Are Chemical Drain Cleaners Safe?


If you’re like a lot of 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 are in need of 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 cleaner like Drano or Liquid Plumber, to get rid of that build-up or clear out a 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, or a $2.25 Zip-It drain cleaning tool from Wal-Mart, or even a trusty plunger will do.

Crystal drain cleaners can be hazardous when they are exposed to aluminum, which is commonly found in older sink drains. When crystals are exposed to aluminum in an older sink drain, they can create a cloud of lye-laden gas that can cause choking.

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 of a 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.

Mechanical Drain Cleaners are Safer

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 remover 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, PVC pipes, causing corrosion that is worse than the clogging was in the first place. It’s just better for your septic system to use mechanical drain cleaners than liquid drain cleaners that use enzymes and other caustic chemicals to clear out 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!

Do you have a stubborn clog that needs clearing? If you are not the DIY-type, or you prefer to call in a professional who won’t use a hazardous chemical, we encourage you to contact A-1 Sewer & Septic Inc. for a quote from one of our Kansas City plumbers!

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