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Are Chemical Drain Cleaners Bad for Your Pipes?

 |  Blog, Plumbing

Chemical drain cleaners are incredibly popular options for clearing clogs. They’re cheap, anyone can use them and they usually work fairly quickly. However, there are several downsides to using chemical drain cleaners that you should consider before using one.

Damage to Pipes, Fittings and Septic Tanks

The chemicals used in drain cleaners are very strong since they have to eat away at hair, soap scum, mold and other grime that clogs up your drain. The problem is that these chemicals also negatively impact your plumbing. 

The chemical substances create high levels of heat that most pipes can’t withstand. They also might create chemical reactions that cause cracks and weakness to PVC pipes, cause corrosion to metal fittings and melt caulk and other sealing materials.

In addition, if the chemical is not strong enough to clear away the clog quickly or at all, those chemicals will sit in your pipes and continue causing damage until the obstruction is cleared.

Even when the cleaner is strong enough to clear the clog or merely passes through without clearing the clog away, it can still do lasting damage to your pipes and septic tank.

Not Environmentally Friendly

Most drain cleaners contain chemicals that are very harmful to the environment. If your drainage pipes have any leaks, the chemicals can seep out into the ground, causing lasting effects on the soil and plant life.

Risk of Burns and Other Health Hazards

No matter how careful you are with drain cleaner, you’re still handling caustic chemicals that could easily cause terrible burns and possibly even blindness. The chemical reactions that occur between the cleaner, pipes, and clogs might also create toxic fumes that may irritate existing medical conditions or cause illness.

Safer Alternatives to Drain Cleaners

There are a number of safer alternatives when attempting to clear your drain. Here are our top 3 three solutions when trying to clean your drain, without having to go through a plumbing repair specialist.


Your first option is found in almost every bathroom in any home with a toilet. A plunger is a quick and extremely effective method of clearing clogs from pipes. For toilets, simply cover the drainage hole with the plunger and slowly but firmly work it up and down for around thirty seconds. Don’t press too hard in order to avoid splashing toilet water everywhere. That is usually enough to clear most clogs, but you may have to plunge it a few more times to fully work the clog out of the pipe.

Many people don’t consider the idea of using a plunger for a clog in the sink, shower or bathtub drain because it seems unsanitary to use a toilet plunger in anything other than a toilet. 

However, plungers work just as easily in sinks and tubs as they do in toilets. If the idea makes you uncomfortable, you can thoroughly wash your plunger with soap and water or you can purchase a brand new one specifically to use in your sink, shower, and bathtub.

The process of plunging a sink, shower or bathtub drain is exactly the same as plunging your toilet. The only difference is that you’ll need to manually fill the basin with at least a couple inches of water in order to ensure that the plunger has plenty of suction power to work out the clog. You’ll also have to plug any other holes, such as overflow drains, to create proper suction.

Homemade Drain Cleaners

Another option that you can try with items you likely have readily available in your home is a simple mixture of boiling water, vinegar, and baking soda. Believe it or not, the same chemical reaction that you used to make in science class has a very strong effect on drain clogs.

To start, remove the drain cover if necessary. Carefully dump a pot of boiling water down your drain slowly. The heat from the water will start to loosen up the gunk that is causing the clog. Let the water work its way through the pipe before continuing.

Take half a cup of baking soda and dump it into the drain. Sweep any excess into the drain and try to work the powder down as far as you can with an old toothbrush. Very slowly pour half a cup of vinegar into the drain. The mixture should start bubbling immediately. 

Once all of the vinegar has been poured into the drain, plug up the drain with the stopper or cover the opening with a wet cloth to help maintain the reaction and contain it within the pipe. Let it sit for at least five minutes before continuing.

Once the solution has settled, prepare another pot of boiling water and slowly pour it into the drain. This will both wash away any residual baking soda and force the clog out. If you’re using this technique on a toilet, try to flush at this time.

If you’re still experiencing some blockage, repeat the process until it’s clear.

Plumber’s Snake

Finally, if the clog is reachable, you can purchase a plumber’s snake and try to work the clog out. Simply feed the wire through the pipe until you’ve reached a point of firm resistance. 

Spin the wire using the lever on the auger to allow the corkscrew shaped tip to grab onto the clog. Pull the snake out slowly and remove the obstruction. Depending on the severity of the clog, you may have to snake the drain once or twice more before it is entirely clear.

If All Else Fails…

If the clog is too stubborn to be cleared after utilizing any of these options and you still want to avoid using chemical cleaners, seek out the assistance of a plumbing repair company.