While you may have reached for a drain cleaner many times before, you probably don’t understand what the cleaner is doing to your pipes. All drain cleaners, except for natural enzyme-based ones, rely on chemical reactions to try to clear out your pipes. These cleaners might use lye, bleach, aluminum and sodium nitrate to create the heat and energy needed to try to clean pipes. We don’t recommend them, in part, because of what these chemicals do to pipes.
1. Adds to Clogs
When drain cleaner goes down your pipes, it pulls off gunk (fats, oils, hair and other debris) from the sides of the pipes. This sounds good, but if you have a partial or complete clog developing, this additional material will only make it worse.
2. Weaken Pipes
When drain cleaner is poured down your pipes, it generates heat and tries to power through the clog that way. However, exposure to this heat is bad for pipes, particularly older ones, PVC pipes, and those that have already been strained due to misuse.
Other pipe cleaners seek to work through corrosion. If the clog is not cleared and the corrosive chemicals continue to sit in the pipes, then they wear away at the pipes. This can cause significant damage to the pipes, especially overtime as you attempt to clear multiple clogs from the pipe.
Further, some pipe cleaners also rely on the bubbling properties of their chemical reactions to remove clogs. The problem is that if the clog is stuck fast, the bubbling only has two places to go. First, it puts outward pressure on the pipes, which could be a problem if they are loose or weak already (or if their glue is worn down, see the next list item). If the bubbling doesn’t go down or out, then it goes back up to the sink basin. This can make it a safety risk for you.
3. Eat Away at Glue
The corrosive pipe cleaners are capable of eating away at the glue that helps to seal different sections of pipe together. This glue helps keep the pipes watertight, and a leak could be caused if it is worn away.
4. Unpredictable Results
If you combine multiple kinds of drain cleaner, or you use drain cleaner with other cleaning chemicals, even unintentionally, there could be unpredictable results. This isn’t just bad for the pipes; it could be bad for your health as it could create toxic fumes or splash up at you and cause injuries.
What Should You Do Instead?
If you shouldn’t use drain cleaner because of its impact on your pipes or on your own health, then what should you do about a clog in your pipes? In short, it is best to call a plumber right away. They have the expertise and equipment to make quick work of any clog without risking damage to your pipes. Plus, they’ll thank you when they don’t have to wade through chemicals in your drain just to get down to the clog.