drain cleaner has to get through any standing water to reach the clog. Thicker cleaners are often better at that step. Second, the cleaning agents need to be able to dissolve the clog. Food and gunk can be dissolved in most cases, but things like paper and hair may take something stronger.
Can plunging a drain make the clog worse?
A plunger is only effective if it breaks up the clog to the point where it can travel through the pipes and out. If the clog remains intact, a plunger can push it further into the pipe and make it even harder to reach. “If the clog is caused by something that is solid and cannot be easily broken down, such as a toy or piece of jewelry, plunging the drain may push the object further down the pipe and make it even more difficult to remove,” said Angela Brown, host of the Ask a House Cleaner show.
Using a drain cleaner before plunging to break up the clog can be more effective. In some cases, you may not even need to plunge the pipes after using a drain cleaner.
Is using a drain cleaner good for my pipes?
Some chemicals in drain cleaners can be irritating for older pipes. Make sure you pay close attention to the recommended uses. If you want to use a drain cleaner that adds benefits, look for one with anti-corrosion ingredients, which helps maintain the integrity of your plumbing over time.
“Biodegradable and enzyme-based drain cleaners are generally considered safe for pipes, as they break down organic matter rather than corroding it with chemicals,” said Brown. “However, they may not be as effective at clearing tough clogs as chemical cleaners.”
Why Trust The Spruce?
This article was researched and written by Katie Melynn, a freelance writer who specializes in home and family products. Katie has been writing for The Spruce since 2019. To make this list, she researched the best drain cleaners for a variety of situations and types of clogs. She paid special attention to ease of use, affordability, and special features like eco-friendliness and septic system safety. She also talked to Angela Brown, host of the Ask a House Cleaner show, about what to look for and common questions about drain cleaners.