Is Caustic Drain Cleaner Bad for Pipes? A Michigan Tech Explains

When you have a clogged drain and you’re in need of a quick fix, it might be tempting to turn to a chemical drain cleaner.

Here’s the problem: Chemical drain cleaners, such as caustic cleaners (containing caustic soda or lye), are bad for your pipes and your health. Using one of these chemical cleaners to unclog your drain could cause more harm than good in the long run.

In this blog, we’ll explain…

  • Why chemical drain cleaners are bad for you and your pipes
  • What to do instead if you have a clogged drain
  • How to prevent clogged pipes in the future

Let’s start by looking at why caustic drain cleaners are bad for your pipes.

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Why caustic drain cleaners are bad for you and your pipes

Chemical drain cleaners are effective at clearing clogs. But the problem is they’re a little too effective.

The caustic materials in the cleaners can eat through the pipe itself while they clear through the clog. It doesn’t matter what type of pipes you have, either: Chemical drain cleaners can damage PVC, galvanized steel, copper and iron pipes.

Once a chemical drain cleaner eats through a pipe, it can cause a leak, which is far more expensive to fix than clearing a clog. In the case of plastic pipes, the caustic materials can cause a chemical reaction, which produces heat and can melt or warp the pipe.

In addition to causing pipe damage, drain cleaners can also cause serious injury if not used properly. Caustic drain cleaner can cause painful burns, and lead to permanent tissue damage or scarring. Inhaling fumes from these products can also seriously damage the lungs.

Now that you know why you should avoid caustic drain cleaners, let’s look at how to safely remove your clog.

What to do if you have a clogged drain

Below are 4 (safe) ways to unclog your drain:

  1. Use a plunger or drain snake. Remember to use one plunger/snake for toilets and a different plunger/snake for all other drains to avoid contamination.
  2. Try this DIY remedy: Take 16 ounces each of baking soda and vinegar. Mix (enjoy the bubbles!), pour down the clogged drain, and let it sit overnight. Sometimes this DIY remedy clears the clogged drain.
  3. Use an enzymatic cleaner. Enzymatic drain cleaners use bacteria or enzymes to clear through organic waste materials that cause clogs, such as hair and food. They’re not as fast as chemical drain cleaners (they can take 12+ hours to clear through a clog), but they are better for your pipes and less harmful to your health.
  4. Call a plumber. They cost a few more dollars than a bottle of chemicals, but you won’t worry about the expensive costs of damaging your pipes. Plus, the plumber can tell you if there’s a bigger problem than just a simple clog.

How to prevent clogged pipes in the future

Don’t want to deal with a clogged pipe in the future?

Try these preventative methods:

  • Do not put vegetable and fruit peels, coffee grounds, 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 to keep hair and soap scum out of bathroom drains.
  • Only flush toilet paper and human waste down the toilet. Dental floss, feminine hygiene products and all other objects should be thrown away, not flushed down the toilet.

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Learn more about our unclogging services by visiting our drain cleaning service page.