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Do liquid drain cleaners really work?

Posted by Chris Corley on Jun 3, 2012 9:30:53 AM

A clogged sink or drain can be very stressful and usually, the first reaction of most people is to rush to the store and buy a liquid drain cleaner. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.

Ingredients
Liquid drain cleaners are either enzyme-based or chemical based. These substances eat away or burn the obstruction in drains. Enzyme-based liquid drain cleaners, in effect, digest obstructions and they very rarely damage the pipes. On the other hand, chemical based liquid drain cleaners’ chemical contents interact with the stuff causing the clog and in doing so burn the blockage with the gaseous heat created by the interaction.

Ingredients of chemical-based liquid drain cleaners are categorized as: acids like hydrochloric acid and sulfuric acid; oxidizers such as sodium hypochlorite; and caustics such as lye, caustic soda or sodium hydroxide. All these could damage your pipes and are most harmful when used often or in sizeable portions.

Drain unclogging effect
Some liquid drain cleaners are made of common household chlorine bleach. Sometimes chlorine bleach is successful in breaking the clog in sinks. It must never be used, however, as a concentrate since chlorine destroys or kills the bacteria in the septic tank that digests the waste.

Clogs are held together and cause the buildup in pipes by gunk called biofilm. Liquid drain cleaners dissolve biofilm. When the solid bits caught –up in the biofilm are softened, they are flushed down the pipe and the clog is cleared. But when biofilm builds up all along the drain pipe, liquid drain cleaner can only affect the biofilm that the solution will reach and not the entire pipe or drain.

When unclogging laundry drains, a liquid drain cleaner will never work. Clogs of laundry drains are usually caused by build-up of lint from clothing threads or fibers and liquid drain cleaners cannot dissolve fiber.

Ultimately, many liquid drain cleaners are caustic. If you are going to use one, look for an enzyme based solution or better yet, call a plumber who can remove clogs without damaging pipes.

Topics: Drains, Plumbing

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