Liquid Drain Cleaners, What Are They Really?

How Do They Work?

You are faced with a decision when you have a clogged drain. Do I call a plumber or do I get a liquid drain cleaner? While going to a store and grabbing a bottle of liquid drain cleaner is the more convenient solution, have you stopped and wondered what’s in it and how it removes the clog? There are three different types of liquid drain cleaner: acidic, caustic, and oxidizing. While each type uses a different method, all of them use heat to release the clog.

  • Acidic drain cleaners are usually made of muriatic or sulfuric acid. The ions in the acid attract the electron in the clog generating heat.
  • Caustic drain cleaners normally made from potash or sodium hydroxide and they give electrons; the hydroxide ions react to create heat. Since these chemicals are alkaline they turn fat into a soapy substance.
  • Oxidizing drain cleaners use household cleaners like bleach and peroxide that cause clogs to lose electrons, oxidizing the clog, which generates heat. Since Oxidizing drain cleaners are heavier than water they can travel through standing water.

Are They Safe to Use?

Liquid drain cleaners have been ranked as one of the most dangerous household products, the fumes alone can cause eye and throat irritation. They can also cause chemical burns if it comes into contact with your skin. If the pipe is completely clogged, drain cleaners can stay in the pipe creating heat that can damage plastic pipe, causing sags and potentially melting the pipe. Liquid drain cleaners that are acid or caustic can dissolve metallic piping, causing pinhole leaks. Liquid drain cleaners can also damage finished surfaces such as chrome, porcelain and stainless steel.

The Bottom Line.

While liquid drain cleaners can be dangerous to use and detrimental to your plumbing, they do have their place. If you do decide to use a liquid drain cleaner, it is very important to follow the directions, heed the warnings, and always wear proper protection. A safer alternative to store bought drain cleaners is to mix vinegar and baking soda in a cup and pour into clogged drain, let set overnight and flush with warm water. If the problem persist, keep calm and call Plumb On.