Can Drain Cleaner Damage Pipes

Dealing with a stubborn clog in your drain and considering using a drain cleaner to solve the problem?

Before you reach for that bottle of chemical solution, it’s important to understand how drain cleaners work and the potential risks they pose to your pipes.

We will discuss the different types of drain cleaners, and the risks associated with each, and provide tips on how to prevent damage to your pipes.

Explore alternative methods for unclogging your drains that are safer for your plumbing system and learn more about the dos and don’ts of using drain cleaners.

What Is Drain Cleaner?

Drain cleaner is a solution or product used to clear blockages in pipes caused by blockages, which typically consist of hair, organic material, or other debris that accumulates over time, leading to slow draining or completely blocked drains.

When a drain becomes blocked, it can disrupt the flow of wastewater, causing unpleasant odours, leaks, or even structural damage. The primary purpose of drain cleaners is to break down the blockages, allowing water to flow freely through the pipes again. Common types of blockages that drain cleaners address include hair clumps, grease buildup, soap scum, and food remnants. Depending on the severity of the blockage, various drain cleaner formulas may be used.

Discover: What Is Drain Jetting

How Does Drain Cleaner Work?

Drain cleaners work by initiating chemical reactions that break down the materials causing blockages in your pipes, such as sodium hydroxide reacting with organic material to dissolve and clear the blockage.

When sodium hydroxide comes into contact with water, it generates heat, which helps in breaking down the blockage. This strong alkali works by converting fats and grease into soap, allowing them to be easily washed away.

Another common ingredient in drain cleaners is sulphuric acid, which is effective in dissolving tough blockages caused by hair and other substances. Its corrosive nature helps in breaking down the blockage, but it's essential to handle it with extreme care due to its hazardous properties.

What Are The Types Of Drain Cleaners?

There are three main types of drain cleaners available on the market:

  1. Chemical drain cleaners
  2. Enzymatic drain cleaners
  3. Hydro-mechanical drain cleaners

Each is designed to address blockages in pipes through different mechanisms and safety considerations.

Chemical Drain Cleaners

Chemical drain cleaners often contain strong substances like sodium hydroxide and sodium hypochlorite (bleach), which react with blockages to break them down chemically and clear the pipes.

In chemical drain cleaners, sodium hydroxide acts as a powerful alkali that dissolves organic matter, grease, and hair that causes obstructions in pipes. On the other hand, sodium hypochlorite (bleach) is effective in breaking down proteins and killing bacteria within the blockages.

When these chemicals are poured down the drain, they produce heat through exothermic reactions, aiding in dissolving the blockages effectively. The strength of these substances comes with potential risks, as they can cause skin and eye irritation if not handled carefully.

Enzymatic Drain Cleaners

Enzymatic drain cleaners use natural enzymes and bacteria to break down organic material that causes blockages in pipes, providing a safer and environmentally friendly alternative to chemical drain cleaners.

These cleaners are effective in targeting common culprits of blockages like grease, hair, soap scum, and food particles, ensuring thorough cleaning.

Enzymatic drain cleaners work by releasing enzymes that digest the organic matter, breaking it down into smaller particles that can easily flow through the pipes.

This method not only clears the current blockage but also helps prevent future build-ups. Unlike harsh chemical cleaners that can corrode pipes over time, enzymatic cleaners are gentle on plumbing systems, making them a preferred choice for maintaining pipe integrity.

Hydro-Mechanical Drain Cleaners

Hydro-mechanical drain cleaners, such as drain snakes, use physical force to dislodge blockages in pipes, making them a powerful tool in the plumbing industry for clearing obstructions.

When dealing with stubborn blockages, the flexible coil of the drain snake can navigate through bends and turns in the pipes, reaching deep into the plumbing system. The sharp end of the snake seizes debris, tree roots, or any other blockages, allowing the user to pull them out effortlessly. This technique not only efficiently removes blockages but also helps prevent future problems by thoroughly cleaning the pipe walls.

Can Drain Cleaner Damage Pipes?

Whilst drain cleaners can be effective at clearing blockages, they can also damage pipes, especially if used improperly or in excessive amounts, with chemical reactions potentially degrading materials like PVC pipes.

Acid-based drain cleaners, for example, can be particularly harsh on pipes, corroding the walls and weakening the structure over time. This can result in leaks, corrosion, and ultimately pipe failure if not dealt with promptly.

