Will Chemical Drain Cleaners Harm Pipes?

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HomeProPlumber 

This Article Discusses The Risks Of Using Chemical Drain Cleaners.   Additionally, we provide less risky ways to clear clogs.  HomeProPlumber provides full service plumbing maintenance, repairs and replacements for every plumbing component in your home. We sell & install Rheem Professional Series gas & electric water heaters, and tankless water heaters.  We are near your home in Plano, Allen, Frisco, and McKinney Texas.  Homes in southern Collin and Denton Counties incur no additional travel-charges.

HomeProPlumber in Plano, Texas also provides maintenance & repairs for all brands of Central A/C, Gas & Electric Furnace, and Heat Pumps.  Additionally we sell and install new HVAC Systems from American Standard (same company as Trane), Ameristar (same company as American Standard) and Coleman HVAC (same company as York HVAC).

Call us today to discuss any concerns or problems you have with your HVAC System or Plumbing.  We will arrange an appointment at your convenience and offer 24/7 Emergency Service

Will Chemical Drain Cleaners Harm Pipes?

drain pipes under sink

Photo Source: ShutterStock

Many people have concerns that liquid drain cleaners may harm pipes.  If you read 10 articles on the internet, you will see 10 different answers.  One article states “Drano can reach over 200 degrees & boil while working”.   PVC (plastic) pipes have a maximum operating temperature of 140 degrees.  It stands to reason that if Drano had the ability to melt PVC pipes, when used as directed on the label,  the company would have been subject to Class-Action lawsuits.   We describe why it sometimes appears to be “boiling” + provide a video within this article.  

This Article’s Summary Answers Are Just Below.  The “why” behind these answers can be found throughout the article. This article’s goal is to set the record straight about chemical drain cleaners, and to put a spotlight on any danger they present.  We document the sources for what we say — versus you just having to accept our word.

  • It is unlikely that proper use of chemical drain cleaners will damage pipes.
  • Misuse of chemical drain cleaners might damage pipes (ABS-black & PVC-white).
  • While Using Chemical Drain Cleaners, Your Risk Of Physical Injury Is Ever-Present. Serious injury can result from something as simple as dropping an open bottle that splashes drain cleaner onto you.   Within this article is a link to a devastating story of such an injury resulting from 2 drops of chemical drain cleaner getting on a man’s hand.  After 27 surgeries, he had the hand amputated.
  • While many people want to know if a chemical drain cleaner will harm their pipes.  By far, the larger concern is the potential harm to themselves.

What Type Of Pipes Does Your Home Have?

With the exception of copper drain-lines (which are rare) when used as directed, chemical drain cleaners don’t have a history of harming any of the sewer pipes materials used in homes over the years.   Below is background about what type of pipes your home likely has (based on its age).

Over The Years, Various Materials Were Used For Residential Sewer Pipes

  • Cast Iron (typically gray or black)

Most homes built before 1960 have cast-iron (vertical) sewer pipes.  Vertical pipes are usually cast-iron, and horizontal pipes may be cast-iron too. Cast-iron is prone to rusting (from inside to outside) over time.

  • Galvanized Steel  (typically gray)

Most homes built before 1960 also have galvanized steel (horizontal) sewer pipes.  Galvanized pipes are were dipped into molten zinc to make them last longer.  Over time, the zinc wears off and the steel starts rusting.    Galvanized steel seldom lasts longer than 50 years (it rusts through).  Like cast-iron, galvanized steel pipes rust from inside to outside.

  • ABS (Black Plastic)  Also Known As “Black Pipe”. 

ABS (black) plastic pipes were installed in new homes starting around 1972. ABS was a first-generation plastic pipe, that can’t rust.  Between the years 1985 and 1998, some ABS pipe contained plastic resin that could cause the pipe to crack and ultimately leak.  A Class Action litigation involved 5 of the 6 ABS pipe manufacturer’s brands: Centaur, Phoenix, Polaris, Gable, and Apache. (Spartan was excluded).   The attorney David Birke-White indicated (paraphrased) Defective ABS piping failures are a progressive problem.  Piping that had not already failed will do so in the future.

