Chemical drain cleaners are among the most dangerous household products. That's hardly a shocker, since these lye-based formulas are meant...

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Chemical drain cleaners are among the most dangerous household products. That’s hardly a shocker, since these lye-based formulas are meant to dissolve plugs of grease, soap, hair and ground-up food. Yet most don’t clear undersink clogs as well as old-fashioned mechanical methods, including the humble plunger.

Another surprise: Chemical products labeled “heavy duty” or “professional strength” often proved less effective clearing clogs in our tests than their regular-strength counterparts. And foaming chemicals tanked altogether.

Mechanical means

Mechanical drain cleaners are almost universally safe, effective, fast-acting, inexpensive and environmentally friendly.

We suggest you invest $75 or so assembling a clog-cleaning kit comprising one each of the following mechanical cleaners:

• A plunger (a bellows model is best).

• A gas-powered device (it uses a blast of compressed gas to blow away clogs).

• A water-powered device (it focuses water pressure on the clog).

• A snake (also called an auger, this twists through clogs).

Such an arsenal should spare you from ever having to buy a bottle of chemical goop in a panic. Here’s how to wield each weapon:

Before employing a plunger, stuff a wet rag into any overflow drains and — if you have a double basin — neighboring sink drains. That way, the pressure will be directed at the clog. Then, fill the sink to above the lip of the plunger so you’ll force water — not air — at the clog.

Vigorously push and pull the plunger until the clog is forced free. In our tests, the Master Plunger MP500 All Purpose Plunger ($6) did a very good job of clearing kitchen clogs made of grease and food, and bathroom clogs consisting of soap, toothpaste and hair.

If the plunger doesn’t do it — or if using a plunger is too taxing — consider a device that uses compressed air or water pressure to pop clogs free.

The water-powered Drain King V1P1 ($20) was our top-rated cleaner overall. It flushed tough clogs out quickly, regardless of how far they were from the drain. (Unfortunately, you need to attach it to a garden hose or use a faucet adapter to “power” it.)

A gas-powered device, the CLR Power Plumber Pressurized Drain Opener Plunger Kit ($20) is less cumbersome than the Drain King and can be used up to 15 times.

Snakes range in size from short, spiny models that fish hair from just below a sink’s strainer (such as the 2-foot-long plastic Cobra Zip-It, $3) to longer metal monsters that can reach into your plumbing’s main drain (Ridgid’s manual Kwik-Spin, $26, and electric Auto-Spin, $130).

Because many sinks have a permanent strainer holder installed in the drain hole, you might need to unscrew and remove the J-shaped trap underneath the sink to get access to the drainpipe. Or look for a square- or hexagonal-headed clean-out plug on the trap. Either way, have a bucket on hand to catch the water and gunk that will drain from the sink.

Call the plumber

If the mechanical drain cleaners don’t clear things up, the clog is probably deep in your main drain or in the connection to the street. Contact a licensed plumber or professional drain-cleaning service. Be sure to tell them what you’ve already tried, and whether you’ve used any chemical cleaners.