When you’re faced with a stubborn clog or an annoying slow drain, you might wonder if a liquid drain cleaner is the answer. As your friendly neighborhood plumbing experts, we’re here to tell you that the answer is a resounding “No”. Liquid drain cleaners tend to do more harm than good, and can cause problems that you’ll end up paying for in the long run. So, before you reach for a liquid drain cleaner, make sure you understand the risks. Here’s a breakdown of the problematic ingredients in liquid drain cleaners, the problems they can cause, and safe alternatives you can rely on instead.
Most common liquid drain cleaners are made from slight variations of the same formula: sodium hydroxide (lye), sodium hypochlorite (bleach), sodium nitrate, sodium chloride (salt) and aluminum. The main ingredient, lye, is a substance that decomposes most organic matter. Lye is mixed with shards of aluminum, in order to generate heat. The instant a liquid drain cleaner makes contact with your pipes, you’re setting off an intense chemical reaction that causes heat, bubbles, protein dissolution, and fat breakdown.
Any way you look at it, the chemicals in liquid drain cleaners are harsh, and the process is very unforgiving to plumbing systems, the environment, and even your health. Here are the top three hazards caused by these harsh chemicals:
Liquid drain cleaners cause both internal and external damage to your home’s plumbing system. The caustic chemicals in drain cleaners also eat away at the finishes of your sinks and toilets. For example, drain cleaners can settle onto the porcelain of your toilet’s bowl and cause cracks. Cracks in a toilet bowl can cause leaks that spill onto your bathroom floor, or lead to your toilet never holding enough water. Replacing a cracked toilet can be expensive, and simply repairing it is rarely an option.
Plastic or PVC pipes are especially vulnerable to corrosion caused by the chemicals in liquid drain cleaners, although they can affect metal pipes as well. Pipe corrosion can lead to dangerous complications like burst pipes. A burst pipe is a major plumbing emergency that can cause catastrophic flooding.
Additionally, liquid drain cleaners kill all of the bacteria that live in your home’s drainage system. While this may sound like a good thing, there are certain kinds of beneficial bacteria that work to break down organic matter in drains. Without the presence of “good” bacteria to keep things running smoothly, larger blockages can occur. This is especially harmful for homeowners with septic systems, as “good” bacteria play a vital role in decomposing waste within a septic tank.
Contact with liquid drain cleaners can burn your skin, irritate your eyes, and hurt your lungs. Mixing liquid drain cleaners with other cleaning products, even accidentally, can create deadly gasses. Liquid drain cleaners should never be used on standing water, such as in a sink of toilet that won’t drain. This is because if, for example, you pour a liquid drain cleaner into a backed-up toilet, and then try and use a plunger, you run the risk of splashing the drain cleaner onto your skin or clothing. Any direct exposure such as this should be considered an emergency.
When called to fix a clog, plumbers often ask homeowners if they’ve used liquid drain cleaners recently. If the answer is yes, plumbers take extreme caution as the chemicals present in liquid drain cleaners can make their working conditions extremely unsafe. If even the professionals don’t feel safe around liquid drain cleaners, you shouldn’t take the chance either.
Sure, a liquid drain cleaner may fix a clog here and there. But if you’re noticing frequent, recurring clogs, all the cleaners in the world won’t address the root of the problem. A liquid drain cleaner can’t replace the expertise and knowledge of a plumber. If you don’t work with a plumber to find out exactly why a clog is occurring, you may literally be pouring money down the drain by continuing to rely on a drain cleaner for a quick fix.
There are several ways you can safely address clogs in a pinch. While these tips may buy you some time, it’s best to contact a plumber for any serious or recurring clogs.
The trusty non-toxic combo of baking soda and vinegar can dissolve clogs naturally. Add one cup of baking soda to the clogged toilet or slow drain, then wait a few minutes. Follow with two cups of vinegar. Listen for bubbling and sizzling noises to indicate that the mixture is working. Wait another couple of minutes before either flushing the toilet or running water down the drain. If you still notice issues, repeat the steps again.
Heat up a gallon or so of water on the stove. While the water is heating up, squirt some dish soap into the sink or toilet. Shampoo can also be used instead of dish soap. Then, take the very hot, but not boiling, water and carefully pour it in. Wait several minutes and then try flushing the toilet or turning on the sink. You should find that the soap and water softened the clog, allowing it to pass. If not, you may have to repeat the process again.
If you must use a liquid drain cleaner, look for one labeled “bio” or “enzyme-based”. Instead of using caustic chemicals, these cleaners use bacteria cultures and concentrated enzymes that naturally eat away at organic matter. When they enter your pipes, these organisms feed on everything from hair and waste to mold and algae. After consuming whatever’s blocking your pipes, these organisms reproduce, spreading “good” bacteria throughout your plumbing system. While enzyme-based cleaners often need to sit overnight in order to work, they’re much safer on your plumbing system than conventional drain cleaners.
Whether you’re dealing with a slow drain or a complete clog, our expert plumbers can get to the bottom of the problem with the help of our drain cleaning services. Even the toughest problems are no match for our video inspection, which allows our plumbers to get a firsthand look at exactly what goes on in your pipes. Contact us to get started.