Easy Ways to Freshen and Unclog a Drain With Baking Soda

Shower drain
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Baking soda is normally a kitchen baking staple, but it also has other uses around the house. Baking soda can work wonders on smelly and clogged drains.

Using chemical drain cleaners has many drawbacks. They are not guaranteed to dissolve clogs and the caustic chemicals can be extremely hazardous to skin and can even cause serious burns. Professional plumbers usually caution against the use of these products and some apartment buildings expressly forbid chemical cleaners. Before reaching for a caustic chemical product to unclog a drain, give baking soda a try.  

The Chemistry of Baking Soda

Baking soda, or sodium bicarbonate, is a naturally occurring mineral compound. It is made through chemical processes or refined from soda ash extracted from mineral ore. A slightly alkaline powder, it can dissolve mineral deposits and organic materials such as grease, which is slightly acidic in composition. Baking soda has the ability to neutralize both acidic and alkaline substances. Additionally, baking soda has slight disinfectant properties that can combat odor-causing bacteria and fungi. 

Using Baking Soda to Unclog a Drain

To unclog a drain with baking soda, you'll need baking soda and white vinegar. Follow these steps:

  1. Pour 1 cup of baking soda down the drain followed by 1 cup of vinegar. Don't be surprised by the audible reaction that occurs. Baking soda is an alkaline substance and vinegar is a mild acetic acid. When the two are mixed, they react somewhat dramatically to neutralize one another and the fizzing action you hear is the reaction that will often dislodge clogs in your drain.
  2. After the fizzing subsides, wait 5 minutes before flushing the drain with 2 quarts of hot water.
  3. You can repeat this process several times if it is necessary.
illustration of how to use baking soda to unclog a drain
Illustration: Theresa Chiechi. © The Spruce, 2018 

If this is the first time you have cleaned your drain in a long time, it may be necessary to repeat the baking soda flush at least twice. You can also use this process as a regular maintenance method for your drains. For example, if you keep a box of open baking soda in your refrigerator to absorb odors, use the old baking soda to flush your kitchen drain when it comes time to change the box. 

If this doesn't work, try pouring 1 cup of baking soda and 1/2 cup of salt down the drain. Let this mixture sit in the drain for several hours—overnight is best—before flushing the drain with 2 cups of boiling water. This works best if you do it right before bedtime since the drain won't be used until morning.

Other Tips for Using Baking Soda in Your Sink

  • Both the baking-soda-and-vinegar and the baking-soda-and-salt methods can be used to clean and freshen your garbage disposal. To remove odors in a disposal, reduce the required amounts of baking soda, water, vinegar, and salt by half and follow the directions above.
  • Try putting baking soda down the drain without rinsing it before you go away. This will help reduce odors that may develop while you are gone. When you return, just flush the baking soda out of the drain with hot water or hot vinegar followed by hot water.

The Benefits of Using Baking Soda in Your Home

Using baking soda to clean your drains and garbage disposal is an environmentally friendly solution that avoids using harsh chemicals. By eliminating chemicals, you remove the risks associated with storing them in your house. This can be a great advantage to a family with children or members with sensitivities to chemicals. Baking soda is a more economical option, especially if you recycle the boxes you use in the freezer or refrigerator when they are no longer fresh. You can buy baking soda in bulk since it has so many uses around the house and use it again and again.