Water is the most plentiful natural resource on the planet. And since it’s so abundant, you rarely think about it. That is, until you have a clogged drain and you can’t get rid of it. “Just about every plumbing fixture in your home can become clogged, from that fabulous farmhouse kitchen sink and bathroom sinks to the tub and shower,” says Doyle James, President at Mr. Rooter Plumbing. Here’s a look at what’s causing those clogged drains, and how you can unclog them.

Clogged Drain Causes

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Clogged drain Fat oil and grease

Fat, oil and grease can clog your drains and pipes. Image: Pradit_Ph/Getty Images

“Food and substances that do not break down, such as fibrous food, egg shells and non-food items, along with grease and oil, will build up in your pipes and create a clog in your drain over time,” James explains.

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Clogged drains - hair

Hair is a major culprit in clogged drains. Image: sasimoto/Getty Images

Also, hair can wash down the drain during showers or while washing your hair in the sink. In addition to washing your hair, combing and cutting it over the sink will also create a clog eventually.

Soap is another culprit. “Sometimes, soap itself is not a problem,  but when it is combined with hair and other substances, it can form into solid clumps, clogging your drain,” James says. “But on the other hand, many traditional bars of soap also include grease or fat, and neither should be washed down the drain.”

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Clogged Drains - toys

These toys look so innocent — until they get stuck in your drain. Image: Robert Reader/Getty Images

And according to Audrey Monell, President of Forrest Anderson Plumbing and AC, a clog can also be caused by kids wanting to see their toys float on top of the water. In addition, your drain could be clogged from flushing excessive amounts of toilet paper or flushing paper towels, tampons and other objects down the commode.

Clogged Drain Solutions

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Clogged drain - clothes hanger

A clothes hanger is an inexpensive solution. Image: Jorg Greuel/Getty Images

If you have a clogged drain, a bent wire hanger is one option. “Use a regular wire coat hanger and straighten it out as much as possible,” James says. “Bend one end to create a hook, push it through the drain and start fishing.” After you pull out the hair and/or other substances, he recommends running hot water to help clear the drain.

A plunger is another option, but many people don’t know how to use it properly. The initial plunge should not be forceful. You’re trying to force the air out of the plunger’s bell, but you don’t want it to splatter — especially if you have hardwood floors in the kitchen and bathroom. After the water is out, you can start plunging more forcefully, but make sure the plunger is firmly in place. Don’t give up if you don’t see any progress after four or five plunges. It may take over a dozen plunges to see any results. Also, make sure that there’s enough water in the toilet to cover the plunger.

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Clogged drains - vinegar and baking soda

Vinegar and baking soda are an alternative to poisonous chemicals. Image: Eskay Lim/Eye Em/Getty Images

Yet another solution is baking soda and vinegar. “Concoct a mixture of 1/3 of a cup of baking soda and 1/3 of a cup of vinegar, which will fizz when combined,” James says. “Pour it immediately down the drain and the fizzing action will help break down the gunk, hair and grime.” He recommends letting it sit for an hour — although he says leaving it overnight is even better — and then flushing with hot water. “You can also pour the dry baking soda down the drain first and chase it with the vinegar,” James explains.

However, he says boiling water is probably the easier tip. “Boil as much water as your kettle will hold and slowly pour it down the drain in two or three stages, allowing the hot water to work for several seconds between each pour,” James says. “Make sure your sink is empty before trying this and be extremely careful when handling hot water.”

Chemical-based drain cleaners are a risky option since these chemicals don’t work as fast and can be corrosive.

“If you aren’t sure what to do or the solutions above haven’t worked, contact a professional to help you clear your drain quickly and more effectively,” James advises.

Preventing Clogged Drains

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Clogged drains - trap hair

Trap hair or debris before it goes down the drain. Image: deepblue4you/Getty Images

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure (or trying to clear a pound of hair and grease). For example, if your hair tends to shed badly when you wash it, take a proactive approach. “Make sure you have a guard over your drain to catch the hair more frequently,” James recommends. This advice works whether you wash your hair in the shower, sink or while soaking in your favorite bathtub.

Whether you use your dishwasher or wash your dishes by hand, scrape the dishes over a trashcan first to ensure there’s no food left on them.

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Clogged Drain - hot water

Use care when transporting hot water to the drain. Image: RyersonClark/Getty Images

You can also regularly maintain your drains by pouring hot water down them on a weekly basis, or by pouring a cup of vinegar down the drain, letting it sit for half an hour and then pouring two quarts of hot water down the drain.

“It’s also a good idea to have your home’s plumbing checked regularly for leaks and clogs to avoid a plumbing emergency that could cost more in repairs,” Monell says.