Sec. C-109. – The International Plumbing Code (IPC) Says: “ABS pipe and fittings are not approved materials for use.” *9  Most local municipality codes match the IPC.  Even if a local municipality allows ABS, the IPC says it should not be used. *9 Source: https://westutx.gov/DocumentCenter/View/200/InternationalPlumbingCode-PDF

  • PVC (White Plastic)

PVC (white) plastic pipes started being used by the mid 1970’s.  By the late 1980’s PVC became the only sewer pipe used in most new homes. According to the Charlotte Pipe Company, PVC is the most widely used pipe in the world today.   PVC is a white or light-colored, highly durable plastic that has shown a history of outlasting all other pipe materials.

Sewer Lines Maintenance

drain pipe clogged with hair

Drain Pipe Clogged With Hair

Image Source:  ShutterStock

Drain lines slowly accumulate build-up on their interior surfaces.  Sewer sludge, as it relates to your home’s pipes, is a build up of any or all of the individual sources below: 

  1. Hair is particularly good at collecting other sewer sludge, such as shampoo & soaps residue.  
  2. Shampoo & Soap leave behind residue.  The same residue you can see accumulating on your bathtub or shower also accumulates on the sewer lines
  3. Food Waste particularly; grease, egg shells, coffee grounds, expandable foods (like pasta & rice), flour, 
  4. Objects small enough to flush down a toilet. They can settle at the bottom of the sewer lines and provide something to catch other items flushed over time.
  5. Baby Wipes & all “flushable” paper products, other than toilet paper.  Wipes & other paper products do not degrade like toilet paper.  This causes them to settle at the bottom of main sewer pipes and create clogs.  
  6. Tree Roots.  This is a problem with homes that have clay sewer pipes near trees.  Clay pipes leak a little at their connections, and this attracts tree roots.  Over time, the root will grow into the pipes at the connections, and continue to grow until it clogs and / or damage the pipes.   Today’s PVC sewer pipes do not leak at their connections and won’t attract tree roots.

If The Build-Up In Your Home’s Sewer Pipes Is Routinely Cleaned Away, Clogs Are Less Likely To Occur.

As the build-up increases, the drain slows.  In time, the build up can clog the drain completely.  The drain-trap (shown in the photo at the top of this article) is designed to always have liquid it it, to stop sewer-gas from coming into the home.  This makes the drain-trap highly susceptible to clogs, as waste particles settle in the trap.

Sewer Lines Require Maintenance.  An Enzyme Drain Cleaner Is the Best Solution. 

What Is An Enzyme Drain Cleaner?

Enzyme  of drain cleaners does not have chemicals.  They are designed for maintenance of the sewer lines, not to clear clogged lines.   Enzymatic drain cleaners are a safer alternative to chemical drain cleaners. 

Enzymatic drain cleaners contain bacteria-cultures + concentrated enzymes that break down the organic substances that cling to pipes (discussed above). These tiny living organisms digest the broken-down organic waste.  They bacteria reproduce and increase in numbers as they work. In ideal conditions, they will double in number every 25-30 minutes.  Once the first area of the pipe has been cleaned, the bacteria & enzymes moves further down the pipes in search of additional food.   They break down the waste and run it out of your system.  

Because an enzymatic drain cleaner isn’t restricted by gravity (like chemical drain openers) the bacteria can clean the entire inside of the pipe.   Enzymatic drain cleaners were originally used for septic tanks (where city sewer is not available).  The bacteria & enzymes won’t eat non-organic items like sewer pipes.

 Rid-X

Shown: RID-X Septic-Tank Treatment.  It can also be used to maintain your home’s sewer pipes. 

Click On Image To; View Product, See Details, or Purchase From Amazon.com

 

THE BUBBLING YOU MAY SEE WHILE USING CHEMICAL DRAIN CLEANERS

Chemical drain cleaners consist of variations of lye and bleach, sodium nitrate, sodium chloride (salt) and aluminum. **  When a lye-based cleaner is used, the Lye decomposes most organic matter. The lye is often mixed with small shards of aluminum, creating a reaction that generates heat to speed up the decomposition process.  Aluminum reacts with lye in water to produce hydrogen gas. *4  The bubbles of hydrogen gas agitate the mixture to help dislodge the clog.  It is easy to think the water is “boiling”.  Water boils at 212 degrees — PVC sewer pipes melt at 176 degrees.

