Do Chemical Drain Cleaners Work?
If you have a clog in your drain, a chemical drain cleaner might seem like a quick and easy way of dealing with the problem. While these are a very convenient solution, some people worry that the cleaners can end up harming their pipes. Should you try a chemical drain cleaner? Here is what you need to know.
How Does a Chemical Drain Cleaner Work?
To see whether a chemical drain cleaner is effective, it is helpful to learn a little about how they work. Different cleaners work in different ways, but they all have the potential to break down a clog. The most common type of cleaner is a combination of lye, bleach, and caustic potash. This cleaner is denser than water, so it sinks down through liquids to reach the clog in your drain. Once the cleaner hits the clog, the caustic potash causes any soft tissues or organic matter to decompose. Eventually, the clog breaks down into tiny pieces that can move through the pipes.
A less common but still occasionally used type of chemical drain cleaner is an oxidizing drain cleaner. These drain cleaners cause organic material to oxidize. The material then dissolves into smaller clumps, so your drains can get moving again. If you seek professional help, you might also have access to acid drain cleaners. These cleaners are too strong to be used by typical homeowners, so they are not a DIY option. However, they can be very useful. These acids eat their way through any organic material, so your drains can clear up.
Are There Any Clogs a Chemical Drain Cleaner Cannot Handle?
As you can see, most drain cleaners focus on organic materials. They are only meant to handle things such as:
- Food scraps
- Tree roots
- Human waste
- Paper towels and tissues
If your clog is made of inorganic materials, the drain cleaner will not be able to solve the root cause of the clog. Clogs that include a lot of plastic, metal, or other synthetic materials will not break down when a drain cleaner hits them. The drain cleaner may dissolve some tissues or waste contributing to the clog, but with the main item still stuck in your drains, another clog will build up over time. This means that if your clog was caused by plastic wrap falling down the drain or your kid flushing a toy car, chemical drain cleaners will not work.
Will Chemical Drain Cleaners Harm Your Pipes?
Though drain cleaners are effective at fixing a clog, they come with a few potential problems. A drain cleaner uses a chemical reaction to break down clogs. These chemical reactions generate a lot of heat as a byproduct. While your pipes can withstand some heat, repeated exposure to extremely high heat is bad for a pipe.
When any object, such as a pipe is exposed to sudden heat, it expands rapidly. Your plumbing is sturdy enough that it will not melt immediately. However, repeated expansions and contractions can cause all of your pipe fittings to twist out of alignment. Eventually, this can end up causing leaks or breakages. There is also a risk of your drain cleaner getting stuck. If it cannot dissolve the pipe, it just sits in the same spot, generating more and more heat. This could cause the material to melt or deform in a dangerous way.
In most cases, chemical drain cleaners are safe for one-time use. As long as you follow all of the manufacturer’s instructions, a single use will not damage pipes that are in otherwise good condition. Unfortunately, many clogs are not resolved quickly. If your drain pipes are old or poorly designed, a sagging spot can encourage a clog to develop in the same spot again and again. And if the drain is only partially cleared, another will form in the same spot again. This can result in scenarios where people repeatedly use drain cleaner and end up damaging their pipes.
Chemical Drain Cleaners Come With Some Risks for You Too
Your pipes are not the only thing that a chemical drain cleaner can damage. Even though drain cleaners might be sold alongside basic household goods, they are an extremely dangerous substance. The issue is that these drain cleaners are designed to eat through organic material. Unfortunately, humans are made up entirely of organic matter. This means that a drain cleaner can eat through your skin just as quickly as it can go through a clog.
You can slightly reduce these risks by carefully following all the manufacturer’s safety instructions. Exact guidelines vary based on the type of drain cleaner you use, but usually, you need to wear gloves and eye protection. It is also very important to pour the drain cleaner slowly into the drain. Many people get injured because they dump in the cleaner, it splashes back, and some cleaner lands on their skin.
What Are Your Alternatives to Chemical Drain Cleaners?
In most cases, chemical drain cleaners are not worth the hassle or risks. There are plenty of other safe and easy ways to clear a clog. You can start by just trying to remove the clog manually. If the problem is just some hair tangled around your drain stopper, you may be able to just remove the drain cover, yank out the clog, and get your plumbing working again. For clogged toilets, sinks, or showers, another option is a basic plunger. You just need to fit the plunger around the drain and then pump up and down rapidly. This pushes water against the clog, helping to break it up.
Another option is snaking the drain. This lets you manually break up the clog without having to use any chemicals. For clogs close to the start of the drain, snaking the drain can be a DIY job. You can pick up a cheap drain snake or auger at your local hardware store. Though you do need to be careful not to scratch the finish on your sink or toilet, an auger can work quite well.
For clogs that are deep within the drain of your home, it may be impossible to reach the clog yourself. Especially in cases of main drain clogs or sewer line clogs, you might have issues like tree root intrusion, which are not easy to deal with yourself. In these cases, consider getting professional help. Drain clogs are a very common plumbing service that is quite affordable. A professional plumber will have special tools and plumbing know-how that can remove stubborn, deep-set clogs without damaging your piping.
If you are dealing with a clog deep inside your drain lines, you need professional help. Crystal Blue Plumbing, Heating & Air is happy to assist Sacramento residents with fixing all sorts of plumbing issues. In addition to our plumbing repairs, we also provide HVAC repairs, installation, and maintenance. Call now to learn more about all of our services.