Orbeez (aka water beads) have long been used by parents looking to keep their children busy, or DIYers looking to add a bit of decorative flair to a project. Starting off as tiny beads, they grow many times their original size when added to water.
Harmless in most cases, they do have the unfortunate ability to clog up your pipework if too many of them make it down your drain at once.
Thankfully, in most cases it’s possible to unblock your Orbeez blocked wastewater/drainage system without needing any special tools.
Unblock Your Orbeez Clogged Drain Using Salt
This is probably the easiest method of clearing an Orbeez (water beads) blockage.
If the blockage is immediately below your sink or bath, then pouring salt directly onto the Orbeez will shrink them considerably.
If the blockage is further along then it won’t be possible to pour salt directly onto the Orbeez. Instead, you could try a high salt solution. Mix 3 parts hot water with one part salt and pour the resulting mixture down your drain.
This won’t be quite as efficient at shrinking the Orbeez as pure salt, but it will allow you to shrink blockages that are past the water traps in your drainage system.
How Does This Work?
Orbeez are made from sodium polyacrylate, a superabsorbent polymer that absorbs water by osmosis.
It is a cross-linked (network) polymer that contains sodium atoms. It absorbs water by a process called osmosis. When the (sodium-containing) polymer is placed in contact with water, there is a tendency for the sodium to distribute equally between the network and the water. That means, some of the sodium atoms want to leave the network and move to the water. When these sodium atoms leave, they are replaced with water molecules. Water swells the polymer network to try to keep the sodium concentration balanced between the polymer and the water. The cross-links that connect the chains together prevent them from dissolving/breaking apart in the water.https://www.cmu.edu/gelfand/lgc-educational-media/polymers/polymer-and-absorption/super-absorb-powder.html
When salt is added to enlarged Orbeez it reverses the swelling process – water is diffused out of the Orbeez as it is no longer needed inside the polymer to balance the salt concentration.
Once the Orbeez have had time to shrink (allow 4 hours for the salt to have its full effect) you can flush the now shrunken Orbeez through your system using a salt solution. Try a 10 parts hot water to 1 part salt solution for this stage of the process.
If you believe it safe, you could also just use tap water at this stage. The tap water will re enlarge any Orbeez remaining in your system, but hopefully the tap water will clear them into the larger sewer network before they have time to grow in size. Once in the sewer network there should be almost no chance of a blockage unless you have put many thousands down your drain at once.
Unblock Your Orbeez Clogged Drain Using Vinegar
Vinegar is another simple DIY method of shrinking Orbeez. You can pour Vinegar directly over the Orbeez to shrink them. You can also use a vinegar and water solution if you don’t have enough vinegar on hand. However, be aware that this will not be as effective as pure vinegar.
This method works due to the acidity of vinegar – it reduces the osmotic effect and also lowers the ionic character of the polymer that the Orbeez are made from.
Unblock Your Orbeez Clogged Drain Using Baking Soda
As with salt, you can try pouring baking soda directly over the Orbeez (water beads). The water molecules in the Orbeez will rather bond with the baking soda, and this will cause the beads to dehydrate.
We haven’t tested using a baking soda water solution as a means of getting past drain water trap, so salt may be a better option for blockages further along your system.
Unblock Your Orbeez Clogged Drain Using Bleach
This is an interesting one. We have not tested bleach as a method of unblocking a drain that has been blocked with Orbeez. It is recommended on a few websites as a means of clearing an Orbeez blockage. However, these sites all seem to be referencing each other or just blatantly copying each…
We would not recommend bleach due to the lack of evidence.
It is true that bleach will dissolve the beads into a mushy slime over time, but this process takes much longer. This Orbeez filled slime might have a different and possibly negative effect on your plumbing system.
We would strongly recommend salt, vinegar or baking soda over bleach.
Unblock Your Drain by Dismantling the Pipework
As your blockage is most likely going to be in the trap immediately under your sink or bathtub this method may work so long as you have access to the water trap.
Your pipework here needs to use push fittings, and they need to be push fittings that are easily taken apart. Some push fittings require special tools, or simply can’t be taken apart. If you’re pipework is glued together it won’t be possible to use this method either.
Place a bowl under the water trap and dismantle the pipework. You will now be able to manually remove any Orbeez.
Call the Professionals to Clear the Orbeez Blockage
If none of the above methods have worked to clear your Orbeez (water beads) blockage then it must be serious and a plumber will be required.
They’ll send a long camera down the drain (called a borescope) to inspect the blockage. They may need to remove parts of your plumbing to get to the problem, or they may try blasting the blockage with jets of water to clear it.
What Is a Water Trap?
A water trap contains water and prevents bad smells from making their way from your pipework into your living spaces. It is the most likely place for a blockage to occur.
The most common type of water traps are U traps, S traps and P traps (so called due to their shape).
Should I Try Clearing the Blockage With Tap Water?
Fully enlarged Orbeez shouldn’t even be able to fit through the sink or bath strainer, so your blockage is most likely caused by dry beads or semi enlarged beads making their way into the drain before expanding in size.
Flushing more tap water through may just cause the Orbeez to swell in size even further. We don’t recommend this as a safe way to clear your blockage.
I Thought Orbeez Were Easily Biodegradable?
Actually, Orbeez (and also the generic version called water beads) are not easily biodegradable. You’ll have to wait at least a few decades for the beads to degrade and for the blockage to clear itself.
Will the Methods Listed Above Work With Fake Snow Too?
Yes, fake snow (also known as insta snow, instant snow) is also made from sodium polyacrylate and the methods described in this article will work for this too.
Cyril Schreiner: The Guy Who Destroyed His Neighborhood’s Drain System
If you’re interested, you can read about a French YouTuber who managed to block up his entire neighborhood’s wastewater system with millions of Orbeez!