Are Chemical Drain Cleaners Safe to Use?

Unblocking a blocked drain can be dirty work, so many homeowners use chemical drain cleaners to wash away the sludge. Bottles of these cleaners are often found in cleaning cabinets, but are they really safe? Dive into the world of chemical drain cleaners, find out how they actually clear blockages and learn why they’re hazardous. Then, examine a few safer alternatives for clearing clogged drains without chemicals.

What are Chemical Drain Cleaners Used For?

Chemical drain cleaners are primarily used for clearing plumbing clogs. They are attractive to homeowners because they’re practical, straightforward to use and offer successful results—at least at first. These cleaners are available in liquid, gel or powder form and break down hair, grease, food and other debris obstructing the drain. They are often marketed as an easy and simple solution to tackle stubborn clogs and are sold at grocery stores, hardware stores and big box retailers.

How Do Drain Cleaners Work?

The specific reaction that happens within the pipes depends on the type of drain cleaner being used. Here are several examples:

  • Acidic drain cleaners contain sulfuric, muriatic or hydrochloric acid. This reacts with organic materials to create heat and gas, dissolving the clog. Acidic cleaners are especially efficient against hair clogs but must often be used repeatedly or in high concentrations to do the job.
  • Oxidizing drain cleaners contain bleach, peroxides or nitrates, which are substances that release oxygen when put down the drain. Oxidation breaks down organic matter and clears obstructions from the pipes while killing bacteria. As a result, oxidizing cleaners are most effective against easy-to-break-down blockages like food.
  • Caustic drain cleaners contain lye or potassium hydroxide, which generates heat to break down and dissolve materials inside the drain. The caustic nature of these cleaners allow them to dissolve fat, grease and other organic items.
  • Enzyme drain cleaners don’t have chemicals. Instead, they break down organic material with bacteria or enzymes. However, they take longer to work than chemical drain cleaners due to the fact the bacteria or enzymes must have time to multiply. Because of this, enzyme drain cleaners are a good choice as a precautionary measure rather than a rapid drain-cleaning solution.

Is Drain Cleaner Safe?

While chemical drain cleaners are somewhat effective, they do pose risks. Here are a few key concerns:

  • Chemical drain cleaner is bad for pipes. The heat generated by caustic and acidic drain cleaners can inflict damage on pipes, especially older or plastic ones, which can become weak and crack eventually. Regular use of these cleaners can cause costly repairs or replacements, as damaged pipes are more likely to leak or break.
  • Chemical drain cleaner can hurt people. The highly toxic compounds in drain cleaner can result in respiratory issues if inhaled, very bad burns if touched, blindness if rubbed into the eyes or digestive concerns if ingested. Therefore, drain cleaner must be used with extreme care.
  • Chemical drain cleaner is bad for the earth. Putting chemicals down the drain sends toxic substances to local waterways, disrupting ecosystems, harming aquatic life and causing other environmentally detrimental consequences.

Safer Alternatives to Drain Cleaner Chemicals

The good news is, chemicals aren’t the only option for clearing clogged drains. Here are a few safer alternatives to try:

  • Dish soap and hot water: Flushing soapy, hot water into a sluggish drain helps break up grease and washes away slight blockages. The soap serves as a lubricant and emulsifier, while the hot water dissolves and carries away the clog. This strategy may call for several attempts, but it’s safe and non-toxic.
  • Plunger: This manual drain-clearing technique forces blockages from the pipe without harmful chemicals. Fill the clogged sink or tub with an inch of water to help make a tight seal on top of the drain opening. Then, make strong, regular plunging motions until the water goes down the drain.
  • Drain snake: Also known as a plumber’s auger, this tool uses a flexible cable with a corkscrew on the end. When inserted into the drain, the snake physically breaks up and removes blockages. This method is extremely effective against difficult clogs without doing any damage to the pipes or creating any health risks.
  • Hydro-jetting: This professional service uses high-pressure water to blast away debris and obstructions, offering a thorough cleaning that keeps future clogs from reoccuring. Hydro-jetting requires a professional plumber’s assistance, but it’s the most effective, long-lasting answer for even the most difficult clogs.

Schedule Professional Drain Cleaning Services

While chemical drain cleaners present a quick remedy for slight clogs, they pose too many risks. Consider switching to safer, chemical-free choices to protect your pipes, your household and the environment. If your DIY efforts prove fruitless, turn to Service Experts Heating, Air Conditioning & Plumbing for professional drain cleaning services in the U.S.. We’ll get your drains flowing smoothly again and recommend tips to stop clogs from returning. Our plumbers are ready to help, so contact a Service Experts office near you today!

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