The chemicals in drain cleaners can react unpredictably with different pipe materials, leading to unintended consequences. For example, metal pipes may corrode when exposed to specific drain cleaner formulas, causing thinning and weakening of the pipe walls.

What Are The Risks Of Using Chemical Drain Cleaners?

Using chemical drain cleaners comes with significant risks, including chemical burns, environmental damage, and the corrosive effects on pipes and other plumbing components if not handled properly.

Chemical drain cleaners can pose serious dangers if not used with caution. The high toxicity of these cleaners can result in severe skin irritation or burns upon contact. The harsh chemicals can cause irreversible damage to the environment if disposed of improperly, contaminating water sources and harming aquatic life.

The corrosive nature of these cleaners can lead to long-term damage to your plumbing system, potentially causing leaks or even pipe bursts over time. It's crucial to follow safety guidelines to protect yourself, your property, and the environment.

What Are The Risks Of Using Enzymatic Drain Cleaners?

Whilst generally safer than chemical options, enzymatic drain cleaners can still pose risks if used incorrectly, such as inefficiency in clearing blockages and potential buildup in pipes over time.

Enzymatic drain cleaners are more suitable for organic clogs like grease, food particles, and hair. They may not be as effective with mineral deposits or non-organic materials.

Proper application is crucial to ensure they work well without causing damage. It's important to follow the manufacturer's instructions carefully and avoid overusing these products. Incorrect use can lead to partial blockages, prolonging the issue and potentially damaging the pipes. Regular maintenance and inspection are essential when using enzymatic cleaners to prevent any long-term negative effects on the plumbing system.

What Are The Risks Of Using Hydro-Mechanical Drain Cleaners?

Hydro-mechanical drain cleaners, including drain snakes, pose risks such as potential physical damage to pipes or fixtures if used with excessive force or without proper technique.

One of the key physical risks associated with using hydro-mechanical drain cleaners is the potential for causing cracks or breaks in the pipes themselves, leading to costly repairs and potentially extensive water damage. Proper technique is crucial to avoid inadvertently damaging the plumbing system, as aggressive or improper use can result in leaks, blockages, or even complete pipe failure. It's important to understand the specific requirements and limitations of each type of drain cleaner to ensure safe and effective use while protecting your plumbing infrastructure.

How To Prevent Damage To Pipes When Using Drain Cleaner?

Preventing damage to pipes when using drain cleaner involves following specific precautions such as:

  • Carefully reading instructions
  • Wearing protective gear
  • Using the cleaner as a last resort
  • Performing regular maintenance on your plumbing system to avoid severe blockages

Read The Instructions Carefully

One of the most critical steps in using a drain cleaner safely is to read and follow the instructions provided on the product label carefully to ensure proper application and avoid damaging pipes.

It cannot be emphasised enough how crucial it is to adhere to these instructions, as they are specifically designed to protect both your plumbing system and your safety.

Many drain cleaners contain powerful chemicals that can be effective in clearing blockages, but if not used correctly, they can also pose risks to the pipes and the user. By carefully following the guidelines outlined by the manufacturer, you can prevent accidents and ensure the product works efficiently without causing harm.

Use Protective Gear

Wearing protective gear, such as gloves and goggles, is essential when handling drain cleaners to prevent chemical burns and ensure overall safety during the cleaning process.

Wearing a respirator is highly recommended to protect the respiratory system from inhaling harmful fumes or airborne particles released during the cleaning process. A chemical-resistant apron or suit can provide an extra layer of protection against accidental spills or splashes that could come into contact with the skin, causing irritation or burns.

Protective footwear, such as closed-toe shoes with non-slip soles, is crucial to prevent accidental slips or falls, especially in areas where the floor might become slippery from spillage of the cleaning solution.

By using the appropriate protective gear and following safety guidelines, you can significantly reduce the risks associated with handling drain cleaners and ensure a safe cleaning experience.

Use Drain Cleaner As A Last Resort

Using a drain cleaner should be a last resort after attempting other blockage removal methods to minimise the risk of damaging pipes and ensure safety.

One reason it's advisable to explore other techniques before resorting to drain cleaners is to prevent potential harm to your plumbing system. Harsh chemical cleaners can corrode pipes over time, leading to leaks and costly repairs.

