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The Effects of Caustic Drain Cleaners

Jan. 18, 2012

Anyone who uses chemicals on clogs, from toilet to sink to shower, should know the effects the chemicals have on pipes and the environment, as well as the danger to humans.

What are the most common drain cleaners?
There are two types of drain cleaners: chemical and enzymatic.  Most of us use chemical drain cleaners.  Chemical drain cleaners use sodium hydroxide (caustic soda or lye) or sulfuric acid.  They are extremely corrosive to organic materials and many metals.  A chemical cleaner will clear a clog quickly, but it can also burn through your clothes and skin. Enzymatic drain cleaners do not work as quickly as a chemicals, but they are biodegradable, environmentally friendly, and chemical-free.

What happens when I use chemical cleaners?
Chemical drain cleaners damage PVC, galvanized steel, copper, and iron pipes, as well as fixtures.  They should never be used on a completely clogged drain; the caustic materials can eat pipes while they sit clearing the organic materials.

What happens when I use enzymatic cleaners?
Enzymatic cleaners use a natural enzyme mixture to establish an enzyme colony that lives in the pipes and eats organic materials.  It’s all very natural and earth-friendly.  Unlike instant-gratification chemicals, it takes a while—at least one overnight application.  Additional applications are required, since parts of the colony go down the drain every time it’s used.  Any type of bleach or antibacterial cleaner also damages the colony, making ongoing applications important.

Do chemical drain cleaners harm the environment?
Unused chemical drain cleaners should be treated as hazardous waste.  The packaging cannot be recycled due to being contaminated with caustic chemicals.  Any cleaner poured down the drain can make its way into lakes, rivers, and wildlife.

Can chemical drain cleaners harm me?
Absolutely.  Remember, this stuff will instantly  start eating away at anything it touches.  Chemical gloves and goggles are recommended.  Never mix with different drain cleaners or household chemicals—toxic gas and caustic explosions can be produced. Keep chemical cleaners away from children and pets.

What can I do if I have a clogged pipe?
Try to avoid clogs in the first place:

  • Do not put vegetable and fruit peels, bones, or cheese in the garbage disposal.
  • Do not pour grease down the drain.  Let it solidify and put it in the trash.
  • Put a hair trap in showers.

But, clogs happen.  Some alternatives to caustic chemicals:

  • Try a plunger or drain snake.  Remember, one plunger/snake for toilets and a different plunger/snake for all other drains.
  • A great do-if-yourself home remedy is 16 ounces each of baking soda and vinegar.  Mix (enjoy the bubbles!) and let sit overnight.
  • Call a plumber. They cost a few more dollars than a bottle of chemicals, but you won’t worry about extra costs such as damaged fixtures and injuries.  And they can tell you if there’s a bigger problem than just a simple clog.
Unclogging your drain does not need to be dangerous to you, your pipes, or the environment.  Your best bet is to use an enzymatic cleaner on a regular basis to avoid clogs, and then call a plumber if a clog does occur.


Resources:
www.enotes.com
Treehugger.com
http://www.pfwaterworks.net
ehow.com

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Thornton & Grooms
24565 Hallwood Ct
Farmington Hills, MI 48335
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