Why You Should Never Use Chemical Drain Cleaners

Are Chemical Drain Cleaners Safe?

As a homeowner, you will from time to time encounter clogged drains no matter how much you try to avoid them. And that is the reason why there are so many chemical drain cleaners in the market promising to clear your drain in minutes.

But are chemical drain cleaners safe? Should you or should you not use liquid drain cleaners? Will the chemical drain cleaners damage pipes?

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You should not use chemical drainers. They will damage your pipes, destroy the environment, damage your septic system, they don’t always work and can cause serious burns when they come in contact with your skin. Their fumes can also hurt your lungs when inhaled.

In short, chemical drain cleaners are not safe for your pipes, plumbing pipes, septic system and the environment. You should try and clear your drains using natural methods and when they don’t work call in a professional plumber.

The main question most folks ask in relation to chemical drain cleaners is “Do they damage pipes”?

Chemical drain cleaners will indeed damage your pipes? These chemicals work by producing enough heat to melt the clog. The heat produced will soften PVC pipes, melt the adhesives used to join the pipes and also weaken steel pipes.

Apart from damaging plumbing pipes, chemical drain cleaners are harmful to your health as well. If they come into contact with your skin they will burn it or even make you blind if they enter your eyes. They also have toxic fumes which when inhaled can hurt your lungs.

Instead of using chemical drain cleaners, try clearing your clogged drains using a plunger or a drain snake. You can also try a combination of baking soda, vinegar and hot water. If those don’t work just hire a licensed plumber.

Why You Shouldn’t Use Chemical Drain Cleaners

Now let us look at the reasons why using chemical drain cleaners is a bad idea in more details. The following are the reasons why you shouldn’t use chemical drainer cleaners:

1. They Will Damage Your Pipes

Drano is probably the most common chemical drain cleaner. As a result, I have written a separate article about why plumbers hate it. Read it here.

You need to understand how chemical drain cleaners work in order to know why I do not recommend them. Although there are different types of chemical drain cleaners, they all work the same way.

Chemical drain cleaners work through a series of chemical reactions which are exothermic in nature. Exothermic reactions are reactions that will release heat to the surrounding.

That is the heat responsible for melting and dissolving the clog. For instance, the active ingredient in Drano is sodium hydroxide. Sodium hydroxide is also known as lye or caustic. Some other drain cleaners have even worse agents like acids.

Although the heat produces through these reactions will be sufficient to clear clogs, it will damage your pipes. The heat will soften PVC pipes and also melt the glues used to connect the pipes together.

If you have steel drain pipes, the heat will make them weak especially around joints and after a few years they will start to leak.

Most of the chemical drain cleaners in the market promises not to damage pipes and are even tested for that. The truth of the matter however is that the cleaners are tested under ideal conditions (new pipes and over a short time duration) which makes the results skewed.

As a matter of fact, Drano should not be used to clear clogged toilets. The reason for that is that the heat produced is enough to crack the toilet bowl.

2. They Don’t Always Work

One thing you should know is that chemical drain cleaners don’t always work. These drain cleaners will only work on organic clogs that are not too tough.

In their website for instance, Drano recommends using half a bottle for normal clogs and a full bottle for tough clogs. You can even repeat the process if the initial amount doesn’t work.

That is a lot of chemicals being poured down your drains. What you may not have known is that sometimes you drain is clogged by items which cannot be decomposed by chemical drain cleaners.

Sometimes you can have tree roots growing inside your drain lines and clogging it. No matter how much chemical you pour down the drain it will not clear the clog.

Also, sometimes there could be a column of water between the clog and the fixture (sink, tub, shower etc.).  That means that there is no way the chemical drain will get to the clog and break it down.

Such clogs can only be cleared by a plumber or a seasoned DIYer.

It is actually not unheard of to hear that a chemical drain cleaner has made a clog worse. It will therefore cost you more to fix a drain if you had initially attempted to clear it with a chemical drain cleaner.

