What Chemicals To Use To Unblock Drains

What Chemicals To Use To Unblock Drains

Whenever you're dealing with blocked drains, you'll find all sorts of tips online about natural ways to unblock a drain using a homemade solution. Unfortunately, even after trying these often useful solutions, sometimes your drain is still blocked, right?

And whilst we're all for environmentally friendly solutions, sometimes chemical drain cleaners are your only option to deal with the blocked drain you're facing.

In order to understand more about these chemical cleaners, though, we're going to take a look at different types of commercial drain cleaners and the chemicals that are most often used in them. That way, we can understand the chemicals being used more and see when and where they're most appropriate to be used.

Common Ingredients In Chemical Drain Cleaners

To start with, let's look at some of the most common chemicals you'll find in a commercial drain cleaner. Every chemical cleaner is different, of course, but typically, you'll find one of the three following chemicals in these drain cleaners to help dissolve a clog in your sinks, toilets, drain pipes, and shower drains:

Hydrochloric Acid

Hydrochloric acid is a chemical that can break down anything from soap scum, hair and oils, to grease, food scraps, and food particles. In fact, this type of acid is present in our bodies in very small amounts and helps with our digestion - so that gives you an idea of how strong this acid must be since it helps us break down our food.

In a similar way, this acid, when used in a chemical cleaner, can be poured down a drain pipe or in a kitchen sink and it can help unblock a drain quickly by breaking down the blockages.

Hydrochloric Acid

Caustic Soda

Caustic soda, also known as sodium hydroxide, is another chemical that can help with drain cleaning and drain unblocking in any kitchen or bathroom and even in outside drains.

It causes a chemical reaction when it comes into contact with organic matter in a clogged drain or slow drain. Dirt, food, hair, etc., can all be cleared up using caustic soda.

It is, however, highly corrosive and is some of the most dangerous chemicals you can work with at home, so if you're going to use it, make sure you purchase it from a legitimate source and follow ALL safety precautions and advice about where it can be used to the letter.

A safer alternative that works very similar is Soda Crystals which along with hot water will clear most normal blockages. They also come in handy for a whole range of cleaning uses.

soda crystals to unblock drains
Caustic Soda 1

Sulfuric Acid

Another chemical often found in these drain cleaners is sulfuric acid. This works in the same way as the others but can be used in different amounts depending on the severity of the blockage. If flushing boiling water down a drain doesn't help loosen the clogs, then a larger amount of drain cleaner with this acid in might be needed.

Generally, if the drain is still clogged after basic drain cleaning and at home methods such as baking soda, white vinegar, and as much water as you can pour down afterwards, then the clog is quite severe.

Whenever you see this occur, more of the chemical drain cleaner will be necessary to remove the blockage - but more on the amounts and how to unblock your drains effectively later...

Sulfuric Acid

Some Recommended Drain Unblockers

max strength drain unblocker
spear and jackson heavy duty drain unblocker

How Do Chemical Cleaners Fix A Blocked Drain?

Now you might be wondering how exactly all these different chemicals actually clear the blocked drain, and, well, it depends largely on the drain cleaner you're using and the ingredients inside.

Generally, though, it's all about the fizzing reaction that's caused when you pour these cleaners slowly down the drain.

Prior to use, you'll have likely tried to pour boiling water or pour hot water down the drain pipe first to rinse the pipes or flush out the blockage. If the drain is fully clogged, then the water will sit there, since it can't pass through the pipes as normal.

When different acids are added to the pvc pipes, a reaction will occur with the water, making it more acidic too. That means that everything in the drain pipe is then working together to dissolve and break down whatever the blockages are.

Different acids do this in different ways, but the same basic premise happens with all of them - even a makeshift drain cleaner made at home using baking soda, vinegar, and hot water.

A fizzing reaction will help move the blockage along, dislodge it, and break it down, allowing the clogs to flush away and the standing water to disappear. After flushing with cold water, your pipe ought to be back to normal.

Which Types Of Blocked Drains Can Chemical Cleaners Fix?

So, now you know which chemicals tend to be involved when using a drain cleaner and how it all works, which types of clogged drains can these chemicals actually be used on? Well, you might be surprised to hear that the answer is almost any.

Whenever you're using these drain cleaners at home to clean and unblock your clogged drains, you should always read the package instructions carefully to make sure they can be used for what you need, but generally, any clogs can be cleared up with drain cleaners. Such as:

  • kitchen drain blockages
  • kitchen sink
  • bathroom sink
  • toilet blockages
  • septic systems
  • shower drains
  • outside drains
  • etc

Really, so long as the blockage you're trying to clear inside these places is organic matter (such as grease, hair, dirt, soap scum, etc.) then they can be broken down by the chemicals inside these cleaners.

A Word Of Caution: Caustic soda is a little different in that it tends to be reserved for outside drains more than others because it's incredibly corrosive. If your drain cleaner contains caustic soda, then just be aware of this and make sure you read the packaging carefully to ensure this is being used in the right drain for the right reasons, and if you're unsure, contact a professional. You don't ever want to cause more problems by misusing a product like caustic soda and damaging your pipes.

