Why You Should Avoid Drain Cleaners

A crack in the pipe

Chemical drain cleaners are widely marketed and available but do you know how they work? They can cause harm to several parts of your plumbing systems and there are better alternatives. Caustic chemicals should be avoided; they damage the environment, your septic system, and your pipes.

Septic Systems Need Healthy Bacteria

Septic systems rely on naturally occurring bacteria to break down waste. Chemical drain cleaners kill these bacteria and can throw off the whole system from working effectively. Without the waste-dissolving bacteria, solids build up and fill the septic tank. This can plug the leach field, requiring a septic system pump out. Drain cleaners are not the only things that can throw off this septic tank bacteria balance. Common disinfectants and other harmful chemicals include pine-scented cleaners, chlorine bleach, rug cleaners, and floor wax can all inhibit the bacterial septic process.

Pipe Damage

Chemical cleaners work by causing heat (exothermic) reactions in order to break up clogs. This heat can soften and weaken PVC piping and cause breaks, and will also cause corrosion in older metal piping. The chemicals are designed to eat through organic matter, and it doesn’t matter if the organic matter is a clog or your clothes. Some clogs will not be affected by the drain cleaner, and will just sit there causing damage over time if left alone.

Physically Dangerous

Always wear protective clothing if using chemical drain cleaners – they will dissolve your skin as quickly as they will dissolve hair in a drain. Chemical burns can be awful, and while they are not instantaneous, they will react with exposed skin. Alkaline drain cleaners are available in either solid or liquid state while the acidic ones are usually in liquid form. Either one will burn you if you get it on your skin. Acidic drain cleaners usually contain sulfuric acid at high concentrations and alkaline products usually have some form of Sodium (hypochlorite or hydroxides). The fumes alone can are toxic and can burn your nose and eyes.

Some forms of acid in cleaners will smoke when added to water, putting more toxic fumes in the air. You should have some ventilation for the area if you insist on using them. Pets and children are affected even quicker than an adult, so make sure they are clear of any area being treated with chemical drain cleaners.

There are Safer Alternatives

The best way to treat a clog is to prevent one from ever developing. Catch hair before it goes down the shower drain, and certain things should never be put down the drain.

If you do have a clog and want to try to fix it yourself, try using a bent wire hanger first. Simple, but surprisingly effective.

Baking Soda and Vinegar can work as well and are likely already in your home. Mix 1/3rd of a cup of baking soda with hot water and pour it down the drain. Follow it with 1/3rd of a cup of white vinegar and watch for fizzing in the drain. 5 minutes after the fizzing stops, flush the drain with 2 quarts of hot water. You can repeat this process to incrementally break up clogs with nothing but these environmentally safe ingredients. Baking soda can dissolve mineral deposits and odor-causing bacteria.

Wet and dry vacuums can also be used to mechanically break up clogs without the use of drain cleaners.

If you still have a stubborn clog, then please give us a call and we’ll be happy to come out and get everything working for you.

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