Pros and Cons of Chemical Drain Cleaners

Slow sink & tub drains happen to all of us. But before you head to the hardware store for another bottle of Drano, first consider these pros and cons of chemical drain cleaners.

The Pros

  • It's easy to use. Unlike cabling or hydrojetting, chemical drain cleaners don't require any special skills or training; you just open the bottle and pour it down the drain.

  • It clears clogs quickly. Most clogs can be cleared in ten to fifteen minutes with chemical drain cleaners.

  • It's inexpensive and convenient. Price does vary, but you can generally buy a bottle of drain cleaner for around 10 bucks, which is a small percentage of what you'd pay to hire a plumber or rent plumbing equipment.

  • It works well on clogs made of hair, food, or grease. Tub/shower drains often get clogged with hair, and kitchen sinks without garbage disposals can easily become clogged with a buildup of food and grease. Chemical drain cleaners can work well in these types of clogs.

The Cons

  • It can't clear all types of clogs. While it can work well on hair or food clogs, chemical drain cleaner can't clear clogs made of solid objects or mineral deposit buildup.

  • It doesn't work in toilets. Chemical drain cleaner is heavier than water, so it sits at the bottom of the toilet bowl and is unable to travel up over the siphon curve to the clog.

  • It can create noxious fumes and cause chemical burns. Chemical drain cleaners break up clogs by creating a chemical reaction with the clog and dissolving it, and it can do the same to your skin and eyes if it accidentally splashes on you. It also gives off some pretty strong fumes that can be dangerous if you're in an enclosed space.

  • It often contains pollutants. Pollutants aren't clearly labeled on the front of the bottle; you have to dig into the ingredient list on the back to find them. If you have a leak in your main sewer line, these pollutants and chemicals can get into the soil and contaminate the groundwater.

  • It can damage your plumbing pipes. The chemical reaction that breaks up the clogs also gives off heat, which can significantly soften PVC pipes and corrode older piping. And if your pipes already have some corrosion, the chemicals will cause further damage.

  • It can cause more clogs with repeated use. A residue is left behind every time you use a chemical drain cleaner, and it builds up in the pipe similar to grease.

More Warnings

  • Never pour chemical drain cleaner into a garbage disposal. It will damage the unit, and chemicals can splash back into your face when you turn it on again, damaging your eyes and skin.

  • Don't use a chemical drain cleaner if the drain is completely blocked. This will just coat the clog in chemicals, contaminating the sitting water and making it dangerous for a plumber to clear the clog.

  • Don't use a chemical drain cleaner if you have a septic system. These chemicals are known to damage septic tanks.

Alternatives to Chemical Drain Cleaners

So, although chemical drain cleaners are convenient and cheap, what if you don't want to risk it? Here are a couple alternatives you can try before calling a plumber.

  • A plunger. Plungers aren't just for toilets; smaller plungers are made for sinks and tubs, and they can be effective in breaking up clogs if you know how to use them correctly. Here's a helpful article to teach you how.

  • Boiling water, baking soda, and vinegar. 
    1. Pour a pot of boiling water down the drain.
    2. Dump about 1/2 cup of baking soda down the drain and let it sit for a few minutes.
    3. Pour a mixture of about 1/2 cup vinegar and 1/2 cup very hot water down the drain on top of the baking soda.
    4. Cover drain with a drain plug to keep the reaction below the drain surface. Let it sit for 5-10 minutes.
    5. Rinse it all down with another pot of boiling water.

If all else fails, don't be afraid to call in a professional, like Universal Plumbing & Sewer. Our master plumber and drain specialists have been clearing all kinds of drains for years, and even the toughest clogs won't stand a chance. (586) 459-0040