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Chemical Drain Cleaners-Deadly To Pipes and Pocketbooks

Liquid chemical drain cleaners may seem convenient, but they can be devastating to plumbing as shown here with this failed kitchen drain fitting.

Image showing damage to iron pipe from chemical drain cleaner fluid
Pipe damage from chemical drain cleaners

What’s Causing The Clog?

Liquid drain cleaners only work on a few organic blockages. Yet, plumbing drains can run slow for many other reasons. Mechanical obstructions, improper slope and lack of plumbing vents can all cause problems with drainage.  

Instead of defaulting to the use of caustic chemicals, first try to understand what might be causing the problem in the first place. Might something inorganic (like a bottle cap) have gotten into the drain? Perhaps there is a systemic problem the plumbing? Is the drain in a difficult place structurally that may have affected the slope of the piping or the proper location of vents?

In the case of the photo below, the slow drain (that initiated the use of the chemical drain cleaner) was caused by inadequate slope to the plumbing and NOT by organic debris clogging the line. Not only was the liquid ineffective, since there was no slope, the chemical just sat in the line and eventually dissolved the pipe. Once the pipe was breached, the water leaked down into the ceiling and walls below causing water damage, mold and a repair bill in excess of $100K.

Image showing hole in drain pipe caused by chemical drain cleaner
Chemical drain cleaner damage to drain with no slope

Alternatives

Before using any chemical drain cleaner, try running a small plumbers snake or even a straightened coat hanger wire down the drain to see if that helps. Also, you can act to prevent debris from entering the drains in the first place. Reduce dumping loads of garbage down your kitchen disposer and use removable screens over bathroom sink, tub and shower drains to reduce exposure to hair.

In the end, if you still have a persistent and stubbornly slow drain, have your plumber snake and video the line to troubleshoot the problem for a permanent repair. In any case, avoid the chemicals. If drain cleaners can do this kind of damage to pipes, can you imagine what other unseen damage they might be causing downstream?

 

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