Homemade and Chemical Drain Cleaners: Know the Risks
Leave the Science Experiments in the Classroom
It’s about twenty minutes after you needed to wake up, so you run to the bathroom to do your morning routine in about half the usual time: we’ve all been there. But while you’re brushing your teeth, you notice your sink backing up with dirty water, and your shower isn’t draining like it normally does every other day you’re on time. You must be thinking: of course! This only happens when I’m late!
Your second thought: can I use lye or baking soda with vinegar as a safe homemade drain cleaning solution?
No. We won’t beat around the bush here: vinegar and baking soda may be the spectacle you want in your science fair, but the chemical reaction of these compounds only solidifies your clog and in the tight space, can create a hazardous chemical explosion. And lye is even worse: the acidic components in lye can eat away at your pipes and its fumes (often invisible) are incredibly dangerous for you, your pets, or your children, to inhale.
Don’t believe us? Keep reading to find out the truth about those “eco-friendly homemade alternatives" and find out the only effective solution to unclog your drains.
Chemical cleaners are supposed to work, right?
Wrong, pal. If you’ve tried before, then you know what the DIY drain cleaning aisle looks like at Walmart: endless and confusing. Common brands like Drano and Liquid Plumr come in so many different formulas that it’s often too hard to determine which one will work for you.
Unless you have the miniature camera to look inside your plumbing, like the professionals at Roto-Rooter Milwaukee do, then you won’t know for sure what’s clogging your drains, and the effective way to resolve it. One product may work on hair, but not on grease build up or vegetable peels, and if you don't know what's draining it you could be wasting your time with the wrong cleaning product.
If one product fails (which, it usually does) DO NOT USE TWO CHEMICAL CLEANING PRODUCT. Two cleaning products combined can have a negative reaction in the tight space of your drain, resulting in shattered pipes or hazardous material on you. Liquid drain cleaners are all dangerous if improperly used.
Milwaukee Roto-Rooter has the tools to combat any drain clog situation—emergency or regular maintenance. Our professionals locate and identify the clog, use the proper equipment to safely get rid of it—like our powerful water jetting system—and ensure long-lasting results.
The only non-professional strategy we suggest is this:
- Close all the drains in your home, this includes sinks and bathtubs.
- Fill them all with as much water as they can hold
- Once they’re all full, open all the drains simultaneously (or as close to simultaneously as one person is able).
- The water entering your pipes acts as a powerful force that can push out small build ups.
This does not fix seriously clogged drains—though performed every month, it can help stop blockages from forming. For a true solution and lasting results contact the professional team at Roto-Rooter Milwaukee.
Baking Soda & Vinegar: Not the Compound for You
Baking soda and vinegar is commonly used as an alternative to commercial chemical drain cleaning products by people searching for eco-friendly ways to unclog their drains. But why?
It may be the bubbles and fizzy spectacle showing making people think this combination of household chemicals is a good idea. It may be the nostalgic science fair feeling. Or it may be the mob mentality of others thinking it works. Who knows. Truth is, this combination is ineffective as a solution to clogged drains.
Why Baking Soda & Vinegar is Ineffective
Vinegar is an acid (below 7pH). Baking soda is a base (above 7pH). When an acid and a base of similar strength mix, the resulting substance is neutral and has no corrosive properties. The only way it would be able to is by erosion. Since neither vinegar nor baking soda are emulsifiers (substances that grab on to hydrophobic substances), the eroded material would only be moved farther down the drain and get caught later rather than rendering it inert.
Lye is used as the main ingredient in some chemical drain cleaners sold in hardware stores or other home supply stores. It requires no permit or ID for purchase. Yet it's more dangerous than most things in your home.
Dangers of Lye Drain Cleaners: Explained
Combustibility: Lye is usually a non-combustive material when dry. It's normally only combustible when it comes in contact with moisture, and to harness the corrosive power of lye, you must add moisture. This produces a chemical reaction.
Heat Radiation: All chemical reactions produce heat according to the laws of thermodynamics. The heat produced by lye coming into contact with water and all the organic materials in your pipes is great. Sometimes, the heat is enough to melt plastic pipes in your plumbing.
Explosive: The heat produced by combustible substances needs a place to go. Clogged drains leave the materials only one option - UP. The substance will be forced back up the pipe through which it entered (not unlike vinegar and baking soda science fair volcano resulting in an ER visit and permanent vision loss).
Eats Through Organic Materials: AKA - lye is an extremely caustic alkaline material (base), sitting around a pH of 13 out of 14. It burns through your skin at an astonishing rate, and even faster through soft eye tissue if you're unlucky enough to make contact with it. CAUTION: Contact is liable to be made in the event of a drain eruption.
Eats Through Organic Materials: If you still go ahead and decide to use lye to clean out your drain pipes, make sure the area is well-ventilated. Even just the fumes from lye's gas is able to burn the insides of your nostrils and leave your sense of smell permanently damaged.
Don't take your chances with lye chemical drain cleaners.