Chemical Drain Cleaners

Chemical Drain Cleaners also known as chemical drain openers are pure or a mixture of chemicals that help in clearing up clogs in drains caused by hair, fat, and grease deposits, or other organic matters. Chemical drain cleaning products have evolved over the years with the development of plumbing fittings. With the replacement of galvanized iron pipes with PVC piping, Chemical Drain Cleaners have adapted to a non-corrosive and PVC-friendly composition. 

Chemical Drain Cleaners can contain acidic materials, mostly in liquid form whereas some contain alkaline components in either solid, liquid, or gel form. These corrosive chemicals can dissolve and disintegrate various organic and non-organic matter lodged in the drain pipes causing severe clogs. While these chemical drain cleaners are pretty strong, they aren’t difficult to use if proper instructions are followed.

Because of the corrosive nature of these chemicals and the hazards they present, many homeowners tend to leave the application of these to experienced plumbers. While regular people, too, can buy and use some of these chemical products, it’s not advised to do so because there could be severe repercussions if proper safety measures are not taken while handling these chemical drain cleaners. However, these chemical drain cleaners are effective and mostly used for unclogging sink drains, bathtub drains, as well as shower drains.

Types of Chemical Drain Cleaners

Acidic Drain Cleaners

Chemical Drain Cleaners

Acidic Drain Cleaners are one of the strongest drain cleaning products out there. These highly corrosive chemicals are mostly sold in liquid form and consist of highly concentrated sulfuric acid that’s capable of dissolving hair, fat, grease, and other gunk by breaking them down on a molecular level through a chemical reaction process called acid hydrolysis. 

Acid hydrolysis is a reactive process that breaks down the protein bond between molecules of organic matter like fat, grease, hair, and food waste causing them to disintegrate at a molecular level and can sometimes produce fumes which can be toxic to humans. 

Outlined below is the chemical reaction that goes on while these acidic drain cleaners react with organic matter that’s stuck in your drain pipes. 

RCONH2(amide or proteins) + H3O+ → NH4+ + RCOOH

RCO2R'(ester or fats) + H2O → RCO2H + R’OH

Acidic drain cleaners contain huge amounts of concentrated acid, typically sulphuric acid, that is strong enough to dehydrate organic materials containing hydrocarbons, creating explosive hydrogen gas vapor as a byproduct when mixed with water. 

(C6H10O5)n → 6n C + 5n H2O

The corrosive nature of these chemical drain cleaners is a reason they are very tricky to handle. The fumes produced after pouring acidic drain cleaners on clogged drains are highly toxic for us and can cause immediate or delayed health hazards like severe eye burns, flesh burns, skin burns, visual loss, inflammation of the respiratory tract, and burns in internal organs if inhaled, ingested or made contact with.


Acidic chemical drain cleaners should be used with great precaution if being handled by a non-professional. Injuries and accidents can be avoided if you wear safety equipment including gloves, respirator, and goggles. Since these acidic chemicals produce toxic fumes, it’s always a good idea to pour the solution slowly into the drain instead of a huge volume at once. This helps in the proper dilution of the chemical while also preventing volatile chemical reactions that could have adverse effects. 

Alkaline Drain Cleaners

Alkaline drain cleaners are strong chemicals available in solution or powdered form that clear up clogs in drains by generating heat to dissolve grease, oil, and other debris in drain pipes. The main constituent of alkaline drain cleaners is Sodium Hydroxide, also known as Lye. The chemicals in Alkaline Drain Cleaners generate hydrogen gas when they come in contact with water and start an exothermic reaction that generates a lot of heat.  

The chemical reaction of the breakdown of organic material by Alkaline Drain Cleaners is shown below. While this may not make sense for the everyday user, it’s always a good idea to know what goes on behind clogged drains when you pour these caustic drain cleaners into your pipes.

  1. Breakdown of aluminium oxide: Al2O3 + 2NaOH + 3H2O → 2Na[Al(OH)
  2. Oxidation of aluminium metal: 2Al + 2NaOH + 6H2O → 2Na[Al(OH) + 3H2

The strong base present in alkaline drain cleaners is heavier than water which allows it to travel down your drain through pooling water and reach the clog, upon which it reacts with the organic matter causing the clog and breaking them down through a reaction of base and triglycerides. 

One notable feature of alkaline drain cleaners is their effective saponification of fats. In this process, the bases present in alkaline drain cleaners react with grease, oil, and food debris in the drain pipes to form glycerol and soap which is then easily washed down with water, clearing the clogged drain. 

These strong chemicals react with pretty much everything and start a process called alkaline hydrolysis and can also be corrosive to your plumbing if your house has old metal pipes instead of PVC. 


