The safest way to clear clogged drains is by the use of a plunger. It is however limited in its functions and will only dislodge light clogs. Severe clogs will need something stronger.
A drain auger/snake is the second safest tool to use when unclogging drains. It works by physically breaking down the clog or by hooking and pull it out.
A baking soda and vinegar combination is another effective and septic-safe method of breaking down drain clogs. If this fails, you can always disconnect the pipes and physically remove the clog.
But what happens when you have tried everything unsuccessfully or you just want to clear your drains fast? An acid drain cleaner is the answer.
Sulfuric acid and hydrochloric acid (also known as a muriatic acid) are the 2 acids mostly used by plumbers and homeowners to unclog drains. Although hydrochloric acid is the stronger between the 2, sulfuric acid is the most effective one.
To unclog a drain using sulfuric acid, slowly pour 200 ml (7 ounces) in slow running drain or 500 ml (15 ounces) in a severely clogged drain. Turn on the cold water after 10 seconds to check if the drain is cleared. If not, add more acid and wait longer (15 minutes to 1 hour).
Sulfuric acid drain cleaners can be bought in big box stores as well as in e-commerce websites like Amazon. Branded products like Liquid Fire, Clean Shot and Liquid lighting are made from up to 95% sulfuric acid.
Just to be clear, I recommend using sulfuric acid to unclog drains only as a last result. Try using a plunger, drain snake or enzyme-based drainer cleaners before settling down on sulfuric acid.
Sulfuric acid is harmful to the environment and also kills all the good microbes in a septic tank if you are on a septic system. It also produces a substantial amount of heat that can melt plastic pipes and corrode chrome, stainless steel and galvanized pipes.
Sulfuric acid is very effective in clearing clogged drains. It reacts with the clog thereby breaking it down into smaller pieces that will easily flow down the drainpipe.
The good thing in using sulfuric acid as a drain cleaner is that it breaks down clogs very fast (usually within seconds). It can however take longer (about 15 minutes) to break down clogs in a severely clogged drains.
Safety Measures when Using Sulfuric Acid as a Drain Cleaner
When sulfuric acid is poured down the drain, it quickly reacts with the clog and in the process gases like sulfur dioxide and hydrogen sulfide may be formed. These gases are toxic and hence the need to pour the acid slowly, make sure the room is properly ventilated and wear PPEs.
The rule of thumb when handling sulfuric acid (or any other acid for that matter) is to always add acid into the water. Never add water to an acid.
The reaction between water and acid is exothermic in nature, which means that heat is produced in the process. That heat has to go somewhere though.
If you add water to the acid, the heat will go into the already very concentrated acid resulting in fumes, sputtering and even boiling. The fumes are very toxic when inhaled and can lead to death while the droplets due to the sputtering can cause skin burns.
On the other hand, when you add acid to water, the heat is absorbed by the water which will only becomes warm. It is also good to remember that since the acid is heavier than water, it will sink at the bottom.
It is also important to make sure that you pour out the acid slowly. That keeps the heat produced at low levels while at the same time avoiding sputtering.
Another thing to do is to make sure that the room is properly ventilated by opening the windows and doors. This allows any fumes produced to flow out and also fresh air to come in.
How to Use Sulfuric Acid to Clear/Clean a Drain
I recommend wearing safety glasses and rubber gloves when using sulfuric acid to clean a drain. Also, avoid using sulfuric acid drain cleaner if you have used another chemical in trying to clear the clog.
The 2 chemicals can react and produce toxic fumes. Do not forget to also read the product’s MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheets) on how to use it and the safety measures to observe.
Once that is done, here is how to proceed:
- Make sure the room is properly ventilated. Open the windows and door to allow air to come in and out freely.
- Drain any standing water. If you have any standing water in the sink, tub or any other drain, use a cup to scoop it out. You want the acid to work directly on the clog. That way it has a high chance of breaking it down faster.
- For a slow running draining, slowly pour 200 ml (7 ounces) of the sulfuric acid cleaner down the drain.
- If your drain is severely/fully clogged, pour 500 ml (16 ounces) of the sulfuric acid cleaner slowly directly into the drain opening.
It is important to face away from the drain as you pour the sulfuric acid. Of course there will be fumes produced as the clog is being broken down and you do not want to inhale them.
- Turn on the cold water faucet slowly after about 10 seconds to check if the clog is cleared. A backing up drain indicates that the clog is yet to be cleared so wait a little longer.
- If the clog won’t just clear, add more of the sulfuric acid and wait for up to an hour.
- When finally the drain clears, blast it with water for up to a minute to flush out the sulfuric acid still left in the pipes
- Pouring about ¼ cup of baking soda or borax (both are alkaline products) is very effective in neutralizing the acid still left in the P-trap. They are also fantastic deodorizers.
Using Sulfuric Acid Drain Cleaner to Clear Toilet Clogs
Sulfuric acid drain cleaners are very effective in clearing clogs in sink, tub and shower drains. The same is however not recommended for clogged toilets.
When dealing with a clogged toilet, my favorite tool to use is the plunger and if that does not work I upgrade to a toilet auger. Toilet augers are however not easy to use and can badly scratch toilets.
Unlike other drains that have a smaller P-trap, a toilet’s P-trap is massive which means you need more of the acid, not forgetting that the toilet’s P-trap is exposed as well unlike in other drains.
If you must use sulfuric acid to clear a clogged toilet, I recommend using buffered sulfuric acid which is both effective in breaking down the clog as well as septic-safe. Buffered sulfuric acid can be used to clear clogged sink and shower/tub drains as well.
To understand what a buffered sulfuric acid is, you must first know what a buffer is. A buffer is an aqueous solution that can resist changes in PH levels upon addition of small amounts of acid or alkali.
Lighting Liquid buffered sulfuric acid drain cleaner is a good choice to pick when dealing with a clogged toilet. Pour about 500ml (17 ounces) inside the toilet bowl and wait for it to work out its magic.
I like to start by removing the water at the bottom of the bowl and then pour out the acid cleaner. That way it gets to act on the clog directly.
Alternatives to Sulfuric Acid Drain Cleaners
If you are dealing with a clogged bathroom or kitchen sink, there is any easy way to remove the clog if you do not wish to use sulfuric acid.
If you look under the sink, you will see a U-bend part of the drainpipe called a P-trap or drain trap. This part as its name implies traps potential drain clogs preventing them from clogging the drain farther away.
Most of the time you have slow running or clogged drain, the clog is usually in the P-trap. The good thing is that you can remove the P-trap and clean it very easily. This is how to do it:
- Place a small bucket under the P-trap. Remember that the P-trap is always full of water so you don’t want to spill it on the floor.
- Disconnect both connections on the P-trap starting with the lower one so that water flows out via gravity. Always try to loosen the connections with your hands before reaching out for a wrench.
- Inspect the P-trap for clogs and remove all the gunk you find inside.
- Try feeding a drain auger or even wire through the drainpipe to check if it is clogged as well.
- Once you have cleaned the P-trap, connect it back and turn on the faucet to confirm that the clog has been removed.
Another method you can use is baking soda and vinegar. Pour 1 cup of vinegar down the drain followed by 1 cup of vinegar. Wait for 15 minutes then blast hot water down the drain.
Enzyme-based drainer cleaners are slower in clearing clogs that sulfuric or muriatic acid but they still work. They are eco-friendly and septic-safe too.
To prevent your drains from clogging, make it a habit to clean them using baking soda and vinegar at least once a fortnight. Avoid pouring fats, oils and grease especially in the kitchen drain.