Na Na pinches her pennies

Shh… don't tell anyone I'm poor. They all think I'm living frugal and green just like everyone these days. This is a blog about a senior citizen living a frugal life, on a fixed income, in a low income food desert, and passing along knowledge from lessons learned. Some she learned from her Grandma Mama many years ago and some learned only a few days ago.

Baking soda and vinegar drain cleaner myth

These days there is so much information floating around the internet that simply is not true.  Its often very difficult to know what is truth and what is an internet myth.    Sometimes I’m fooled about things and accept them right along with everyone.  When something doesn’t quite seem logical I do experiments.  Remember the soda bottle air conditioner that made its way around the internet?  free air conditioner  I wanted to experiment and see for myself if it worked.  After I did my experiment I understood this was not something worth doing.

I realize this post is going to bring angry comments from the firm believers that baking soda and vinegar is an alternative drain cleaner.  I hope to prove to you that it is a myth.  A myth that could eventually cause major plumbing issues.  I spent quite a long time contemplating how I could prove or disprove the drain cleaning power of baking soda and vinegar.  What are the bubbles supposed to do?  They have no strength for pushing or lifting anything.  Every bubble of every type I’ve ever seen do nothing but pop when encountering a solid object.

Here is the experiment I did.  Its here for you to judge and/or experiment for yourself.  I don’t have a way of taking photos of the inside of my drains so I have two bowls to represent the drain U trap of sinks.  Into each I put 1 tablespoon of butter to represent the fat and grease buildup of the drain.  I put it right in the middle to see which way it would move from the bubbles.  IF it does.

Into one bowl I put half a cup of baking soda and half a cup of vinegar.  I did this slowly because it REALLY bubbles up fast.

In the second bowl I put one tablespoon dish soap followed by one cup of hot but not boiling water.  Now wait to see what happens.

This is after 5 minutes.  The butter on the left is dissolved and floating but the butter on the right is still buried in baking soda.  The vinegar is floating above the baking soda.

All the instructions I could find say to wait ten minutes.  So I did.  Next I emptied the bowls.  I poured the liquid off the baking soda.  It took some doing to get the remaining baking soda goo out of that bowl with a spatula.  I was careful to put it into the trash instead of the drain.  The hot water bowl I emptied down the drain.

Maybe I should have mixed the dish soap with the hot water before putting into its bowl.  Maybe I used too much baking soda.

To be fair with the experiment  I did the baking soda bowl over again with only two tablespoons baking soda with half a cup of vinegar and waited another ten minutes.  Nope, still a baking soda goo left and so was the butter.

If you regularly use the baking soda and vinegar to clean your drains what do you think is being left inside your sink U trap?  Ok, the instructions do say to follow with boiling water don’t they?  Well, let’s think about that.  The bowl on the left showed us hot water works to loosen fats and grease while the dish soap carries it away.  So why waste the baking soda and vinegar if hot water works?

Now do you see why I say the baking soda and vinegar to unclog a drain is a myth?  The reason the trick does not work is because the baking soda is a base and the vinegar is an acid.  (remembering my daughter’s school chemistry here)  Combining the two creates liquid with a tiny bit of salt in it but not a grease destroying drain cleaner.  The combination does not produce a surfacant for carrying grease and oil away the same way dish detergent does.  If you will notice, every place that promotes using baking soda and vinegar as a drain cleaner recommends following with boiling water.  Its the boiling water that does all the work.  Baking soda is heavier than water which means water will not do a good job of carrying it away.  Over time that baking soda could combine with grease and oil to form a major clog in the U trap.

Hmm, if baking soda and vinegar were actually good at degreasing then why has it never been promoted as an alternative to dish washing liquid?  Baking soda is a great substitute for scouring powder.  Vinegar is a good disinfectant when used as a substitute for bleach.  I would say its better to use them in that way but not as a drain cleaner.

A couple more cautions for you.  Be very careful about mixing different things.  Some combinations can be very dangerous.  There is another baking soda myth found all over the internet.  People are saying you can make washing soda by simply cooking baking soda in the oven.  Don’t believe it.  If baking soda is turned into washing soda by the oven then there are a lot of bakers out there making lethal cakes and pies.

