Dangers of Drain Cleaners


Toxic Chemical Can Be Extremely HarmfulDanger of chemical-drain-cleaners

In the United States, most households use chemical drain cleaners. When there is the first sight of a slow drain or a clogged sewer line, most people do not call a plumbing professional at the beginning. Typically, the homeowner tries to clear the clog themselves. The average person in America thinks that slow running or clogged sink drain can be fixed by something they buy in a grocery store. They try to save money by solving the plumbing problem themselves. All too often, this ends upcosting them much more in the long run.

With a tough economy, it is hard to blame homeowners for trying to save a little money by trying a quick plumbing solution themselves. Although, in the long run, they are wasting their time and money, risking harmful injury to themselves and others in the community, and many times ruining their home plumbing system.

A water line filled with Liquid Plumr®, Drano® or a homemade drain cleaning concoction made of sulphuric or hydrochloric acid can eat away the plumbing.

The plumbing professionals at Best Plumbers® deal with chemical drain cleaning solutions on a daily basis. They know what works, and what will be detrimental to the pipes in a home and the environment. A homeowner has got to assume that every drain that is treating has some form of chemical treatment in it. If people start with that assumption, two pieces of safety equipment are mandatory while handling drain cleaner.  First, the eyes. Always wear certified eye protection when handling chemicals. A face shield is a better option, and many plumbing professionals prefer face shields when working with drain cleaning chemicals because of the added protection they offer and there tends to be less sweat dripping down to deal with than with safety glasses.  Second, a persons hands will be in contact with the sewer, so protecting hands with a good quality nitrile glove is necessary.  Buying cheap gloves is not a place to skimp. Gloves are cheap and cheap gloves are even cheaper, but why risk injury using a cheap glove when for just a little more money one can have a quality glove that really offers good protection.  If you are using a mechanical drain cleaning machine, you should have stainless steel staple impregnated heavy leather gloves to minimize the risk of serious injury from a glove entangling in a cable of the drain cleaning machine.


The most popular over the counter drain cleaners one will find at the grocery store are caustic bases.  You know these, just maybe not by that generic name.  Drain cleaning products that fall into the category of caustic bases are: Liquid Plumr® and Drano® in their various forms. These drain cleaning products use some form of sodium hydroxide (commonly known as lye) or sodium hypochlorite (also known as bleach) in various degrees of concentration.  In many cases, these products won’t hurt plumbing pipes, but keep them away from rubber, or the seal on your garbage disposal. If used properly, in some cases, the chemical reaction they create can in fact eat away at hair, soap scum, tooth paste and grease.  Of course, if the plumbing problem is not fixed properly, the clog will return, usually very quickly.

In most cases, the caustic bases drain cleaning products are used in very light concentrations in these over-the-counter products, typically 0.5 to 2% concentration in the case of sodium hydroxide or 5 – 10% concentrations for sodium hypochlorite.  This lessens the risk of injury, but the risk is still very real and should not be minimized or ignored.  Splashing one of these products in your eyes or onto an open cut is no laughing matter and medical attention should be sought immediately. Specific treatments for exposure to these chemicals, whether on the skin, in the eyes, inhalation or ingestion is available on the products MSDS (Material Safety and Data Sheets) from the manufacturers. This information is often listed on their web sites of the drain cleaning products.

Danger of Toxic ChemicalsThere is a misguided school of thought that thinks it is perfectly fine to use acids to clean drain clogs in a plumbing system.  It is never wise to introduce an acid in any concentration into a drain line of a plumbing system.  First, acids in even very light concentrations are incredibly dangerous for any exposure, be it skin, eyes or lungs.  Second, acids harm drain pipes, unless the drain pipe is glass in a hospital or laboratory setting.  If the acid collects in a pipe belly or behind debris in the pipe, it can easily eat through the bottom of the pipe.

Acid will also severely damage any rubber or other soft components down the plumbing line.  Acids misguidedly used in a plumbing drain line could be muriatic, sulphuric or hydrochloric acids.  All are dangerous, and exposure of any significance means a trip to the emergency room for cleansing and treatment. Both acids and bases react on drain cables to change the metal into crystallized areas that are then much weaker than the original cable.  The speed and severity of the reaction is entirely dependent on the length of time the cable is exposed to the acid or base, the relative concentration of thechemical in the pipe (if it is watered down or not) and the actual metallurgy of the wire itself. Once exposed, the process is inevitable, though it can be dramatically slowed depending on the grade of wire used to make the drain cable and if the operator cleans the cable after use, either with a “snake oil” or even water, both of which serve the same purpose, namely the dilution of the acid of the base on the surface of the wire, which will slow the deteriorization process significantly.  Of course, if you bath a drain cable in water, you also encourage rust to quickly develop.  Even bathing the cable in oil will only slow the development of rust.

Drain cables are constructed from various grades of what is called “music wire” by the wire industry.  Generally, the less expensive the cable, the cheaper the original grade of wire used to wind the cable.  The poorer the grade of wire used, the quicker the wound cable will react to acids or bases.  In cheaper drain cables, a single exposure to an acid or base will be enough to crystallize the wire, causing it to break in that location upon the very next use.  In higher quality cables using a higher quality raw material, the crystallization process can take days or weeks following exposure to acids and bases.

Acids and drain cleaning products bought at a store are bad for the environment, and often don’t work. You never know what kind of chemical reaction you might get when introducing these products into a plumbing system. It is always best to call a plumbing professional first and get your plumbing problem diagnosed properly the first time. This will save you both time and money in the long run.

When you have a drain cleaning problem in your business or home, trust the researched and reviewed plumbing professionals at Best Plumbers®.

April 16, 2014 |
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