The repeated use of drain cleaners can harm the environment when these chemicals are washed away into water systems. Opting for eco-friendly options such as homemade vinegar and bicarbonate of soda solution not only keeps your pipes safe but also reduces your carbon footprint.

Regularly Maintain Your Pipes

Regular maintenance of your pipes, including periodic inspections and cleaning, helps prevent severe blockages and reduces the need for strong drain cleaners, ensuring long-term safety and functionality.

One of the crucial aspects of pipe maintenance is scheduling regular checks to identify potential issues early on before they escalate into major problems. By carrying out routine inspections, you can identify minor leaks, corrosion, or blockages before they result in expensive repairs.

Incorporating preventative measures such as using hair traps in the shower, avoiding flushing non-biodegradable items down the loo, and being careful about what goes down the plughole can significantly extend the lifespan of your pipes and plumbing system.

Investing time and effort in maintaining your pipes can save you money in the long term by avoiding emergency plumbing services and extensive repairs. By adopting a proactive approach to pipe maintenance, you can enjoy a steady and uninterrupted flow of water throughout your home, without the worry of sudden blockages or leaks disrupting your daily routine.

What Are The Alternatives To Using Drain Cleaner?

  • Several alternatives to using chemical drain cleaners can effectively clear blockages, such as:
    • Boiling water
    • A mixture of bicarbonate of soda and vinegar
    • A plumber's friend
    • Or a drain auger

Boiling Water

Pouring boiling water down the plughole can help dissolve minor blockages caused by grease or soap buildup, offering a simple and safe alternative to chemical drain cleaners.

Boiling water is a versatile and eco-friendly method to tackle blockages in drains, especially in kitchens where grease often accumulates. By using boiling water, you can effectively break down these sticky substances without harsh chemicals that can potentially harm your pipes or the environment.

It is important to note that boiling water works best for organic blockages, such as food particles and soap scum, rather than inorganic blockages like hair. The high temperature of boiling water can easily melt away the greasy residues, making it an ideal first step in unblocking kitchen sinks and bathroom drains.

Baking Soda And Vinegar

A combination of bicarbonate of soda and vinegar creates a fizzy reaction that can help break down blockages in pipes, making it a popular and environmentally friendly alternative to chemical drain cleaners.

This DIY method is not only effective but also safe for your pipes. To use this natural blockage-clearing technique, start by pouring bicarbonate of soda down the plughole followed by a generous amount of vinegar. The mixture will start fizzing and bubbling, helping to dislodge the blockage. Leave it to sit for about 30 minutes to allow it to work its magic.

Once the bubbling subsides, flush the plughole with hot water to wash away the loosened debris. This method not only clears blockages effectively but also minimises the need for harsh chemicals, reducing environmental impact.


Using a plunger is a manual method to dislodge blockages in pipes, utilising suction and pressure to clear blockages effectively without the need for chemicals.

One of the key benefits of using a plunger is its simplicity and ease of use. It's a versatile tool that can be used in various plumbing fixtures like sinks, toilets, and showers. To maximise its effectiveness, ensure a tight seal between the plunger and the drain opening by pressing down firmly and creating a vacuum. The plunger's design allows for quick and efficient clearance of minor to moderate blockages, making it a go-to solution for many homeowners before resorting to professional help.

Plumbing Snake

A plumbing snake, also known as a drain snake, is a long, flexible tool used to reach deep into pipes and manually break up blockages, making it an effective mechanical alternative to chemical drain cleaners.

When using a plumbing snake, it is important to first locate the blockage within the drain. Once identified, insert the snake into the pipe and rotate the handle to manoeuvre it through the obstruction. The snake's serrated edges provide effective gripping to dislodge debris, hair, grease, or other materials causing the blockage.

One of the main benefits of using a plumbing snake is its ability to target and clear tough blockages that might be challenging for other methods to remove. Unlike harsh chemicals that may damage pipes or harm the environment, a plumbing snake offers a safe, eco-friendly solution for drain cleaning.

Professional plumbers often rely on plumbing snakes as a versatile tool in their arsenal. They use specialised snakes with varying lengths and thicknesses to tackle different types of blockages efficiently, ensuring thorough cleaning without causing harm to the plumbing system.


Copyright © 2024 Craftdaily
linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram