Clearly, human error played a part here, but issues like what I experienced happen more frequently than you may think because beauty products that clog drains are common, says Aaron Mulder, co-owner and operations manager for Mr. Rooter Plumbing of San Antonio, a Neighborly company. They range from coffee grounds in body scrubs to in-shower lotions. But, fear not—you don't have to avoid your favorite beauty products. Shopping smart and taking some preventative measures can keep your pipes clear and happy. Below, Mulder shares ways to prevent blockages while still using the products you love.
7 beauty products that clog drains—and how to prevent it from happening
1. Bath bombs and teas
"Epsom salt and baking soda are common ingredients that typically dissolve in water, but other common additives—including essential oils, cornstarch, cocoa butter, bits of flowers, and even glitter—don’t dissolve well," says Mulder.
"To help catch some of those extra additives, like dried flower petals, place the bath bomb in a mesh jewelry bag ($8) or pantyhose fastened with a rubber band before dropping into your tub to avoid particles from getting into the drains," he says. "It’s better to take these preventative measures as opposed to wishing you had done this easy ask beforehand."
If you're using loose petals, use a net ($5) to clear them out of the water before popping open the drain.
2. Clay masks
"The way that clay, mud, and charcoal masks stick and harden to your skin—the same can happen when these masks wash down the drain," says Mulder. "The residue can stick and harden to the pipes, making it easier for clogs to form by creating blockages when other materials are washed down the drain."
Mulder says to place a mesh cloth ($7) over the drain when washing off clay masks to prevent the full mask from being washed down the drain. Throw any big chunks of mask that the clothe catches in the trash before rinsing the cloth.
3. Liquid bubble baths
"Liquid bubble bath may not seem harmful to your pipes, but it can cause clogs depending on the ingredients that it contains," says Mulder. "Essential oils, colorants, and heavy soaps can coat pipes, restrict the flow of the drain, and also act like a magnet attracting grime and debris. Soap scum can also end up in your shower drain, where it is prone to stick to the walls of the drain and bind to hair and other objects."
You can't exactly keep bubbles from going down the drain. Mulder says that the best thing to do is, of course, limit your use of bubble baths. But, if that's a non-negotiable, he says to be vigilant of your drain maintenance. One trick you can do to keep your pipes clean is to pour a baking soda ($12) and vinegar ($13) solution down the drain from time to time. Concoct a mixture of 1/3 cup of baking soda and 1/3 cup of white vinegar. Immediately pour it down the drain and let it sit for at least an hour, though overnight is even better, and then flush it with hot water.
"Most makeup is made to withstand a light amount of water or sweat and therefore has hydrophobic properties that initially repel the water from mixing into the makeup," says Mulder. "This makes these products difficult to completely wash away from the drain pipes."
Run hot water down your pipes both before and after rinsing off makeup or rinsing out the cloth you used to remove your makeup. "The hot water will assist in dissolving the product and keeping it flowing down the drain," he says.
5. In-shower lotion
"Moisturizers, creams, or hand lotions can be harmful to your drain if rinsed down the sink," says Mulder. "Some moisturizing soaps and body washes can actually contribute to sludge in your pipes and also cause blockages in your drain."
"Avoid lotions, or scrubs, with coconut oil as it can solidify at temperatures under 76° F and instead, look for thinner oils, like jojoba, which generally tends to solidify at much lower temperatures and can stay in a liquid state for a longer period of time," says Mulder.
6. Body scrubs
"Some exfoliating ingredients can be harmful to your plumbing. It’s important to be mindful of ingredients that don’t dissolve in water such as coffee grounds, seed powders, oatmeal, crushed nuts, and chunky grains," says Mulder. "Although several body scrubs contain sugar and other dissolvable ingredients, sugar can be sticky and can cause issues in your pipes. In other cases, some salts and sugars may not break down completely and can get stuck in the drain."
The answer here is the same as for bubble bath—there's not a drain cover in the world that will catch the coffee grounds in your body scrub while allowing water to flow freely down the drain. Just limit your use of scrubs and stay on top of drain maintenance.
7. Cosmetic wipes
"Both cosmetic and cleansing wipes can sometimes be labeled as flushable, however, none of these wipes actually belong in the toilet, as these wipes don’t match the consistency of toilet paper, and are too thick to be flushed," says Mulder. "Over time they will lead to toilet and pipe blockages causing backups."
Use a reusable makeup-eraser cloth ($20) that you can just throw in the washing machine. You don't have to worry about disposing of them and you'll be producing much less waste. Just be sure to follow Mulder's above tips for makeup and run hot water down the drain before and after rinsing the cloth. If you need to use a single-use wipe, Mulder says to throw it in the trash, not the toilet.
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