Baking soda in the wash is not good either.  Baking soda does not float so it could be landing and staying in the washer drain or the tub of your washer.  If you use vinegar as a water softener along with laundry soap when washing clothes you are making your clothes greasy.  Laundry soap is a base and vinegar is an acid.  When you mix the two together it turns the soap back into its original form of oil which gets left on your clothes and in your washer drain.  The more pure the soap the greater the change.  Its better to use the soap in the wash followed by vinegar in the rinse so the two do not combine.

UPDATE:  Donna asked me a good question in the comments that had me scratching my head.  I wanted an answer so I did an experiment with cheap laundry liquid, cheap dish liquid, and Dawn.   I really thought it would clot up but none of them did.  I wanted to know why before I answered her question.   I did some research into how soap is made commercially.  Apparently soap is made with many chemicals that keep the soap from forming into clots and remain biodegradable in streams or oceans.  I was wrong about the manufactured soap and vinegar in your washer.  Maybe only homemade should not be mixed with vinegar because it doesn’t contain the chemicals? Hard soaps like Castile or Ivory are said to be 99% pure so maybe those should not be mixed with vinegar?  I don’t have an answer.

23 comments on “Baking soda and vinegar drain cleaner myth

  1. Nicole A
    August 31, 2018

    I never knew about using boiling water after the baking soda and vinegar. I’ve only ever used the baking soda and vinegar and then PLUGGED the drain. All the pressure from the chemical reaction was enough to try to push out the plug (I’d always have to hold it down), but that pressure also loosened up gunk in the sink. I don’t think the baking soda and vinegar would work if you don’t plug the sink.

    BUT, there are dangers to cleaning a sink that way, which we discovered later on, as the pressure pushed some of the food to the wrong areas of the pipes, causes worse clogs and damage. And, it might also have damaged some of the gaskets in the sink.

    Speaking of damage, pouring boling water down a sink can damage the seals, according to my parents. So, it might be best to stick to hot–not boiling–water.

    Personally, I don’t use baking soda and vinegar together to clean things, as they actually weaken each other. I have a neat natural housekeeping book (Hands on Home by Erica Stauss) and she goes into detail as to the best ways to utilize acids and bases. Here’s a quick summary:

    Acids (citric acid, vinegar): Are good for INORGANIC messes, like mineral build up. For a stonger acid, add citric acid to vinegar, or get the horticultural vinegar at the farm stores. I use citric acid for cleaning toilets, and it works great! Avoid using acids anywhere you have grout, as it’ll react with the alkaline grout and disolve it.

    Alkaline/Bases (baking soda, ammonia, hydrogen peroxide, bleach, oxygen bleach, washing soda, borax, soap, ash/lye) . These are good for ORGANIC messes: food, grease, poop, etc. Soap is a very mild alkaline cleaner. baking soda is a bit stronger. Bleach, lye, ammonia are of course very strong. The stronger the alkalinity, the more cleaning power it has.

    For getting rid of petroleum-based gunk (sticker residue, gasoline, lamp oil, residue from car exhaust, etc), alcohol and limonene are the best fighters. If you soak a bunch of orange peals in rubbing alcohol or vodka, you’ll get a fantastic cleaner to get rid of that gunk.

    ***My personal favorite cleaner combination is Hydrogen Peroxide and Baking Soda. When you mix the two together, you get oxygen bleach. This great for getting rid of stains just about anywhere, from clothes to bathroom floors, to kitchen countertops. I just put some baking soda on the stain, then dribble some hydrogen peroxide on the baking soda, and let it sit, or scrub it around and let it sit. It works really well! Then, to get rid of the stuff after I’m done cleaning it, I spray the countertop or floor with vinegar and wipe. The vinegar neutralizes the alkaline cleaner, and rinses it off. If it’s clothes I’ve pre-treated before washing, I don’t rinse the combo off; I let it sit there until I’m ready to throw it in the wash.

