Are Chemical Drain Cleaners Safe to Use?

Unblocking a clogged drain can be nasty work, so many homeowners turn to chemical drain cleaners to wash away the gunk. Bottles of these chemicals are commonly found in cleaning closets, but are they truly safe? Dive into the world of chemical drain cleaners, find out how they work and learn why they’re hazardous. Then, explore some 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 appeal to homeowners because they’re quick, easy to use and offer effective results—at least at first. These cleaners are available in liquid, gel or powder form and break down hair, grease, food and other materials blocking the drain. They are often marketed as an easy and convenient solution to tackle stubborn clogs and are sold at grocery stores, hardware stores and big box retailers.

How Do Drain Cleaners Work?

The exact reaction that occurs within the pipes depends on the type of drain cleaner being used. Here are some examples:

  • Acidic drain cleaners contain sulfuric, muriatic or hydrochloric acid. This reacts with organic materials to produce heat and gas, dissolving the clog. Acidic cleaners are particularly effective against hair clogs but must often be used repeatedly or in high concentrations to work.
  • Oxidizing drain cleaners contain bleach, peroxides or nitrates, which release oxygen when poured down the drain. Oxidation breaks down organic matter and clears blockages from the pipes while killing bacteria. As a result, oxidizing cleaners are most effective against easy-to-break-down materials like food.
  • Caustic drain cleaners contain lye or potassium hydroxide, which generates heat to break down and dissolve materials in the drain. The caustic nature of these cleaners allow them to dissolve fat, grease and other organic materials.
  • Enzyme drain cleaners don’t contain chemicals. Instead, they break down organic material using bacteria or enzymes. However, they take longer to work than chemical drain cleaners because the bacteria or enzymes need time to multiply. For this reason, enzyme drain cleaners work best as a preventative measure rather than a speedy 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 damage pipes, especially older or plastic ones, which can weaken and crack over time. Regular use of these cleaners can lead to expensive repairs or replacements, as damaged pipes are more likely to leak or burst.
  • Chemical drain cleaner can harm humans. The highly toxic ingredients in drain cleaner can cause respiratory issues if inhaled, severe burns if touched, blindness if rubbed into the eyes or digestive complications if ingested. Therefore, drain cleaner must be handled with extreme care.
  • Chemical drain cleaner is harmful to the environment. Pouring chemicals down the drain introduces toxic substances to local waterways, disrupting ecosystems, harming aquatic life and causing other environmentally damaging effects.

Safer Alternatives to Drain Cleaner Chemicals

Luckily, chemicals aren’t the only option for clearing clogged drains. Here are several safer alternatives to try:

  • Dish soap and hot water: Pouring hot, soapy water down a slow drain helps break up grease and washes away minor blockages. The soap acts as a lubricant and emulsifier, while the hot water dissolves and disperses the clog. This method may require several attempts, but it’s safe and non-toxic.
  • Plunger: This manual drain-clearing technique pushes blockages from the pipe without harmful chemicals. Fill the clogged sink or tub with an inch of water to help create a tight seal around the drain opening. Then, make forceful, consistent plunging motions until the water drains away.
  • Drain snake: Also known as a plumber’s auger, this tool features a flexible cable with a corkscrew on the end. When inserted into the drain, the snake physically breaks up and removes obstructions. This method is highly effective against stubborn clogs without damaging the pipes or posing health risks.
  • Hydro-jetting: This professional service uses high-pressure water to blast away debris and buildup, providing a thorough cleaning that keeps future clogs at bay. Hydro-jetting requires a professional plumber’s assistance, but it’s the most effective, long-lasting solution for even the toughest clogs.

Schedule Professional Drain Cleaning Services

While chemical drain cleaners offer a quick fix for minor clogs, they pose too many risks. Consider using safer, chemical-free alternatives to protect your pipes, your family and the environment. If your DIY attempts 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 prevent clogs from returning. Our plumbers are ready to help, so contact a Service Experts office near you today!

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