Kaitlyn Schott

By: Kaitlyn Schott on September 1st, 2023

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Can I Use Drain Cleaner On My Pipes? Best and Worst Outcomes


You’re enjoying a peaceful morning, leisurely eating your favorite breakfast, and catching up on the news. You decided to have some “me time” to start the day off right. Feeling refreshed and ready to start your day, you start on the dishes. BAM! Your day screeches to a halt as your drain bubbles with soggy bits of breakfast and foamy water.

Your drain is clogged, and you’re frustrated your day took a turn for the worse. You may even be kicking yourself for taking the time to make breakfast because now you don’t have time to spare.

Can you use a drain cleaner to fix your problem immediately? Or should you call a plumber?

Person stressed out on the phone

As a plumbing company servicing drains all over the Los Angeles area, we get this question and situation a lot. In our 14 years of drain work, we’ve seen contradicting answers to this question on the internet. We wanted to help you make a well-informed decision by giving you all the outcomes of using a drain cleaner.

This article will teach you what drain cleaner can do for you when used correctly. It will outline how drain cleaners can affect your drains, yourself, and the environment when it goes wrong.

We promise you will leave with the knowledge of when to use the drain cleaner and when to call a plumber.


When Drain Cleaner Works - Removing Clogs


You may not know what’s clogging your drains. But you can make an educated guess. Did you have instant noodles sitting in your sink? Are they no longer there? Then they’re probably clogging your drain. That or you have naughty cats like mine.

If you have a clog made from organic materials, you can use a drain cleaner on it. Some drain cleaners work very well to dissolve or bind things like:

  • Fats

  • Food

  • Hair

  • Paper

Cleaners do this through a chemical reaction that attacks the clog. The drain cleaner must remain on the clog for a specified amount of time to work. After the allotted time, you wash the drain cleaner out with water. If your drain works, you’re all done! You can now carry about your day stress-free.


Note: Every drain cleaner is different, so make sure to check the bottle for the timeframe and instructions.


When Drain Cleaner Goes Wrong - Creating Clogs


You don’t want to use drain cleaners as maintenance. If you do, you can create a clog. You want to make sure that you only use the drain cleaner when you need to remove a clog. Our drain expert Mike says this:


“If you have a 30-foot line with a little bit of buildup throughout it and you put drain cleaner in it, you’ll get a snowball effect. This is when the drain cleaner starts pushing buildup down the drain. Next thing you know, you have a two-foot wall of sludge blocking up your pipe.”


So don’t use a drain cleaner if your drain is not clogged because you’ll make a nasty one.


When Drain Cleaner Goes Wrong - Property Damage


Unfortunately, drain cleaners can cause more damage than just a clogged drain. If you use drain cleaner and your clog isn’t fixed due to the below reasons call a plumber immediately.

  • A huge clog

  • Objects like jewelry

The product needs to be removed from your pipes ASAP, or it will cause damage to your pipes and your house.


Why is it bad to keep drain cleaner on the clog for just a little bit longer? You may think more time means the cleaner will work better. With drain cleaners, this is not the case. Leaving the product in your drains for longer puts your pipes in danger. The chemical reaction can do any of the following things:

  • Crystalize cast iron pipes - Drain cleaner will start to crystalize and become rock hard if it sits too long. If the pipe fully crystallizes, you’ll need to remove it. There’s no way to open it back up.

  • Damage pipes and your foundation - Drain cleaner is highly acidic, which means it can eat through copper, iron, and steel. It can even ruin your house’s foundation, costing you time and money to fix.

  • Melt PVC pipes - Drain cleaner can soften pipes and create a toxic gas. These warped pipes can cause leaks that lead to more property destruction.

If you’re not sure about the size of your clog or what is causing it, do not use drain cleaners. Your wallet will thank you.


When Drain Cleaner Goes Wrong - Injury


You have to be very careful when you’re using a drain cleaner. Make sure to follow all instructions on the bottle or you can severely injure yourself. Common injuries from drain cleaners include:

  • Ammonia burns to the respiratory system.

  • Chemical burns to the skin.

These injuries can occur because drain cleaner is acidic and is made to attack organic material. Always make sure to protect your skin and eyes when using drain cleaner and open a window to let any fumes out.

If you come into contact with a drain cleaner, rinse the area with water immediately for at least 15 minutes. Also, remove any clothing that came into contact with the drain cleaner. While you’re doing this, have someone call 911 for chemical burns. Taking these steps will reduce your chance of suffering from permanent injury.

Wear protective gear when using drain cleaners to reduce chances of injury

Gloved hand holding drain cleaner


When Drain Cleaner Goes Wrong - Environmental Damage


Since drain cleaner can hurt you, it can harm the environment as well. If any of the product leaks from your pipes, it can wreak havoc on the ecosystem. It could burn or kill:

  • Plants

  • Animals

  • Bugs

Drain cleaner can also contaminate:

  • Fungi

  • Soil

  • Water

So use the drain cleaner correctly and sparingly.


What Do I Do About My Clogged Drain?


Drain cleaners can work, but they can work too well. They’re a helpful tool when used to clear food, hair, and grease from drains. But they can also make matters worse by creating clogs or causing damage to your home, body, and surrounding environment.


You now know when to use the drain cleaner and when to call a plumber. If it’s time to call a plumber, consider Monkey Wrench Plumbing, Heating & Air if you live near the following areas:

  • Santa Monica

  • Los Angeles

  • Burbank

  • Monterey Park

  • Long Beach

  • Redondo Beach

  • Covina
  • La Canada
  • Pasadena

Is your sink or shower draining slowly? Schedule an appointment online via our Drain Booking Page. Have a clogged drain? Call us or book us on our Piping & Repiping Page.



Note: No matter whom you call for an appointment, make sure you tell your plumber you used drain cleaner and when you used it. This forewarning will help your technician know what protective gear to wear and how to move forward in solving your problem.