    • Anita
      August 31, 2018

      Just a word of warning to readers. Never, ever mix vinegar and peroxide in the same container such as a spray bottle. It creates peracetic acid which is corrosive and could explode. Do your homework BEFORE mixing any ingredients. Check lots of sites and verify their accuracy before trusting what you read. Check resources.

      • Nicole A
        September 3, 2018

        I did not know that! I’ve never mixed mine together in a container, just used one after another. But, that’s really good information to have. Thank you!

  2. Lilli
    August 30, 2018

    Not believing everything you read is correct. I see people talking all the time about homemade laundry detergent. They seem to think that by adding a cup of this and that and the other, they have created a great product. Most commercial laundry soaps do not contain all these multi cleaning products. Dr. Bronners daughter wrote a lengthy research paper on this. Some of these ideas are a lot like old wives tales.

    • Anita
      August 31, 2018

      I stopped making my own laundry soap because of all the this and that additives. If I have a stain a little laundry soap as a pre-wash works just fine. When I can find it I like using Zote flakes but anything on sale works.

  3. carenowplease
    August 27, 2018

    I have used white vinegar to clean the sink to remove the water marks but I wouldn’t put any powder down sinks, it’s asking for something to solidify and cause a blockage and likely worse smells later.

    I use bleach to good effect, a few drops every day in sink-drain/bath/toilet, and it smells good and clean too, and removes mold and disease.

    White vinegar is good for deterring cats and cleaning mold from walkways, but apparently it attracts fruitflies so depends on location and nearby foliage.

    I live in the smelliest place I ever have, largely through other tenants leaving food out, storing trash on balconies, overcrowding their apartments and turning off their a/c ( it’s 100 degrees here ) so smells have become an everyday negative issue for me. Cockroaches also.

    A plate of baking soda left out is a good cheap odor absorber for some cooking smells, but I put it out with trash after not down sink!

    • Anita
      August 28, 2018

      Thanks for your suggestion I will start putting a few drops of bleach in the sinks. I don’t have roaches but I’ve heard that lemon juice diluted 3/4 juice with 1/4 water then used as a cleaner for counters and for floors stops them from coming in. It can’t hurt to give it a try and your house will smell better. I’ve heard of people grinding up lemon peels to scatter around to keep roaches away too. Also bay leaves crushed to a powder then applied in places they hide will also keep them away. Bay leaves might be kind of expensive in a grocery but possibly cheaper in an Asian store since its an Asian spice.

      There is one more thing I’ve heard but may be just a myth. I don’t guess it could hurt to give it a try. Maybe put this outside on the balcony? Supposedly roaches love coffee and you can use it to drown them. Coat the inside of an empty peanut butter jar or pickle jar with a thin coat of vaseline to prevent them from getting traction on their feet and climbing out. Put coffee or coffee grounds with water in the jar. It should be enough that the roaches must swim. The idea is they climb in but can’t climb back out so eventually they drown from swimming exhaustion. After a few days put the lid on the jar and toss into the trash. As I said, it might just be another of the internet myths but I can’t see the harm in giving it a try. If you try it would you come back to this comment and let us know if it works?

      • carenowplease
        August 29, 2018

        Thanks Anita.

        I’ve actually blitzed the place with Raid Max Bug Barrier, filled all the holes in walls, stopped using the cupboards which I think were heavily infested, and now I’m using Eucalyptus essential oil to deter further infestations and freshen the air.

        What a couple of years it’s been!

        • Anita
          August 29, 2018

          I’m super curious whether the coffee trick works on roaches. Is there a small place you could leave a jar of coffee for one night to test it for me? Maybe outside someplace away from where you have sprayed the Raid? Perhaps in the parking lot under your car or maybe near a dumpster?

          • carenowplease
            September 1, 2018

            No, I don’t have any place to do your experiment but I can tell you now it won’t work…cockroaches eat coffee beans, to the extent of a report came out which said that @ 10% of preground coffee beans *are* cockroaches. Nasty!

            • Anita
              September 2, 2018

              Thanks. I doubted it worked because roaches eat anything. Even soap. So not much really kills them except the exterminators.

