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How a Drain Cleaner Works

Clogged drains are a common plumbing problem, and they happen mainly due to obstructions like grease, hair, and food particles. One way to fix this problem is by pouring a good amount of drain cleaner down them. The clogs usually go away after a few minutes…or even seconds. “How does it happen?” you ask. Answering this question requires enumerating and explaining the different types of drain cleaners. These are divided to two main classifications: chemical drain cleaners and green drain cleaners.

Chemical Drain Cleaners 1.1.37_blogphoto_drain
Chemical drain cleaners come in gel, powder, or liquid form and are concocted from chemicals so strong they can corrode the skin and eyes. They generally work by giving or taking electrons to the clog, generating some heat in the process. They come in three varieties:

  • Caustic drain cleaners
    They are composed of caustic potash and lye. Since they are bases, they give the clogging substance some electrons, and the hydroxide ions they have create the reaction which removes the clog from the drain pipe. Grease, for example, upon contact with a caustic drain cleaner, becomes a soap-like substance which can be dissolved more easily. These cleaners are often heavier than water, and this property allows them to reach the clog even if there is water in the sink or tub that just cannot go down the drain.

  • Oxidising drain cleaners
    These cleaners have substances like peroxides, nitrates, and household bleach, which cause organic clogs to lose electrons and oxidise. Like the above type of drain cleaner, this is heavier than water.

  • Acid drain cleaners
    Drain cleaners of this type are often only sold to plumbers, and for good reason. Most of them have high amounts of hydrochloric or sulphuric acid, which increase hydronium in a solution and take electrons away from the clog. This reaction releases the amount of heat necessary to melt the obstruction away.

The heat they generate might soften PVC pipes, but this can be prevented as long as you use them as directed. These can, however, damage old metal drain pipes, so make sure to check the materials your drain pipes are made of before using them to clear clogs.

Green Drain Cleaners
Green drain cleaners are composed of enzymes or bacteria that break down organic clogs (i.e. food waste and hair). Once poured down drains, they then spread out around the septic system, making them cleaner. As they are not composed of chemicals that can leak into the water and soil, they do not harm the environment in any way at all.

However, these cleaners have their downsides. They are not available in many home improvement shops and work slower compared to chemical cleaners. Also, due to their components, they have a shorter shelf life.

Drain cleaners can remove tub or sink clogs in many cases. But if your main sewer pipe is clogged, call a plumber right away. Only highly-skilled plumbers know how to correctly fix this issue.

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