Are Chemical Drain Cleaners Safe to Use?

Unblocking a plugged drain can be dirty work, so many homeowners resort to chemical drain cleaners to wash away the crud. Bottles of these chemicals are often found in cleaning cabinets, but are they really safe? Dive into the world of chemical drain cleaners, discover 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 mainly used for clearing plumbing blockages. They are attractive 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 debris 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 specific reaction that takes place within the pipes varies depending on the type of drain cleaner being used. Here are several 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 particularly successful against hair clogs but must often be used more than once or in high concentrations to do the job.
  • Oxidizing drain cleaners contain bleach, peroxides or nitrates, which are substances that release oxygen when dumped into the drain. Oxidation breaks down organic matter and clears obstructions from the pipes while destroying bacteria. As a result, oxidizing cleaners work very well against easy-to-break-down materials like food.
  • Caustic drain cleaners contain lye or potassium hydroxide, which produces heat to break down and clear up materials inside the drain. The caustic characteristics of these cleaners allow them to dissolve fat, grease and other organic substances.
  • Enzyme drain cleaners do not have chemicals. Instead, these products break down organic material with bacteria or enzymes. However, they take more time to remove blockages than chemical drain cleaners due to the fact the bacteria or enzymes require time to multiply. For this reason, enzyme drain cleaners work best as a precautionary measure rather than a rapid drain-cleaning remedy.

Is Drain Cleaner Safe?

Even though chemical drain cleaners are fairly effective, they do pose risks. Here are a few key issues to consider:

  • 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 become weak and crack with time. Frequent use of these cleaners can lead to costly repairs or replacements, as damaged pipes are more prone to leak or burst.
  • Chemical drain cleaner can hurt humans. The highly toxic ingredients in drain cleaner can cause respiratory issues if inhaled, very bad burns if touched, blindness if rubbed into the eyes or digestive problems if ingested. Therefore, drain cleaner must be used with great care.
  • Chemical drain cleaner is bad for the environment. Dumping chemicals in 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

Luckily, chemicals aren’t the only solution for clearing blocked drains. Here are a number of safer alternatives to attempt:

  • Dish soap and hot water: Adding hot, soapy water to a slow-moving drain helps break up grease and washes away slight blockages. The soap works 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 pushes blockages out of the pipe without the need for harmful chemicals. Fill the clogged sink or tub with an inch of water to help make a tight seal over the drain opening. Then, make strong, continuous plunging motions until the water goes down the drain.
  • Drain snake: Also referred to 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 removes obstacles. This method is very effective against difficult clogs without doing any damage to the pipes or posing health risks.
  • Hydro-jetting: This professional service uses high-pressure water to blast away debris and gunk, delivering 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 option for even the toughest clogs.

Schedule Professional Drain Cleaning Services

While chemical drain cleaners provide a quick remedy for slight clogs, they pose too many risks. Consider switching to safer, chemical-free alternatives to protect your pipes, your family and the environment. If your DIY efforts don’t work, turn to Service Experts Heating, Air Conditioning & Plumbing for professional drain cleaning services in the U.S.. We’ll get your drains clear once again and offer you 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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