Are Chemical Drain Cleaners Safe to Use?

Unblocking a clogged drain can be unpleasant work, so many homeowners resort to chemical drain cleaners to wash away the crud. Bottles of these cleaners are often found in cleaning closets, but are they truly safe? Dive into the world of chemical drain cleaners, learn how they clear blockages and learn why they’re hazardous. Then, explore a few of the safer alternatives for cleaning clogged drains without chemicals.

What are Chemical Drain Cleaners Used For?

Chemical drain cleaners are primarily used for clearing plumbing clogs. They are often an attractive option for homeowners because they’re practical and straight forward 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 substances blocking the drain. They are often advertised as an easy and effortless solution to handle persistent clogs and are sold at grocery stores, hardware stores and big box retailers.

How Do Drain Cleaners Work?

The specific reaction that takes place within the pipes varies depending on the type of drain cleaner being used. Here are a few examples:

  • Acidic drain cleaners have sulfuric, muriatic or hydrochloric acid. This reacts with organic materials to produce heat and gas, dissolving the clog. Acidic cleaners are especially successful against hair clogs but must often be used over and over or in high concentrations to get the job done.
  • Oxidizing drain cleaners contain bleach, peroxides or nitrates, all of which release oxygen when poured in the drain. Oxidation breaks down organic matter and cleans obstructions from the pipes while eliminating bacteria. Because of this, oxidizing cleaners are the best against easy-to-break-down blockages like food.
  • Caustic drain cleaners contain lye or potassium hydroxide, which produces heat to break down and clear up materials clogging the drain. The caustic traits of these cleaners allow them to dissolve fat, grease and other organic materials.
  • Enzyme drain cleaners do not have chemicals. Instead, they break down organic material with bacteria or enzymes. However, they take longer to work than chemical drain cleaners because the bacteria or enzymes need time to multiply. As a result, enzyme drain cleaners are a good choice as a maintenance measure rather than a fast drain-cleaning remedy.

Is Drain Cleaner Safe?

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

  • Chemical drain cleaner is not good 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 in the long run. Repeated use of these cleaners can result in expensive repairs or replacements, as damaged pipes are susceptible to leak or rupture.
  • Chemical drain cleaner can injure people. The highly toxic ingredients in drain cleaner can trigger 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 great care.
  • Chemical drain cleaner is harmful to the environment. Dumping chemicals down the drain transfers toxic substances to local waterways, disrupting ecosystems, harming aquatic life and causing other environmentally harmful impacts.

Safer Alternatives to Drain Cleaner Chemicals

Fortunately, chemicals aren’t the only option94 for clearing blocked drains. Here are several safer methods to attempt:

  • Dish soap and hot water: Pouring hot, soapy water down a slow drain helps break up grease and washes away minor blockages. The soap serves as a lubricant and emulsifier, while the hot water dissolves and disperses the clog. This method may call for a couple attempts, but it’s safe and non-toxic.
  • Plunger: This manual drain-clearing method sends blockages from the pipe without harmful chemicals. Fill the clogged sink or tub with an inch of water to help produce a tight seal on top of the drain opening. Then, make forceful, consistent plunging motions until the water drains away.
  • Drain snake: Also known as a plumber’s auger, this instrument uses a flexible cable with a corkscrew on the end. When inserted into the drain, the snake physically breaks up and gets rid of obstructions. This method is highly effective against persistent clogs without doing any damage to the pipes or causing any 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 efficient, long-lasting remedy for even the most difficult clogs.

Schedule Professional Drain Cleaning Services

While chemical drain cleaners offer a quick fix for slight clogs, they present too many risks. Think about using safer, chemical-free alternatives to protect your pipes, your loved ones and the environment. If your DIY attempts don't do the job, turn to Becht/Givens Service Experts for professional drain cleaning services in Louisville. We’ll get your drains draining again and suggest tips to stop clogs from returning. Our plumbers are ready to help, so reach out to a Service Experts office near you today!

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