Welcome to the fifth installment of a series of special “spring purge” posts. The topic? Environmentally dubious household items that you might want to take a second look at while tackling spring cleaning duties. And when I say “take a second look at,” I mean you should reconsider using and/or replace with a more eco-sensible alternative. 

So far, I‘ve recommended a complete household purge of antibacterial cleaning products containing the potent chemical triclosanaerosol air fresheners that can compromise your health through lowered air quality, toxic oven cleaners, and a partial purge of the common paper towel roll. Today, I’m taking a look at purge-worthy drain openers which, as you might have heard, rank highly the top of the household "eradicate list."

The primary ingredient in most commercial drain openers is sodium hydroxide (lye), a caustic manmade chemical. Lye is ubiquitous — you might know it best from soap making — and although toxic, according to the EPA it breaks down quickly in the environment with acute effects.

So while a commercial drain opener might not be the most environmentally egregious substance out there, it is one of the more hazardous items to keep around the house, burning the skin and leading to grave health complications if swallowed or inhaled — a product up Mr. Yuk’s alley if there ever was one. And even with proper handling, the fumes emitted while lye and other chemicals melt away clog-draining gunk can compromise indoor air quality. My recommendation? Give Drano the old heave-ho.

The most common, eco-friendly alternative to sodium hydroxide drain cleaners is a duo of baking soda and vinegar chased with boiling water. It’s oft-considered a less effective option (makes sense since it won’t melt your skin) but I’ve had nothing but excellent results even with tough clogs. It must be pointed out that homemade drain openers should not be employed after using a commercial product since the reaction of the two can create toxic fumes.

Below is a standard baking soda/vinegar drain opener recipe. I’ve seen variations on it but this is the one I use. Do you have any tricks to unclogging a drain that you’d like to share? Do you add ingredients like salt or borax? Have you ever used nontoxic commercial products like Earth Enzymes? I know there are a few out there, but I've yet to try 'em out ... I'm pretty dependent on my economical baking soda/vinegar solution.

1. Pour 1 cup of dry baking soda down the drain.

2. Add 1 cup of vinegar.

3. Cover drain and let sit for 30 minutes.

4. Follow by flushing with boiling water (hot tap water if your pipes are PVC/non-metal)

5. Repeat if necessary.

Image: Demcanulty

Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

The spring purge: Drain openers
Although lye-based drain uncloggers are low polluters, they're highly hazardous to your health. Swap out Drano with a one-two punch of natural baking soda and v