Shown: Chemical Drain Cleaner Creating Hydrogen Gas Bubbles 

Image Source: YouTube Embedded Video

*1 https://www.pvcfittingsonline.com/resource-center/can-i-use-pvc-for-hot-water

*2 https://www.hunker.com/12597145/what-chemicals-cause-pvc-sink-drain-pipes-to-melt-or-soften

*3 http://www.heritageplastics.com/technical-bulletins/effects-temperature-pvc-pipe/

*4 Source: http://science.jrank.org/pages/6242/Sodium-Hydroxide.html  

 

USE CHEMICAL DRAIN CLEANERS EXACTLY AS DIRECTED ON THEIR LABEL

If you choose to use a chemical drain cleaner, use it with the correct concentration & timing as described on its label.  Larger concentrations and / or longer times violate “When Used As Directed”.  That message is always part of all literature for chemical drain cleaners.  If not used as directed, there may be increased risk of damaged pipes. 

Drano’s Website Says: 

ARE DRANO® PRODUCTS SAFE FOR PLASTIC PIPES?

“All Drano® products are safe and can be used with plastic pipes or metal pipes. Just follow the label directions so you can clear that clog safely.”
 

Drano’s Website Shows These Directions:

  • For use on clogged or slow-running drains, pour half of the bottle (32 oz. size) slowly over drain. For extremely slow-running drains or complete clogs, pour in entire contents of 32 oz. bottle.
  • Allow to work for 15 minutes. For tough problems, allow 30 minutes. 
  • Flush with hot water. Repeat steps two, three, and four if necessary.
The temptation to leave a chemical drain cleaner in longer certainly exists.  Never Do It! 
There is a reason why Drano states “Allow to work for 15 Minutes. For tough problems, allow 30 minutes.”
Chemical drain cleaners generate heat and are made of corrosive chemicals. 

CAN LYE DRAIN CLEANERS HARM SOME METALS?

Yes.  Below is a list of metals lye will damage or destroy. Lye Will Attack & Can Dissolve These Metals:

  • zinc
  • Note: Glavanized Steel or Cast-Iron Pipe has a thin layer of zinc to keep it from rusting.  The zinc eventually wears off and rust begins.
  • Existing cast-iron or galvanized-steel metal pipes in older homes likely no longer have any zinc coating remaining.
  • copper

Though copper water supply-lines are common in homes, copper drain lines ares rare.  Copper is too expensive for large sewer-main lines, and only rarely does a home may have copper drain lines.  This is likely to be a very old home and / or a very expensive home. You can tell if your home has copper drain lines by looking at the pipes.  You can easily identify copper drain lines or water-supply pipes.  Copper exposed to high humidity often turns green. Note: The 2018 International Plumbing Code does not allow copper drain lines.

Metals That Lye Won’t Affect

  • Lye will not react with steel.
  • There are articles on the internet discussing cleaning stainless-steel using lye.
  • We do not offer directions nor links about how to do this due to the dangers of being exposed to lye.
  • Lye will not react with cast-iron.
  • There are DIY cast-iron skillet cleaning methods using lye on the intenet.
  • We do not offer directions nor links about how to do this due to the dangers of being exposed to lye.
  • chrome plating

What Incorrect Use Of Chemical Drain Cleaners Might Do

  • PVC is a thermoplastic, and can begin to degrade and break down if it gets too hot. *4   A maximum temperature restriction of 140 F means that any temperature above 140 degrees may compromise the integrity of the pipe.   
  • PVC expands with increasing temperatures & contracts with decreasing temperatures.  This expansion / contraction movement has the capacity to break the glue used at the joints where the plastic pipes are attached to each other. *1
  • Broken glue-bonds are possible with frequent misuse of chemical drain cleaners.
  • High temperatures have important effects on glued PVC pipe joints.  *7
  • High temperatures can possibly increase the softening effects of the solvents used to connect PVC piping.
  • This can also possibly soften or damage the piping.

*7 https://inspectapedia.com/plumbing/PVC_Pipe_Cement_Set_Cure_Tables.php  

Health Risks While Using Chemical Drain Cleaners

THE U.S. DEPT. OF HEATH & HUMAN SERVICES’ WEBSITE

SAYS THIS ABOUT LIQUID DRANO:

Warnings: May be corrosive to metals. Causes severe skin burns and eye damage.Precautionary statements: Call for medical advice if needed.  Have product container close by when calling. Keep out of reach of children. Immediately call 911 if you suspect someone has ingested a chemical drain cleaner.  IF SWALLOWED: Rinse mouth. Do NOT induce vomiting. IF INHALED: Get fresh air and stay in a position comfortable for breathing. IF ON SKIN (or hair): Remove product immediately.  Remove any contaminated clothing. Rinse skin with water/ shower. IF IN EYES: Call 911.  Remove & discard contact lenses. Rinse cautiously with water for several minutes.

