The piping and drainage system in your home is something you rarely think about – except when you encounter an overflowing kitchen sink or bathroom drain. Before you reach for the chemical drain cleaner, you should be aware of the risks and dangers of chemical-based cleaners and the alternatives that are available.
Damage to pipes
Most off-the-shelf drain cleaners have strong chemicals, whether they are liquid, gel or powder cleaners. While they can create powerful cleaning results, the heat and the chemicals used could lead to a softening of the PVC piping commonly found in homes today. Older pipes manufactured from metal can also be damaged by these types of chemical cleaners.
There are three basic types of chemical drain cleaners. First there are caustic cleaners, which are made from ingredients such as lyre and caustic potash. Oxidising cleaners, on the other hand, contain ingredients such as bleach, nitrates, and peroxide. Acid cleaners are less common; these contain sulphuric or hydrochloric acid.
Chemical cleaners tend to be highly toxic if swallowed or exposed to human skin. They can cause burns, damage clothing, release fumes or even cause explosions. Poisoning, loss of vision, severe burns and damage to tissues and other serious outcomes can result from exposure to fumes and contact with chemical cleaner.
Alternatives to chemical drain cleaners
Minimise the risk of clogging by using a fine-mesh sink strainer to catch hair, soap scum and other things that could block the drain. Avoid dumping food scraps, coffee grounds and other solids down the drain.
Enzymatic drain cleaners are a safer alternative to traditional drain cleaners. These are made from enzymes or bacteria that break down the build-up in the drain. However, they are harder to find in stores and take much longer (hours or more) to clean out piping.
Do-it-yourself green cleaners are another alternative, and a simple recipe uses everyday household items such as baking soda, vinegar and salt. Use equal parts of baking soda, vinegar and salt, and pour the mixture down the drain. Wait for an hour and flush out with hot water.
When using chemical drain cleaners
If you absolutely must use a chemical drain cleaner on your pipes, consider these tips.
- Follow the directions – Follow the directions provided by the product manufacturer when using chemical drain cleaners.
- Ventilation – Ensure that you are applying the cleaner in an area with plenty ventilation. Open windows and keep doors open. Wear a mask to protect yourself from fumes if necessary.
- Plungers – Avoid using a plunger immediately after you apply a cleaner. Plungers can cause the cleaning liquid to splash out of the drain.
- Garbage disposal – Avoid using chemical drain cleaners with garbage disposals, as the disposal could cause the liquid to splash out of the drain.
- Protect eye and skin – Keep your eyes protect with goggles in case of splashing, and make sure you wear gloves to protect your skin.
- Keep a safe distance – Keep pets and children away from the drain. Keep a safe distance when applying the chemicals and flushing out the drain after application.
Do not mix cleaners – Never mix different chemical cleaner