Are Chemical Drain Cleaners Safe to Use?

Unblocking a blocked drain can be unpleasant work, so many homeowners resort to chemical drain cleaners to wash away the sludge. Bottles of these cleaners are often found in cleaning cabinets, but are they truly safe? Dive into the world of chemical drain cleaners, learn how they work and learn why they’re hazardous. Then, take a look at some safer alternatives for removing debris from clogged drains with no chemicals.

What are Chemical Drain Cleaners Used For?

Chemical drain cleaners are primarily used for clearing plumbing blockages. They are attractive to homeowners because they’re quick and simple 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 obstructing the drain. They are often advertised as an easy and convenient solution to fix persistent clogs and are sold at grocery stores, hardware stores and big box retailers.

How Do Drain Cleaners Work?

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

  • Acidic drain cleaners include sulfuric, muriatic or hydrochloric acid. This reacts with organic materials to produce 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 get the job done.
  • Oxidizing drain cleaners contain bleach, peroxides or nitrates, which release oxygen when poured in the drain. Oxidation breaks down organic matter and clears obstructions from the pipes while destroying 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 produces 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 substances.
  • Enzyme drain cleaners are products that do not use chemicals. Instead, these products break down organic material using bacteria or enzymes. However, they take longer to dissolve clogs than chemical drain cleaners because the bacteria or enzymes must have time to multiply. For this reason, enzyme drain cleaners work best as a precautionary measure rather than a speedy drain-cleaning solution.

Is Drain Cleaner Safe?

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

  • Chemical drain cleaner is damaging to pipes. The heat produced by caustic and acidic drain cleaners can damage pipes, especially older or plastic ones, which can weaken and crack in the long run. Regular use of these cleaners can lead to pricey repairs or replacements, as damaged pipes are more prone to leak or break.
  • Chemical drain cleaner can harm humans. The highly toxic compounds in drain cleaner can result in respiratory issues if inhaled, significant burns if touched, blindness if rubbed into the eyes or digestive complications if ingested. Therefore, drain cleaner must be used with extreme care.
  • Chemical drain cleaner is harmful to the earth. Putting chemicals into the drain sends toxic substances to local waterways, disrupting ecosystems, harming aquatic life and causing other environmentally harmful effects.

Safer Alternatives to Drain Cleaner Chemicals

The good news is, chemicals aren’t the only solution94 for clearing blocked drains. Here are a number of safer possibilities to consider:

  • Dish soap and hot water: Adding hot, soapy water to a slow drain helps break up grease and washes away small 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 technique forces blockages out of the pipe without the need for harmful chemicals. Fill the clogged sink or tub with an inch of water to help produce a tight seal around the drain opening. Then, make forceful, consistent plunging motions until the water goes away.
  • Drain snake: Also referred to as a plumber’s auger, this device involves 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 extremely effective against stubborn clogs and doesn't damage the pipes or causing any health risks.
  • Hydro-jetting: This professional service uses high-pressure water to blast away debris and obstructions, delivering a thorough cleaning that keeps future clogs from reoccurring. Hydro-jetting requires a professional plumber’s assistance, but it’s the most powerful, long-lasting remedy for even the most difficult clogs.

Schedule Professional Drain Cleaning Services

While chemical drain cleaners present a quick cure for slight clogs, they pose too many risks. Consider switching to safer, chemical-free alternatives to protect your pipes, your household and the environment. If your DIY fixes don't work, turn to Comfortech Service Experts for professional drain cleaning services in Jackson. We’ll get your drains draining again and recommend tips to prevent clogs from returning. Our plumbers are ready to help, so reach out to a Service Experts office near you today!

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