3. They are Not Septic-Safe

If you look on the label of most chemical drain cleaners, you will see them labeled as “Septic-Safe”. Are chemical drain cleaners septic-safe though?

Chemical drain cleaners are not septic-safe. The same way they breakdown down organic clogs is the same way they will act on the bacteria inside the septic tank.

Septic tanks have microbes that break down waste from households. The sludge will settle at the bottom of the tank while the clear water will exit the tank to the leach filed, also known as a drain field.

When chemical drain cleaners enter the septic tank, they will kill the bacteria and as a result there will be no way of decomposing the waste from the house.

The results are that solid waste will access the drain field and a part from the horrible smell, the drain field will be clogged. You also risk having raw sewage backing up to your house.

Unclogging a leach field and/or stopping sewage from backing to the house will cost you thousands of dollars.

4. They are Not Eco-Friendly

What we sometimes forget is that all those chemicals will find their way back into the environment. Think about the millions of homes in the United States alone, and if each house used 5 bottles in a year.

All those chemicals will get back to the water ways where they will affect the marine environment and even make us sick as the water is released to the ground and access the water table.

Although wastewater from sewer lines is treated, there are no guarantees that all the toxic waste will be completely removed.

Apart from that, all those plastic bottles will accumulate somewhere in a landfill and don’t forget that plastic is non-biodegradable. Avoid these chemicals by all means.

5. You can Suffer Burns

As I have already mentioned, chemical drain cleaners work by decomposing organic waste after releasing heat. You skin and hair is also organic and you can therefore suffer horrible burns if these chemical drain cleaners come into contact with your skin.

It can be even worse if the chemical drain cleaners enter your eyes or that of a pet. You can easily lose you sight unless you immediately rush to an emergency room.

6. They Release Toxic Fumes

Even the manufacturers of these drain cleaners will advise you to use them in a properly ventilated room. The reason for that is that there will be toxic fumes from the bottle which can damage your lungs and those of pets and kids.

Another thing to be aware of is that if the drain cleaner does not work, it will sit inside your drain lines. Attempting to use a different chemical will result in a series of reactions with toxic fumes being released.

To be on the safe side, just do away with these chemical drain cleaners.

What to Use Instead of Chemical Drain Cleaners

So, if you should not use chemical drain cleaners to clear clogs, what should you use instead? The following are some of the alternatives which are both effective and safe:

1. Plunge the Drain

A plunger is an effective but simple tool which when utilized properly will clear most clogs. You however need to choose the right plunger.

To unclog a toilet, use a flange plunger. Use a flat-bottomed plunger to clear clogs in all other types of drains.

It is important to have some water inside the drain you are plunging to help in the suction process. Also, do not forget to seal the overflow drains when plunging sinks and bathtubs.

2. Use Baking Soda, Vinegar and Boiling Water

As a matter of fact, boiling water alone can clear most organic clogs. The same thing goes for baking soda and vinegar. I however like to combine the 3 products for even better results.

If you have standing water in the clogged fixture, start by draining it out. After that, pour a cup of baking soda followed by another cup of vinegar down the drain.

Wait for about 15 minutes for the solution to break down the clog then blast boiling water down the drain.

Do not however pour boiling water in a toilet bowl. It can easily crack. Use normal hot water from a faucet.

3. Snake the Drain

A drain snake, also known as a plumber’s snake will pull out clogs from a drain line or break them down into tiny pieces.

The only concern I have with drain snakes is that if you don’t know how to use one you can easily damage your plumbing pipes. Check out this post on how to use a drain snake.

In the case of a toilet, a toilet auger is the tool you should use. However, take your time to learn how to use it since you can also badly scratch the inside of the bowl.

4. Call a Plumber

If you have tried everything but still the clog won’t budge, you are a better off calling a professional plumber. Plumbers have better tools and more experience to handle drain clogs than yourself.

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