First of all…what is a chemical drain cleaner?
There are three main types of chemical drain cleaners: caustic, oxidizing, and acidic. They are all heavier than water so they can reach the clog through standing water. All three use harsh chemicals to clear a clog by creating a reactionwith the substance making up the clog which causes it to break up and pass through the pipe.
Is it safe to use a chemical drain cleaner?
Because these chemicals are so harsh, users must be extremely careful while handling them. If mishandled, these chemicals can cause burns, eat through clothing, and release fumes that could cause explosions if not properly ventilated.
The reaction created by chemical drain cleaners that breaks up the clog has another byproduct: heat. This is what causes them to be unsafe to use. The heat they produce can soften the PVC pipes that are most often found in homes now, and over time this can cause them to break down. The chemicals used in the drain cleaners are even harsher on older, metal pipes – they can cause serious structural damage. On top of this, they can have a particularly negative effect on septic systems, killing beneficial bacteria that serve to break down your waste.
What can you use instead?
There are a few alternatives to chemical drain cleaners that will solve your clog problem without the potential damage using salt, baking soda, and vinegar. By pouring equal parts salt and baking soda down the drain and following that mixture with vinegar, you can potentially dislodge a clog from your drain chemically without the harmful chemicals in retail drain cleaners. A better way to prevent clogs though, is to pour boiling water once a month down pipes that get a lot of grease like the kitchen sink to help fight scum from building up.
The best and safest bet for removing existing clogs, however, is to use a drain snake or a drain auger. These devices are long and flexible coils or pieces of plastic wrapped in velcro loops. You put the snake into the drain and twist using a handle, and once the snake encounters a clog, the twisting action will get the clog wrapped around the snake and you can pull it back out through the drain. They can also break up clogs made of grease or soap scum that can’t actually be pulled out of the drain, allowing water to flow back through and the rest of the clog to be cleared with hot water or baking soda and vinegar.
If you are having clogged drains often or have a drain that you can’t unclog, it might be a good idea to call a plumber to look at your issue. You may have a bigger problem causing your clogs that is better to address as soon as possible. If you think you might need a plumber to take a look, call us or fill out a contact form and we will get back to you within the week!