Blocked Drain

How To Use Chemicals To Unblock Drain Pipes

Before we look at the general way to use these chemicals inside a cleaner to unblock drains, remember that you should always read the instructions.

Each manufacturer will have different instructions for their specific product. They know their product better than anyone and the instructions are there to protect you as the user, so make sure you follow them closely.

As a guide, we'll outline a general way to use a generic drain cleaner below, but don't follow our example to the letter: this is just an illustrative example.

What You'll Need:

To start, let's look at what you'll need to get started:

  • A drain cleaner (read the back for the chemicals that are used and instances where the product can help, to get the right one for you)
  • Drain auger
  • Rubber gloves
  • Face mask
  • Bucket
  • Plunger
  • Hot water/boiling water
  • AND cold water

Step 1 - Testing The Blockage

The very first thing you should do is pour hot water slowly down the toilet, sink, or drain to see if the drain is blocked fully, or partially. This will help you decide how to proceed. For the sake of giving you a full example, we'll assume the blockage is complete, causing standing water, where the hot water you just poured slowly down the drain can't pass through the plumbing system.

Step 2 - Drain Cleaner

Using rubber gloves to protect your skin, and a face mask if the chemicals are particularly corrosive, pour the drain cleaner down the drain, toilet, or sink. Sometimes this is the entire bottle, other times it's a capful - it depends on the strength of the chemicals in the cleaner you're using.

Step 3 - Waiting

Once the cleaner is down the drain, wait for 15-30 minutes (again, wait time will vary). This allows the gas from the reactions caused by the chemicals to build up and break down any clogs.

Step 4 - Rinse

After this time, pour cold water - it's imperative that it's cold in case there's a reaction when you wash the pipes out to flush the clog. This is rare, but it can happen, and hot/boiling water makes this worse.

Instead, run a cold tap or fill a bucket with cold water and flush the drain out. If it works normally, then you won't need your auger/plunger.

Step 5- Drain Auger/Plunger

If the problem persists in the sink, toilets, or drains, then a drain auger or plunger might be necessary. By using this, you'll be able to physically dislodge the clog, which, in theory, should already be less serious now following the drain cleaner because it should already be being broken down by the chemicals that are present.

A plunger or auger at this stage will hopefully remove the grease/soap/hair/food clog from the drain either by creating the right amount of pressure (plunger) or physically snagging the clog and pulling it out of the drain (auger).

Chemical on Blocked Drains

Safety Considerations

There are some safety considerations you need to consider too. Although in a drain cleaner, the chemicals aren't in particularly corrosive quantities, these acids and chemicals are still things that need to be treated with caution.

That means you ought to wear protective gear when handling it, and you ought to follow the instructions carefully. Remember, you are deliberately mixing products in your drains that will cause a reaction that produces heat and gas, so you have to treat them with caution.

So, if you're using a drain cleaner at home, be sure to follow all safety advice carefully.

Talking About The Environment...

It is true that chemical cleaners are less environmentally friendly than, say, a baking soda, vinegar, and water homemade solution. However, sometimes they are necessary.

Of course, if you can, you should opt for greener options first, but if this doesn't deal with the hair, grease, food, or any other type of clog in your sink or drains, then you will need to opt for a stronger option - and that's usually specific products that have been created to deal with these issues, and they will contain different acids, etc.

So, our advice? If you want to be friendlier to the environment, start with a greener option, but if you're only left with chemical options at the end, then you should still use them. If it fixes your issues, then it's sometimes necessary to use!

Can Chemicals Damage My Pipes?

A lot of homeowners and rental tenants worry that by using chemical cleaners they'll somehow damage their pipes, and whilst this is possible, it's incredibly rare.

PVC pipes are usually much more forgiving than older metal pipes in older properties, but so long as you follow the instructions carefully and make sure the product you're using is safe for your plumbing system, then there shouldn't be a problem.

When To Contact A Professional Plumber

Finally, if, after all of your attempts to remove clogs from your drain using baking soda methods or commercial cleaners fail, then you might want to hire a local plumber for their services.

They will have dealt with some of the most stubborn clogs you can imagine in every type of drain, sink, and toilet imaginable. So, if you've exhausted all your at-home options, then it's best to contact a plumber to see if their services can help you deal with any clogs in your blocked drain.


Final Thoughts

Using chemical drain cleaners shouldn't be seen as something we shouldn't do. It might not be everyone's first choice, and that's OK, but they are still a weapon in your arsenal against stubborn blockages at home.

Sometimes, they're exactly what's needed to clear up your clogged drain to get it back to running normally again.

So, try baking soda, vinegar, and water first, and if that doesn't work, don't be afraid to use chemical cleaners so long as you follow the instructions carefully and stick to the safety advice.

And then, if all else fails, it's time to contact your local plumber, who will no doubt fix the issue much quicker!

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