Source: https://hpd.nlm.nih.gov/cgi-bin/household/brands?tbl=brands&id=19001557&query=drano+&searchas=TblBrands

A Simple Mistake While Handling A Chemical Drain Cleaner

Can Cause Catastrophic Effects

The link below is to an article (written by his wife) about a man who ended up having 27 surgeries in attempt to remedy the on-going issues of his injury from 2 drops of chemical drain cleaner.  He eventually had the hand amputated.  Even that did not solve the problem… Click Here To Read An Article About A First-Hand Experience Of An Injury A Man Suffered As A Result Of 2 Drops Of Chemical Drain Cleaner.  Severe Injury From 2 Drops Of Chemical Drain Cleaner.

The Final Answers

Will Chemical Drain Cleaners Harm Pipes:

  • Not Likely — when used as directed.
  • Possibly — if not used as directed.  Typical examples would be using too much, or leaving it in the drain too long.

What About Glued Joints?

  • PVC expands & contracts with changing temperature.
  • Since chemical drain cleaners typically create heat, the misuse of chemical drain cleaners may create the risk of breaking the glue bonds.

Can Chemical Drain Cleaners Harm You?

  • Absolutely!  There is no disagreement about this.
  • Making a simple mistake while using chemical drain cleaners and you could severely injury yourself.
  • If a chemical drain cleaner does not clear the clog — the standing water is now highly toxic.
  • If you have used a chemical drain cleaner, don’t attempt to clear the drain with a plunger, drain-snake or any other method that could splash or expose you to the standing water.
  • At this point, call for drain cleaning.  ADVISE the technician that you have used chemical drain cleaners. 

Safer Ways To Remove Clogs

CAUTION:  Use the products listed below only before A Chemical Drain Cleaner Only.  If You Have Already Used A Chemical Drain CleanerDo Not Use Any Of These products. You can flip drain cleaner onto your skin or into your eyes.

  • Use a plunger first.  It often clears clogs quickly and safely.
  • Use a drain-snake.  Professionals who clear clogs use large, motorized versions of drain-snakes.
  • Often a plunger doesn’t work on a hair clog
  • Use a Zip-It for hair removal.
  • Zip-It is designed to remove hair.  It has “teeth” along its sides to snag hair.

zip it drain cleaning tool for removing hair

Shown: Photo Shows “Teeth” Along Sides Of A Zip-It

SUMMARY:  One of the world’s greatest mystery’s seems to be if chemical drain cleaners will harm sewer pipes.  There are assorted views on this subject, and ours is: Will Chemical Drain Cleaners Harm Pipes

  • It is not likely — when used as directed.
  • It is possible — if not used as directed.

There are much safer alternatives of plungers, drain-snakes, and  Zip-It hair removers.  We also gave information on how to prevent clogs with regular maintenance-cleaning of pipes with Enzyme & Bacteria natural drain cleaners (that do not contain chemicals).

Dropping an open bottle of chemical drain cleaner, or other accidents, can result in catastrophic injury from splashed chemical drain cleaners.  This alone should be a viable reason to avoid them.

home pro plumber logo

HomeProPlumber 

HomeProPlumber provides full service plumbing maintenance, repairs and replacements for every plumbing component in your home. We sell & install Rheem Professional Series gas & electric water heaters, and tankless water heaters.  We are near your home in Murphy, Rowlette, and Wylie, Texas.  Homes in southern Collin and Denton Counties incur no additional travel-charges.

HomeProPlumber in Plano, Texas also provides maintenance & repairs for all brands of Central A/C, Gas & Electric Furnace, and Heat Pumps.  Home Pro Plumber sells and installs new HVAC Systems from American Standard (same company as Trane), Ameristar (same company as American Standard) and Coleman HVAC (same company as York HVAC).

Call us today to discuss any concerns or problems you have with your HVAC System or Plumbing.  We will arrange an appointment at your convenience and offer 24/7 Emergency Service