When Not To Use Chemical Drain Cleaners And What To Do Instead

If you suddenly have a clogged drain or you've been dealing with a slow moving pipe for some time now, don't break out the bottles of drain cleaner just yet. Luckily, there are a few situations in which it's alright to use those commercial products. But you need to know when and why they're a definite no-no to avoid unnecessary repairs and even health risks. Here are the circumstances in which you shouldn't use chemical drain cleaners and how to safely clear your pipes instead.

Clogged Toilet


Unless you want to risk unclogging your toilet by way of cracking the bowl, this is one of those situations in which you should never use over-the-counter drain cleaners. If you read the active ingredients on one of the bottles, you'll see it contains lye and other chemicals equivalent to what's used to clean a swimming pool. Because of its chemical composition, it heats to a boiling point when it comes in contact with water. Bottom line, hydrogen gas is released and ultimately converts to ammonia which decomposes organic matter quickly. Now, this is great for getting rid of that clog, but not so great for your porcelain bowls or your pipes.

In effect, by pouring this chemical-laced liquid into your toilet, the water could heat up so much that the porcelain cracks, leaking water everywhere. The chemicals are also caustic enough that if you're standing close by, you're at risk of exposing your skin to chemical burns. If you're lucky enough to escape the above scenario, the products are still capable of eating away at the finish on the toilet.


1. Gravity. One of the best remedies for a clogged toilet is to simply let gravity do its thing. If you have an extra bathroom in the house, use it for a day or two, then come back and give the clogged toilet a flush. Often, you'll find the problem has moved on through.

2. Plunger or Auger. Give your commode a good, old-fashioned plunging or use an auger, otherwise known as a snake. Make sure you have a round plunger that's shaped for a toilet, otherwise you won't get a tight seal around the bottom.

3. DIY Liquid Remedies. A couple of things found lying around the house could be used to fix your toilet.

For the first remedy, you'll only need some liquid soap or shampoo and hot (NOT boiling) water. Ensure that the bowl isn't filled to the rim, and squirt some soap or shampoo inside the bowl, followed with a pot of hot water. Allow the mixture to sit for a short while before attempting to flush. The hot water should facilitate the decomposition of toilet tissue, and the soap should help lubricate things so they pass through the pipe more easily.

The second recipe calls for a few kitchen ingredients. Start with pouring ¼ cup baking soda into the water and then ¼ cup vinegar, adding more in equal parts as necessary. This creates a natural chemical reaction that's much safer than the chemical products. You'll witness a fizzing action, but it should die down after a few moments. Follow up with a kettle of hot water to push everything through.

If none of these solutions do the trick, it's probably time to call in a professional plumber.

Sinks and Tubs


On rare occasions, using store bought products to unclog a drain in your sink or tub should be okay. But there are certainly a couple of caveats. Using them over and over can eat away at your pipes, whether they are metal or plastic. So if you're dealing with an unruly clog that just won't go away, it's best to consult with the professionals.

Danger also comes when mixing chemicals. Say you use a cleaner that's acid based and it doesn't work, so you switch to a different brand or a different product that's more basic, pH-wise. The chemicals from each product will mix and release dangerous fumes that are toxic.

Imagine this additional complexity: Suppose someone in your home gets a wild hair and decides to clean the bathroom with bleach or ammonia. Now you come along with chemical weapons to attack that clogged drain once and for all. The mixture could result in chlorine gas, which can be fatal. So it's worth mentioning that these products should be used only when you deem it absolutely necessary.

Consider that some clogs, particularly from tubs, will be especially ornery when they reach lengths of up to 3-4 feet long. It's doubtful that any chemical can deal with that more effectively than an auger or a hired plumber.


It's perfectly fine to use a plunger, auger, or a homemade remedy to clear a clogged sink or tub. But there are some minor differences between sinks and toilets that are worth mentioning.

First, if you use vinegar and baking soda, be sure to cover the drain with a rag so that the bubbling action stays down below where the clog is before pouring the water down the drain. Additionally, be sure to seal any overflow holes in the tub or sink with tape or a small rag. This will help create a vacuum and prevent water from leaking through the overflow hole when using a plunger.

Unlike with a bathtub, the pipes underneath a bathroom or kitchen sink are usually easy to get at. So you can try removing and cleaning the P-trap, which is often where the root of the problem lies. When all else fails, seek the advice of a professional plumber or visit websites like http://calldoctorfixit.com