As of this writing, broad swaths of the Midwest and Northeast are buried under mountains of snow, and the Pacific Northwest is staggering to a standstill under, well, about two inches of the stuff, but they’re not used to it, OK? It’s safe to say that this winter has been no joke, and you may be feeling the consequences in the form of that homeowners’ nightmare: frozen pipes. Luckily, if you’re so afflicted, there’s an an easy potential fix—saltwater.
While a space heater, a hairdryer, or any heating mechanism can generally do the trick, if you don’t have any of those things handy to help you out of your frigid fix, you can simply pour saltwater down the drain to thaw your frozen pipes. Boil about a gallon of water and start pouring in salt until it no longer dissolves. Once you’re finished, toss that hot and salty water down the drain, where it will hopefully thaw out those pipes quickly.
Why does this work? According to Eastern Plumbing, adding salt to the water lowers the melting point of ice, meaning you can thaw your pipes that much more rapidly. But there are also some steps you can take to keep your pipes from freezing in the first place.
One of them is surprisingly simple. According to Angie’s List, opening the cabinet doors under your sinks can help keep them from getting too chilled out.
During freezing weather, leave cabinet doors open under kitchen or bathroom sinks (especially if they are located against an outside wall) to allow warmer room air to circulate around pipes. You can also place a small lamp with an incandescent bulb near the pipes. Be sure to remove anything flammable from the area to prevent fires.
Meanwhile, The Home Depot offers a few easy DIY suggestions for winterizing your pipes with a bit of foam insulation—a small investment that could save you a big snowy season headache.
This article was originally published in January 2011 and updated on Feb. 12, 2021 with to include more detailed information and additional tips for preventing frozen pipes.