If anything good came of the BP oil spill off the coast of Louisiana last month, it was this: It helped me figure out how to break the clog that stops up our bathtub drain from time to time.

Two or three times a year I can count on a clog so stubborn that the only sure-fire way I found to break it before this was to force water down the drain with a garden hose. It’s a pretty effective method but it takes thirty or forty minutes to drag the hose out, connect it to the laundry spigot, uncoil it across the living room to the bathroom, take the cover off the drain, shove the hose in there and run a couple gallons of water past the clog. And clean-up is a bear.

I always had the sneaking suspicion there had to be a better way that didn’t involve industrial-strength lye or other caustic chemicals, but the answer kept eluding me until I read a story about a guy who cleans up birds and other animals that have been fouled with crude oil. He does that for a living so he has years of experience, and through copious trial and error he found that ordinary dish soap is best for the job. It’s strong enough to break down the oil, but mild enough that it’s easy on bird’s feathers and such.

So yesterday, while I stood staring at the bathtub drain trying to figure out how to bust the latest clog that was backing up an inch of slimy water every time one of us took a shower, I found myself reasoning this way: The clog’s probably not a hairball, because I put a screen over the drain to keep hair from getting down there. Maybe a little bit of hair is still getting through, but not enough to clog the drain, so it must be a greasy clog. And if it’s a greasy clog, I should be able to break it up with ordinary kitchen cleaners. And that’s when I remembered what the bird-cleaning guy said about dish detergent.

This fellow said that he’d tried several brands of dish soap and the one that worked best was Dawn, so when I made the daily trip to the grocery store for food and sundries I picked up a bottle of Dawn dish soap and dropped it in the cart. The only hitch there is, there are maybe a dozen different kinds of Dawn. They make antibacterial Dawn, Dawn with aloe, organic Dawn, and I don’t know what else. I stood there a good five minutes with my thumb in my mouth before I eyeballed the bottle of Just Plain Old Dawn in the lineup.

As soon as I got back from the store I poured about a third of the bottle straight down the drain, figuring that should have been enough to fill the trap. After putting the plug in the drain I filled the tub with water, adding about a cup of detergent to that, too, for good measure, then walked away to let it sit for a couple hours. I wanted to see if the rush of water from the tub would be enough to flush the clog out of the trap. If I could manage to bust this clog without having to snake it, so much the better.

As it turned out, My Darling B came in from the garden about four hours later and pulled the plug before showering off the day’s hard work. When I explained what I was up to she told me, “It worked like a charm.”

So there you have it. Next clog you get in your tub, bust it with some Dawn. The guy who cleans birds recommends it, and now I do, too. If only I owned some stock in the company.

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