Need a Repair or Service That's Not in the Budget? Get 0% Financing & No Payments for 12 months, Click here to learn more and apply today!

What Actually Happens When You Use a Chemical Drain Cleaner

woman using liquid drain cleaner in sink

When you have a stubborn plumbing clog to deal with, your first impulse might be to reach for the bottle of chemical drain cleaner under your sink. After all, it’s just another cleaning product, right?

Not exactly. Below, we’ll give you a closer look at how chemical drain cleaners work and what risks they pose to your plumbing and safety.


Unbeknownst to the average shopper, there are two primary types of chemical drain cleaners:

  • Oxidizing
  • Caustic

Oxidizing drain cleaners do a combination of things to remove clogs. Nitrates dissolve organic material in the clog while releasing intense gas and heat to help remove grease and dislodge the blockage.

Caustic drain cleaners use a slightly different approach with hydroxide ions and alkaline chemicals. As the ions and chemicals “join forces,” they create an immense amount of heat and transform the blockage into a soapy, sudsy substance.


Unlike the spray that de-greases your stove or the liquid cleaner that cleans your toilet bowl, chemical drain cleaners perform potentially dangerous chemical reactions. Think about it: any substance that can melt organic material or create a lot of heat extremely fast is not something you want to splash on your face or body. However, accidents with drain cleaners occur every year.

According to a retrospective review:

  • Chemical drain cleaners cause an estimated 3,000 injuries in the United States annually.
  • One-third of those injured involved cutaneous burns (damage to the skin caused by heat).

Dangerous Ingredients in Chemical Drain Cleaners

Two ingredients, in particular, make many chemical drain cleaners risky to use: concentrated sulfuric acid and sodium hydroxide.

  • Sulfuric acid is a corrosive liquid, and it will “char wood and most other organic matter on contact,” according to PubChem. This substance can get extremely hot when it touches water, and if that mixture touches your skin or eyes, you can end up with a severe injury.
  • Sodium hydroxide is another highly corrosive substance. It’s a solid at room temperature, and when it’s dissolved in water, it releases a lot of heat. Exposure to sodium hydroxide can cause eye, skin, and mucous membrane irritation and lead to more severe problems like hair loss and skin and eye burns.


Along with posing a risk to your safety, chemical drain cleaners can also damage your home’s plumbing with repeated use. The caustic substances in drain cleaners can ruin pipe material gradually. This damage can happen faster if the drain cleaner fails to remove a clog.

If the drain cleaner doesn’t get rid of the blockage, you then have two problems. You still have the clog, and now you have extremely hot, corrosive liquid sitting on top of it in your pipe. The intense heat and the caustic chemicals can weaken the pipe material and make it more susceptible to leaks.


Professional drain cleaning methods are not only safer and better for your plumbing than chemical drain cleaners: they’re also more effective at removing stubborn clogs, especially the ones deep down in the drains.

  • For the occasional clog, a plumber can clear the drain with a drain snake. This method is called “snaking” or “cabling.”
  • If your home is experiencing a lot of clogs and buildup in the drains and sewer line, hydrojetting is generally a better long-term solution. Using a commercial-strength machine, your plumber will guide a hose with high-powered water jets through your drains to blast away blockages and debris.

Knoxville Drain Cleaning

For unrivaled drain cleaning and customer service, you can always count on the professionals at The Plumbing Authority. Schedule your appointment by calling us at (865) 238-2280 or contacting us online!

Related Posts
  • Tree Roots & Plumbing Read More
  • Tree Roots & Plumbing Read More
  • Help! My Sewer Line is Clogged Read More