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Are Chemical Drain Cleaners Safe for Pipes?

If you’re like many people, you have childhood memories of your father or grandfather trying to unclog a sink or bathtub drain with a harsh chemical drain cleaner, hot water, baking soda, or bleach to get that blockage cleared. Should you do the same now that you are a homeowner if you encounter a clog in your plumbing system and need drain cleaning?

If you experience a stubborn clog, should you run out to the nearest grocery store or superstore for a bottle of liquid drain cleaner or chemical drain cleaners like Drano or Liquid Plumber to get rid of that build-up or clear out the garbage disposal? Not so fast.

According to Consumer Reports, “chemical drain cleaners are among the most dangerous household products,” which isn’t surprising since they are made out of lye and manufactured for chemical reactions to cut through grease, soap scum, hair, and other sludge that causes build-up and clogged drains.

While these harsh chemicals may seem like they will do the trick, chemical drain cleaners are often unnecessary. Usually, a good old-fashioned method, such as a wire hanger with a hook on the end, a $2.25 Zip-It drain cleaning tool from Walmart, or even a trusty plunger, will do.

Different Kinds of Chemical Cleaners

Although it is not recommended to use chemical drain cleaners, it’s important to understand which different types solve different clogged drain problems.

Oxidizing cleaners are used to remove and clear out food-based clogs. Oxidizing cleaners contain ingredients like bleach, nitrates, and other peroxides that combine and oxidize any organic material, eventually clearing the clog. Oxidizing cleaners may be less harmful than acidic cleaners, but there is still a chemical reaction that can cause harm to old metal pipes, allowing for degradation and eventual collapse.

Caustic drain cleaners have the ability to break down and remove grease, stubborn soap scum, and other obstructions. Caustic drain cleaners are made with sodium hydroxide, which can still result in damage pipes if used too much.

The same thing can happen when crystals are mixed with common household cleaners, especially those with ammonia. When crystals are mixed with a household cleaner, the mixture can come shooting out of the drain.

Further, if there is too much crystal drain cleaner down the drain, it can become a solid block resembling a stone, which is much worse than tree roots and can be nearly impossible to get out of the drain. Given the dangers of crystal drain cleaners, Consumer Reports advises against them, but all chemical drain cleaners are dangerous to inhale or come into contact with.

Safest Drain Cleaner for Pipes

As a homeowner who isn’t very experienced with drain cleaning or residential plumbing in general, your first instinct is to go out and buy any store-bought chemical cleaners that look like it will do the job. As we’ve described above, it’s evident that is not the solution and could actually cause homeowners bigger problems to deal with in the future. 

What homeowners need to understand is that chemical-based cleaning products will clear drains, but they will always damage pipes, especially if your plumbing is built with plastic pipes. As a homeowner, note the safest drain cleaners available to you for clearing clogs. Natural drain cleaners and mechanical drain cleaners are perfect alternatives to hazardous chemical drain cleaners.

Using Natural Drain Cleaner for Pipes

There is one true natural drain cleaner available to homeowners, which is the classic baking soda, vinegar, and water solution. The reaction that mixing baking soda and vinegar brings is a harmless solution that will effectively clear clogs while also being safe for your plumbing system. The baking soda fizzes and breaks down the gunk and grime, and the vinegar works to eliminate odor. The water (which needs to be boiling water) finishes the job by loosening any last bits of gunk and pushing it down the rest of the drain.

Choosing the natural drain cleaner way is simple for any homeowner to carry out as long as baking soda, vinegar, and access to hot water is readily available. The instructions are as follows:

  • Removing all standing water from the drain and making it relatively dry;
  • Put a ½ box of baking soda down the drain;
  • Pour ½ cup of vinegar down the drain;
  • Immediately plug the drain with the plunger or stopper so that nothing can escape and hold it tightly in place;
  • Leave the mixture in the drain for 30 minutes;
  • Remove the plunger and pour 1 quart of boiling water down the drain; hot water is essential.
  • Repeat if necessary for drain cleaning.

Natural drain cleaners may not be considered the “best way” to clear a clogged drain, but it can be used in a pinch for homeowners if the ingredients are available.

Using Natural Drain Cleaner for Pipes

As a general rule, mechanical drain cleaners, such as plungers, wire hangers with a hook at the end, Zip-Its, water-powered devices, and drain snakes (augers) are safe, effective, affordable, and fast-acting removers when there’s standing water in your shower drain, kitchen sink or other clogged drain. Not only that, they are not hazardous to your health due to not being corrosive or high in toxicity, and they are environmentally friendly; they do not potentially chemically eat away at sewer lines or PVC pipes, causing corrosion that is worse than the clogging was in the first place. 

It’s better for your septic system to use mechanical drain cleaners than liquid drain cleaners that use enzymes and other caustic chemicals to clear clogs and clogged drains.

We do not recommend using chemical drain cleaners, especially when there’s usually a mechanical method to remove that drain clog and one that’s not only a safe alternative but an effective one at that!

Professional Drain Cleaning Services from A-1 Sewer & Septic

Homeowners can proactively keep their drains clean and maintain a healthy plumbing system. Some helpful tips include paying attention to the signs early and knowing when to call a professional plumber.

Do you have a stubborn clog that needs clearing? Is there a slow drain that isn’t caused by a clogged drain? Whether it’s a clogged drain, water heater repair/installation, or septic tank pumping, A-1 Sewer & Septic Services can handle all your plumbing issues. Suppose you are not the DIY type, or you prefer to call in a professional plumber who won’t use a hazardous chemical. In that case, we encourage you to contact A-1 Sewer & Septic Services for a no-obligation quote from one of our Kansas City plumbers!