We’ve all seen the commercials, boasting about how well chemical drain cleaners remove stubborn clogs and free blocked drains. These readily available drain cleaners are generally inexpensive, easy to use and can be purchased at most department stores. What most homeowners don’t know is that those chemicals being flushed through your pipes may be causing more harm than good.
Before we can discuss whether chemical drain cleaners can harm your pipes, we must first take a look at the different types of drain cleaners that are currently available. Most drain cleaners can be separated into three basic types — oxidizing, caustic and acid –and are available in various forms such as gel, liquid and powder.
Oxidizing Drain Cleaners
Oxidizing drain cleaners contain nitrates and bleach to help clear blockages. They work by causing the organic material blocking the drain to lose electrons and begin to oxidize.
Caustic Drain Cleaners
Caustic drain cleaners have lye that releases heat and turns grease into an easily dissolvable substance.
Acidic Drain Cleaners
Acid drain cleaners can only be purchased by a professional plumber and contain high amounts of hydrochloric and sulfuric acid.
Chemical drain cleaners contain harsh toxins that, over time, can leave a residue in the pipes that will either build up causing future clogs, or cause the pipes to corrode. Furthermore, you must understand the ingredients in the drain cleaner to make sure they are safe for the specific pipe material. For example, certain chemicals cause PVC pipes to soften or result in corrosion on copper pipes and galvanized steel pipes. If you’re not sure what the ingredients are or which ones are safe for which pipe material, you may purchase the incorrect drain cleaner and end up severely damaging your pipes. In addition, you should never use chemical drain cleaner on drains that are completely blocked. Doing so will cause more problems by creating a stuck drain that is chemically treated. This is considered a hazardous clog and typically requires the help of a professional plumber.
Drain Cleaner Alternatives
Thankfully, several alternatives to chemical drain cleaners are available that use common household items that most people keep on hand. Furthermore, these natural drain cleaners won’t fill your home with unnecessary chemicals that can harm your family, your pipes and your environment. Simple baking soda and white vinegar pour down the drain is an easy, safe and effective alternative to chemical drain cleaners that keeps your pipes clean, free of clogs and smelling fresh. Another option is to use a sewer jetter, which is a high-pressure stream of water that pushes clogs out of the pipes without harsh chemicals. These handy devices are available at home improvement centers and plumping stores.
Remember, the best way to keep your pipes flowing is to prevent clogs and buildups. Using a drain screen and refraining from pouring grease will go a long way to prevent clogged pipes. Furthermore, consider pouring boiling water down the drain once a week to prevent scum and other buildups.