Liquid-based Alkaline Drain Cleaners are composed of bleach (sodium hypochlorite) and lye (sodium hydroxide) with up to 50 % concentration. It is very important to follow proper instructions and safety precautions while using these chemical drain cleaners to avoid damage or injuries to your body and your plumbing. Alkaline Drain Cleaners should not be used with old metal plumbing as it can trigger a chain reaction that erodes the pipes. 

Effective Cases for using Chemical Drain Cleaner

Chemical Drain Cleaners have a wide variety of uses while dealing with clogs and blockages in drain pipes and plumbing and they are widely available for home and professional use. The usage of these chemical drain cleaners is effective when other methods of unclogging a drain like the use of home ingredients, or DIY methods fail to do the job. However, there are some limitations with the use of chemical drain cleaners that make them unsuitable for all kinds of clogs and blockages. Some of the effective use cases of Chemical Drain Cleaners are listed below. 

  1. Clogged Sinks and Drains: Chemical drain cleaners are highly effective in clearing clogged sinks and drains especially when they are clogged due to deposits of soap scum, bathroom gunk, and kitchen waste. Since chemical drain cleaners (especially alkaline cleaners) are heavier than water, they can reach the clog through pooling water and disintegrate the clog, restoring the flow of water in the drain pipes.
  2. Slow-Draining Water: Slow-Draining Water in drain pipes is a sign of a partial or imminent clog. Clogs take time to build up and it’s necessary to address the issues as soon as you notice them first. Using chemical drain cleaners in drains that have a slow draining speed is effective as they travel down the drains and restore the flow of water by clearing up any debris that may be present.
  3. Soft Obstructions: Chemical Drain Cleaners work well against soft obstructions that may be lodged in your drain pipes causing a clog. Acidic Drain Cleaners, especially, are good at disintegrating and dissolving organic and inorganic matter that may be present in your pipes. However, these chemical cleaners aren’t very effective against hard obstructions like tree roots and heavy metal deposits.
  4. Pipes Made of Metal: Most chemical drain cleaners are suitable for work on metal pipes or PVC pipes. However, if the pipes are old and rusting, oxidation may occur when chemical drain cleaners are poured in, leading to corrosion of the said pipes. You should make sure of the plumbing system and its condition before using any chemical drain cleaners by yourself to treat clogs.
  5. Immediate Relief: Different Chemical Drain Cleaners are available over the counter in your local plumbing and hardware stores. Some chemical drain cleaners are easy and safe to use if proper instruction is followed and provide immediate relief from clogs in sink drains, bathtub drains, and toilet clogs. However, these cleaners do not help you with repeated clogging as it signals a more serious underlying problem that you need to get checked. 

Safety/Precautions for using Chemical Drain Cleaner

Chemical Drain Cleaners are corrosive solutions and require following proper safety instructions and usage of safety equipment while handling. While alkaline-based drain cleaners that come in powder form might not be hazardous when they come in contact with skin, they turn into a completely different thing when mixed with water. 

Acidic drain cleaners and lye-based drain cleaners produce toxic fumes of hydrogen gas that can cause irritation and damage to human skin, eyes, and other organs. Using a chemical drain cleaner requires cautiousness and first have to be aware of the factors that come into play. 

Here are safety measures to consider before handling chemical drain cleaners: 

  1. Reading and following the instructions written on the pack/bottle of chemical drain cleaners to the point is important. 
  2. Wearing safety goggles, respirators/masks, gloves, and boots is important. It’s also advised to use Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) if you have one. If not, wearing full clothes that cover your entire body is advised. 
  3. Do not let children and pets near the area of the clog and where the chemical drain cleaners are stored as they can be very toxic to infants and animals around us. 
  4. Make sure to pour the chemical drain cleaner slowly at intervals of 2-3 minutes per pour as dumping the whole solution at once into a pool of water can trigger a volatile reaction and release a lot of harmful fumes. 

Need of Professional Drain Cleaning Services  

Chemical Drain Cleaners help you clear up clogs in sink drains, kitchen, and bathroom and also clogs with toilets and bathtubs. However, not every clog can be fixed with chemical drain cleaners and sometimes you need to seek professional help.

At Roto-Rooter Plumbing & Water Cleanup, we provide comprehensive drain cleaning services and sink drain repair to businesses and households across various parts of California. We bring in years of experience and expertise in plumbing and cleaning services and are equipped with high-tech machinery and equipment for drain cleaning services and fixing your clogged drain.

Contact us if you are facing issues like clogs, water pooling, and slow draining in your kitchen, toilet, or bathroom drains. Get your pipes and drains inspected today to avoid any inconveniences in the future and save tons in plumbing charges.