              • carenowplease
                September 2, 2018

                Yes, the problem is they can survive for many weeks- even without food. Raid Max Bug Barrier is the best for German Cockroaches, though it’s expensive to treat the whole home.

                Even then Anita I am still seeing occasional thrips, the babies, that have hatched subsequently.

                Worst home I ever had…steeling myself to move again. It’s a $700 charge to leave the lease, starting to put my complaints in writing.

                • Anita
                  September 2, 2018

                  Oh my you have my sympathy. Moving can be so stressful. You probably already thought of it but don’t forget the photos to back up your written complaints should it come to that.

                  • carenowplease
                    September 3, 2018

                    Thanks. For a place which doesn’t flood there’s standing water everywhere today, going out to photograph that in a minute.

  4. craftytadpole
    August 27, 2018

    I love your experiments! Thanks for taking the time.

    August 26, 2018

    As the parents use to say — try these experiments OUTDOORS, NOT IN THE HOUSE!! Maybe because we kids didn’t measure anything, but just added things together & used more, rather than less…?

  6. Jasna in Chilean Patagonia
    August 26, 2018

    Thank you for taking the trouble to do the experiment and share so much detailed information. I was on the brink of buying into the myth myself!!! ; )

    Jasna from Patagonia

  7. Cynthia
    August 26, 2018

    That was very interesting. I have used vinegar and baking soda in all my drains for years, followed by HOT WATER, just like my mom and grandmom. Of course it worked and I never had a plugged drain as I did this about once a month to keep them clean, so I assumed the baking soda/vinegar was working. I’ll save money and just use the hot water.

  8. Donna
    August 26, 2018

    What about mopping with hot water, vinegar and a splash of Dawn? I see a lot of people recommending that as a cheaper cleaning agent?

    • Anita
      August 26, 2018

      Good question. Thanks for asking Donna. I needed an answer to this so I did an experiment with cheap laundry liquid, cheap dish liquid, and Dawn. It didn’t clot up and I wanted to know why. I did some research into how soap is made commercially. Apparently soap is made with many chemicals these days. The chemicals keep the soap from forming into clots and remain biodegradable in streams or oceans. I was wrong about the manufactured soap and vinegar. Maybe only homemade soap or pure soaps like Ivory and Castile should not be mixed with vinegar because they don’t contain the chemicals? I don’t know for sure.

      • Donna
        August 27, 2018

        Thank you for your efforts Anita. You always have the answers. We trust your judgement.

  9. Linda S
    August 26, 2018

    Anita, I did not mean to infer that baking soda & vinegar would unclog your drain, simply that it would keep it from smelling bad. I also did not get that info from the internet but from my mom over 50 yrs. ago. I won’t bother you with any more suggestions.

    • Anita
      August 26, 2018

      Linda I value your comments and suggestions! I’m very sorry. Let me explain. Hopefully this will be better written than my post. I am not a natural born writer. I have to work very hard to explain myself but I’m not always successful. My post was about the accuracy of using baking soda and vinegar as a drain cleaner and to warn how baking soda can remain inside the pipes even if you run water. I was not saying that your comment was wrong. I only meant that the information we had all learned long ago has been wrong and that its spreading over the internet wrong too. There was a time when I swore by using baking soda and vinegar in the drains. Until I started wondering why and how it worked. Maybe I should stop thinking so much.

      Grandma Mama used to do the same thing just like your Mother. Grandma Mama was wrong and she didn’t have indoor plumbing until late in life so how could she know it was wrong? Sometimes we need to test and evaluate the wisdom of our ancestors and the things they taught us before passing it to our children or grand children. Hmm… Would there be a USA, or Mexico, or South America if Christopher Columbus had not questioned and tested the accuracy of a flat world as told to him by his parents and teachers? If no one had ever questioned the given facts wouldn’t we still be believing the moon is made of Swiss cheese and women’s time of the month can cause crops to fail? Its up to all of us to question our own wisdom and teach the young ones as accurately as we can just like our parents and grand parents taught us the best they knew.

      Did I explain it better? (hugs)

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