Want to naturally unclog a sink or clean a slow-moving drain? Learn why you should skip the baking soda and vinegar when cleaning FOG clogged drains and see the experiment!
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Hundreds of natural cleaning blog posts, books, and magazine columns recommend cleaning slow kitchen drains by pouring one cup of baking soda down the drain followed with one cup vinegar. I used this combination for many years then I began to doubt its effectiveness.
I decided to conduct an experiment to compare the drain cleaning abilities of vinegar & baking soda to another popular green cleaning solution -> dish detergent & hot water.
(Need to unclog a drain? Read How to Naturally Clean a Clogged Drain)
The Baking Soda and Vinegar Experiment
I conducted a simple experiment to compare two popular green cleaners when fighting a fat, oil, and grease drain clog (or FOG drain clog). FOG is the most common cause of slow drains and backup in home kitchens, learn more about FOG clogs.
- Step 1 – I used a tablespoon of butter to mimic a greasy FOG drain clog.
- Step 2 – I poured one-half cup of baking soda and one-half cup of vinegar into one bowl, and a cup of hot water (nearly boiling) mixed with 1 tablespoon of dish washing detergent into the second bowl.
- Step 3 – I watched what happened to the greasy clog for 5 minutes. Here’s what the bowls looked like at 30 seconds.
The Green Cleaning Results
After 5 minutes, the greasy clog in the bowl of hot water and detergent was completely melted and would have easily drained away. The greasy clog in the bowl of vinegar and baking soda was unchanged (although it was coated in vinegar and baking soda).
Here’s what was left of the greasy FOG clogs (butter cubes) after the experiment.
What I Learned
It turns out my high school chemistry teacher was right… the fizzy combination of baking soda & vinegar is INEFFECTIVE when fighting grease clogged drains.
Why? Baking soda is a base while vinegar is an acid, their chemical reaction produces water with a tiny amount of salt in it, not a fat destroying drain cleaner. Plus vinegar and baking soda are not surfactants, so they do not help water carry oil and grease away the same way that detergents can.
The hot water does a better job melting the FOG clog and gets a kick from the degreasing power of the detergent.
What about the pressure created?
Lots of readers ask about the pressure created during the vinegar/baking soda reaction and wonder if it will force a drain clog out. The answer is yes and no.
- Yes, when baking soda and vinegar are combined the chemical reaction produces carbon dioxide gas (CO2 ) which creates pressure in a closed container.
- No, the baking soda/vinegar reaction created in a drain/household plumbing system does not take place in a closed system so pressure can't build up enough to blast a clog out of the pipes.
You may have seen vinegar/baking soda experiment conducted in a closed container like a balloon or bottle. They're an impressive demonstration of the power of chemical reactions. However, it's important to note that these experiments take place in a sealed container where the CO2 gas has nowhere to escape.
A household drain system is not a sealed container. From kitchen drain to sewer your pipes hold a much larger volume of liquid or gas than a balloon or bottle, so it would take a lot more CO2 to fill the pipes to a point where pressure builds up. Plus, the CO2 being created byt the baking soda/vinegar reaction can escape though the plumbing vent system, holes in your drain or drain cover, and/or spaces in the clog. It's not air tight!
The Hot Water Solution
Let me tell you a little secret: questioning the drain cleaning power of baking soda and vinegar is controversial. It gets people mad, very mad. I get emails and comments that are not appropriate to post on a PG website.
I'm sorry if you're upset, I really am. I was a baking soda/vinegar devotee for a long time. However, once I started researching green cleaning ingredients and bad cleaner combinations I realized that the trick was not doing me much good… and I was wasting baking soda and vinegar that I could use to clean other things.
Why is Baking Soda and Vinegar Recommend as a Drain Cleaner?
Maybe the fun chemical reaction tricks our minds with all the bubbling, maybe companies like to sell more of their products, or maybe it is the hot water.
- When you look at baking soda + vinegar drain cleaning instructions you'll notice that they recommend following the baking soda/vinegar with nearly boiling water. As shown in the experiment above, extremely hot water does a great job melting FOG clogs.
- Bonus: the weight of the hot water creates pressure on the clog which can help loosen or move it (thanks to gravity).
Try the Experiment for Yourself
Still have doubts? The next time you have a slow or clogged drain, try reaching for hot water first. You may find out that it does a great job cutting through FOG clogs and you can save yourself some money on baking soda and vinegar
The Enzyme Solution
- These eco-friendly drain cleaners contain enzymes and bacteria that eat through the organic material in the clog to clear your drain. (Green Gobbler Drain Clog Remover is another popular solution, it uses monosodium sulfate, a non-toxic acid, to remove drain gunk.)
More drain cleaning tips
4 Easy Way to Green Clean Drains
- Learn four ways to clean a clogged drain without calling a plumber or using nasty chemicals.
Green Cleaning Combinations to Avoid
- Learn more about green cleaning combination that are dangerous or do not work.
I hope you enjoyed this green cleaning experiment. Sign up for my free newsletter below and never miss a green cleaning tip!
(If you would like more information about the chemical reaction while cleaning with baking soda & vinegar, click over to Everyday Einstein.)