We updated this article in November 2022 to add more information about each featured product based on extensive testing done by the Good Housekeeping Institute. Our original top-rated picks, selected by the GH Cleaning Lab remain the same with the exception of our original pick for Best Drain Cleaner for Hair Clogs which was replaced with a new pick from Liquid-Plumr.
Clogged toilets and slow-draining showers and sinks aren’t just gross — they can also wreak havoc on your home. Standing water is a breeding ground for mold and bacteria, and backed-up pipes are prone to freezing and bursting, which can lead to thousands of dollars in repairs. To make matters worse, your homeowner’s insurance may not cover the cost of the fix, since plumbing backups are considered a maintenance issue, which policies often don’t cover.
Okay, that’s the bad news. The good news is that, with a little vigilance and about $10 worth of drain cleaner, you can prevent plumbing mishaps from occurring. The Cleaning and Home Improvement experts at the Good Housekeeping Institute have tested chemical and enzymatic drain cleaners for years. “Our advice to homeowners is still to try a plunger first since a few vigorous pumps are often enough to suction out clogs, especially if you catch them early,” says Dan DiClerico, Director of Home Improvement & Outdoor at the Institute. But if the backup remains, reach for one of our recommended drain cleaners.
Our top picks:
Caution: Always use a plunger before (not after!) any chemical cleaner to prevent the chemical from splashing back up onto your skin or into your eyes.
After our picks, read on to learn more about how we test drain cleaners, what to look for when shopping for them and how to use them safely.
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BEST OVERALL DRAIN CLEANER
Max Gel Liquid Clog Remover
BEST DRAIN CLEANER FOR HAIR CLOGS
Hair Clog Eliminator
BEST SINGLE-USE DRAIN CLEANER
Drain Opening Pacs
BEST ENZYMATIC DRAIN CLEANER
Bacteria Septic Cleaner
BEST MONTHLY BUILD-UP REMOVER
Clear Pipes & Drains
BEST CRYSTAL DRAIN CLEANER
Odorless Drain Cleaner
BEST COMBINATION CHEMICAL AND ENZYME DRAIN CLEANER
Safer Drain Opener
BEST DRAIN CLEANER TOOL FOR HAIR CLOGS
BEST DRAIN AUGER FOR CLOGGED TOILETS
6 ft. Toilet Auger Drain Snake
BEST BATHTUB TOOL FOR PREVENTING HAIR CLOGS
Tub Drain Protector
How we test drain cleaners
When evaluating drain cleaning products and tools at the Good Housekeeping Institute, we look at how easy and neat the product is to use and how complete and accurate the label and product claims are. We also interview company scientists and review data for product efficacy and safety. To capture real-world experience, we check online reviews of the product and, whenever possible, have it tested by consumers on real at-home clogs. The drain cleaning tools and products listed here were selected based on our past evaluations and experiences with the products, company research and favorable online consumer reviews.
What to look for when shopping for the best drain cleaner
Different cleaners work for different types of clogs — for example, one that works for a slow-flowing drain will probably not work for a complete blockage. Here are two types of cleaners to look for while shopping:
Enzymatic cleaners are slower to clear clogs but are usually less harmful to your plumbing (or yourself). The enzymes (bacteria) in the cleaner slowly break down organic soils such as hair and food that can be found in your drain but might not be strong enough to dissolve a complete blockage.
Chemical-based drain cleaners work the fastest, but also have the potential to cause more damage. There are two main types: caustic cleaners, which are tough on grease, and oxidizing cleaners, which excel at unclogging clumps of hair, food and other organic matter. Depending on the type of pipes you have in your home, damage can occur when using any chemical cleaner, especially if you overdo it. PVC pipes can warp or soften from heat generated by chemical use. For metal pipes, excessive use can cause pipes to corrode and in extreme cases cause holes to develop.
How to use drain cleaners safely
Here are some important precautions to take when clearing clogged drains:
✔️ Precisely follow all directions on a drain cleaner’s label. Be sure the room is well-ventilated. Do not leave the drain cleaner inside drains for longer than stated in the instructions.
✔️ Wear gloves and eye protection to protect against splash-back. Do not stand in the tub or shower stall when pouring the drain cleaner.
✔️ Carefully pour the drain cleaner to avoid spillage. The caustic nature of some chemical cleaners can damage surrounding stone, marble, stainless steel and other materials. Never mix drain cleaners with other cleaning products — even homemade — or pour a second cleaner down if the first doesn’t work. The chemical reaction can cause toxic gas or even an explosion.
✔️ Always flush the drain well after using a chemical cleaner, following the package instructions for the temperature of the water and how long you should rinse.
✔️ Never try to clear a toilet clog with a chemical cleaner. Use a plunger, a toilet auger (a standard drain snake can damage or crack the porcelain) or a natural enzyme cleaner. If the clog still remains, call in a professional plumber.
How to Make a DIY Drain Cleaner
Once a month or so, we recommend using this homemade solution for drain maintenance. It’s not powerful enough to clear a complete clog, but it can help keep your drains fresh and flowing.
Mix ½ cup baking soda with ¼ cup table salt and pour it down the drain.
Slowly pour in 1 cup of warmed distilled white vinegar.
Let the foaming bubbles stand 10-15 minutes and then flush with hot tap water for 15-30 seconds.
Why trust Good Housekeeping?
The Good Housekeeping Institute Home Care and Cleaning Lab provides expert tips and reviews on all things cleaning, including drains throughout the home.
Lynn Redmile is a contributing product reviews analyst at the Good Housekeeping Institute. where she’s been evaluating cleaning products, among other household wates, since 2012. Carolyn Forté brings over 40 years of experience a as consumer products expert to her role as Executive Director of the Home Care and Cleaning Lab.
For this roundup, Lynn also worked closely with Rachel Rothman, Chief Technologist & Director of Engineering at the Institute. Rachel has over 15 years of experience researching, testing and writing about products in the home improvement space.
Dan DiClerico, Director of Home Improvement & Outdoor, provided insights into plumbing maintenance. Dan has written about home improvement for more than 20 years.
Lynn Redmile Contributing Product Analyst Lynn Redmile (she/her) is a contributing product reviews analyst at the Good Housekeeping Institute, where she’s been evaluating beauty, textiles, home, pet and cleaning products since 2012.
Carolyn Forté Home Care & Cleaning Lab Executive Director Carolyn Forté brings more than 40 years of experience as a consumer products expert to her role as executive director of the Good Housekeeping Institute‘s Home Care and Cleaning Lab.