Clearing a clog can be a headache.
Many people turn to chemical cleaners, but they may not be safe in some situations.
Lets take a look at what is in these cleaners, what they do, and how less harsh alternatives can get the job done just as well.
Most drain cleaners available in your local stores are what are considered “Caustic Drain Cleaners”. They contain chemicals such as Lye and Caustic Potash. These alkaline, or basic, chemicals release heat in an attempt to turn grease into a soap-like substance that’s more easily dissolved. For minor clogs, these chemicals can sometimes work and will clear enough of the clog to allow the drain to flow.
But is it safe?
Because most of these products generate heat, they may soften the polyvinyl chloride, or PVC, pipes found in new homes today. However, damage is much more likely to occur when drain cleaner is used on older metal or cast iron pipes. The Caustic chemicals in these cleaners are extremely corrosive to organic materials and metals. If they are used on a drain that is completely blocked, these chemicals just sit in your drain lines until it is opened by the cleaner or any other method. This can allow the corrosive chemicals a lot of time to do some serious damage, basically burning through any section of pipe or fitting that it is sitting it!
This exact situation happened in the picture above.
Liquid Drain Cleaners placed in the toilet will also sit for a while. Although it will not burn through the toilet like metal pipes, these chemicals may heat up to extreme temperatures, cracking the porcelain in the toilet. Older units may be more vulnerable to damage, and you may end up needing to replace the entire toilet.
Aside from their effect on pipes, there are other disadvantages to chemical drain cleaners.
They’re extremely toxic if swallowed, and they can burn eyes, skin and mucous membranes and eat through clothing. They can release noxious fumes, and if used improperly, they can cause explosions. These products can also harm septic systems by killing beneficial bacteria, and they can mar bathroom and kitchen fixtures.
There are plenty of safe ways to clear clogged lines without the use of harsh chemicals. A few examples would be a heavy-duty plunger, a closet auger, or a hand snake. If a line is clogged badly enough, it may be time to call a professional to properly clean the entire line out.