Scientific American reports that drain cleaners are among the most toxic home cleaning products. These chemicals belong to the category of poisons that are responsible for about 10 percent of toxic exposures in the U.S. Many drain cleaners claim to be safe for septic tanks and plumbing. However, repeated use can break down your pipes.
Clogged drains and backed-up toilets can be a pretty significant problem too. Learn the best ways to remove blockages from your pipes without harming the environment, your pipes or your health.
According to an academic paper written for the University of Vermont, one of the leading brands of drain cleaners contains the following ingredients:
- Lye or caustic soda
- Sodium silicate
Bleach can mix with compounds in surface water to create a number of hazardous toxins that affect the environment. The mixture of bleach and ammonia can produce toxic gases that harm your respiratory system, according to the Washington State Department of Health.
Even if you don’t knowingly mix the substances, what could happen if drain cleaner was lingering in your pipes and you decided to clean the floors with an ammonia-based product? Dumping the solution down the sink could result in the release of a potentially fatal chlorine gas.
Contrary to popular belief, mixing ammonia and bleach does not create mustard gas. However, it is extremely irritating to mucus membranes, including the eyes. Exposure can quickly lead to unconsciousness and even death.
Production of lye requires the use of heavy metals. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry explains that lye doesn’t accumulate in the environment or the food chain. However, when it is breathed in or comes into contact with skin, it can cause irritation. It can also change the pH of water, which can affect organisms living in rivers, lakes and streams.
Although the proper use of commercial drain cleaners isn’t likely to make a huge impact on your health and the environment, overuse and mishandling can be dangerous. Prolonged exposure to commercial drain cleaners can make your pipes corrode and leak. You can develop health problems if you repeatedly come into contact with the product or its fumes.
A safer way to treat everyday clogs may be to use natural alternatives. You can also take measures to prevent clogs from happening in the first place.
According to LiveScience, fat, oil and grease (FOG) is a major contributor to sewage clogs. Although much of this grease comes from dumping oil down the sink or cleaning dirty dishes, some of it may come from certain soaps.
Natural soaps might contain vegetable or animal fats that can clog your drains. Clogs can form from many kinds of soap, though. The Spruce explains that soap scum
consists of solids that develop from the combination of minerals in water, detergents and dirt. The scum can build up on any surface, including hairs and other particles that sit in your pipes.
Soap scum is more likely to cause a problem in bathroom and shower drains. Grease from cooking fats is more apt to create a clog in the kitchen. Avoiding pouring these substances down the drain can prevent clogs in your pipes and problems in the city sewer lines.
Keeping your sinks, tubs and toilets clean can prevent debris from gathering in the pipes and collecting oil and soap scum. Drain traps can prevent larger sediment from floating into the drain. Discarding oil, tough, stringy produce and absorbent grains instead of pushing them through the garbage disposal can also help you maintain free-flowing pipes.
If you do encounter a clog in your sink, shower or tub, you might want to start by pouring hot water down the drain. Hot water can melt grease and soap scum. If you continue to flush plenty of water down the drain, you move the now-liquid grease out of your pipes.
Hot water can’t dissolve particles like hair or eggshells. However, if those materials are trapped in the drain by sticky fats, melting the grease can help remove the clog from your system.
Pouring boiling water down the drain does bring up a few concerns. Regular PVC pipes are designed to handle temperatures up to 140 degrees Fahrenheit. CPVC can withstand temperatures as hot as 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Water boils at 212 degrees Fahrenheit. If you regularly pour boiling water down a drain that utilizes PVC pipes, you may melt the material.
Boiling water may also just push the clog deeper into your plumbing. At some point, the water will cool. The oil may re-solidify in an area that’s harder to reach. If the liquid fat moves to a thicker area of the sewer line before it cools enough to solidify, it may be effectively rinsed away.
You can alter the pressure in the drain yourself by using a plunger. The change in pressure may be enough to move the clog to an area of the pipe from which it can be rinsed away. Family explains how to use a plunger correctly to unclog a toilet. The Spruce offers detailed instructions for using a plunger on a bathtub.
It’s important to create a strong seal around the edge of the plunger. Using petroleum jelly can help. Keep water over the bell of the plunger, and gently move the handle back and forth several times. You can remove the plunger from time to time to check if the material has dislodged. If it has, the water will flow freely.
One of the best ways to unclog your plumbing is to use a high-pressure jet. Hiring a professional to do this is most effective and can help you avoid injury.
Plumbing snakes can break up material and push or pull it out of your pipes. Using a snake may work for clogs that are close to the surface. However, they may not be long enough to reach deep obstructions. A professional plumber should have a longer snake that may solve your problem.
Many people tout the benefits of using baking soda and vinegar to unblock pipes. The idea is to sprinkle baking soda into the drain, then add vinegar and plug the opening. The combination fizzes as it produces carbon dioxide.
If you’re dealing with a minor clog, the fizzing can lift some of the hair and debris that congests the drain. The mass may move to a larger section of the pipe, where it can be flooded away. However, baking soda and vinegar can’t dissolve hair or dirt.
The author of Bren Did even found that vinegar and baking soda do not dissolve fat effectively. Most instructions for using this method involve washing the paste away with boiling water. Baking soda and vinegar won’t ruin your pipes, but the boiling water might.
Biological drain cleaners employ enzymes to eat away at the organic material that’s stuck in your drains. Consumer Reports says that these are simple and safe to use. However, they may not be as effective as pressure or a snake for removing tough jams. Still, they may be worth it for keeping your drains clear once you have eliminated any congestion.
If you have a stubborn clog that won’t go away no matter what you try, you may want to call a plumber. Persistent drainage problems may be caused by broken pipes, tree roots or pipes that don’t slope correctly. Even the strongest chemical won’t fix these problems.