You step into the shower after a long, hot day of work, trying to get the kids to eat something, and baseball practice. You set a nice, lukewarm stream for a moment of relaxation without getting too hot again, but instead, the tub starts filling with water. Your first thought is to reach for one of the drain cleaners under the sink. Those ads on television make it look as though it’ll bust through the toughest of clogs. But there are some things you need to know before you unscrew that cap.



Why You Shouldn’t Use Drain Cleaners

While those commercials sell you on the clog-fighting power of their products, there’s something they won’t tell you.

The chemicals in their cleaners are detrimental to your pipes, even if they claim to be safe.


What’s In Them

Most drain cleaners that you would find on a store shelf use sodium hydroxide or sulfuric acid as their active ingredient. Both chemicals are highly caustic.

In simple scientific terms, these chemicals are bases. They release heat to transform the substance creating the clog into a soap-like matter which is easier to break up and wash away.

Drain cleaners that don’t use sodium hydroxide or sulfuric acid instead use chemicals such as bleach, peroxides, and nitrates, which oxidizes the organic substance causing the clog.


What Problems They Cause

Because they produce heat to clear away the clog, over time they weaken PVC pipes and eat through metal ones. After too many chemical dumps down the drain, you’re going to have to start replacing parts of your sewage system.

They can also be dangerous for your health. Most cleaners have a warning listed on their labels, advising you to keep the liquid off of your skin. This is because they can cause serious chemical burns which need to be medically treated.

And that doesn’t even touch on what they can do to damage the environment.

Drain cleaners may also disguise more serious issues, of which your clog is just a warning sign. Your clog could be telling you that you have a backed up line, a broken pipe, or a much more serious blockage.

If you absolutely have to use a drain cleaner, use one that contains natural enzymes, and try to use it as more of a monthly maintenance practice instead of in an emergency. They can help breakdown organic material, but they won’t do much for tougher clogs.

But first, try one of these ideas.



Maintain Your Drain

Maintaining a drain is always easier than fixing a clog. If you want to get slow drains moving a little faster or just want to make sure they stay that way, you can try a couple of things:

  • Pour very hot (steaming, not boiling) down the drain to loosen up and melt away build-up. Follow that with cooler water to flush out what you just broke up.
  • Pour about a half-cup of baking soda down your drain and follow it with the same amount of vinegar. Baking soda is a natural compound which is able to dissolve organic materials and mineral deposits, both of which is likely causing the issue. It also fights odorous bacteria and fungi through its disinfectant properties, meaning it can power through most buildup. Allow it to sit (overnight for clogs, 5-10 minutes for maintenance), and then flush it with hot (again, not boiling) water. Repeat the steps until the water flows quickly without backing up. The combination will take care of minor build-up and will make your drain smell like new again, too!

Because these methods are natural and nowhere near as harsh as the chemical compounds, your pipes are perfectly safe. 



Tools Instead of Drain Cleaners

If this is more than just a minor maintenance issue, you should still put down the drain cleaner. Instead, try keeping one of these items on hand:


Drain snake

Also referred to as an auger, a drain snake (or just a snake) is used to break up clogs. There are multiple types to choose from, but they all do the same job. The thick wire or cable feeds through the pipe while you turn a handle which keeps it spinning. Then once it catches on the clog, you can pull it out and toss the headache in the garbage.



Plungers are typically best for smaller clogs. Of course, before you try it, you should always make sure that your drain stopper isn’t the issue. Pull it out and give it a good cleaning before you go any further. If that doesn’t work, it’s time to put the plunger to use.

Place the cup of the plunger around the opening of the drain so that it creates a seal. Turn your sink on just a bit, and then begin the process of plunging. You may be able to feel when the clog loosens as plunging should become easier.



Avoid the Clog In the First Place

Many clogs are caused by us directly – usually putting something down the drain that doesn’t belong there. Some common items are:

  • Grease or oil
  • Starchy items like rice and potato peels
  • Chicken bones
  • Coffee grounds
  • Feminine products
  • Tissues and paper towels (their make-up is different than toilet paper)
  • Hair

For food items and products that cause clogs, throw them in the garbage instead of dumping them down the drain. For grease and oils, place them in a disposable container before throwing them away, and allow grease to cool and solidify first. To keep hair out of drains, brush your hair before you shower and use a drain screen (which you should clean out after each use).



Call a Professional

You may have a clog that you can’t take care of on your own – it does happen. Some backups are too big for natural solutions, and they can be pushed deeper and deeper down your drain instead of loosening up. 

That’s what professionals like Killeen Plumbing are for. If you’d like to know more about how we can help you, reach out to us on our Contact page.