It is probably fair to say that our drains are potentially more compromised than ever before right now, with more toilet paper alternatives being used and flushed down the toilet like baby wipes, paper towels, and an increase in disinfecting wipes being used to clean homes amid the Coronavirus pandemic.
If this continues, cities are likely to see an increase in clogged sewer systems caused by fatbergs - which are congealed masses found in formed by the combination of flushed non-biodegradable solid matter, such as wet wipes, and congealed grease or cooking fat.
So if you have a clogged drain at home, surely you can clear it? Or If everything else fails a chemical cleaner will fix the issue. Wrong. It is not as simple as this. In order to take care of our plumbing systems we need to prevent the clogging in the first place, and - just as importantly - we also need to consider avoiding chemical cleaners altogether. Here are just a few reasons why:
High Toxicity / Health Impact
Chemical drain cleaners are not only highly toxic but can pose a potentially high risk to our health. Chemical drain cleaners produce hazardous fumes that get released into the air. Fumes can linger for hours, creating irritation to your lungs, eyes, nose, throat and skin. Chemical cleaners will not only incite a reaction in humans, your pets are just as vulnerable. Toxins end up in landfills and water supplies, which is harmful to both humans and the environment.
The active ingredient in Drano and other conventional drain cleaners is sodium hydroxide, otherwise known as caustic soda or lye. It is a man-made chemical used for its corrosive properties. According to the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, the substance is not considered a pollutant as such, as it separates into relatively harmless component elements once released into water or moist soil. But sodium hydroxide is an irritant that can burn skin and aggravate nose, throat and respiratory airways, so contact with it is best avoided. If ingested outright it will likely induce vomiting, as well as cause chest or abdominal pain and make swallowing difficult - so always keep well away from the reach of children.
Damaging to your Pipes
Chemical drain cleaners are harmful to your pipes. The hydrochloric acid in the cleaning solution is so powerful that it can eat away at your plumbing. Over time and with frequent use of chemical drain cleaners, holes can form in your pipes. These harsh cleaners also gradually eat away at the enamel on your sinks and bathtubs, causing even more damage and at some point, the additional cost of replacement parts. Curing a minor clog can turn into a much more costly plumbing emergency.
Residue from harmful chemical cleaners ends up in landfills and our water-supply system, causing both harm to the environment, humans and wildlife. When toxins seep through the soil, they are resurrected through bodies of water -that same water that gets consumed by you and your family.
Septic System Damage
Septic tanks utilize natural bacteria to help breakdown water. Chemical cleaners that are poured down the drain kill off these natural organic bacteria, making your septic system less effective. After frequent use of damaging cleaning agents, at some point your entire septic system will need to be cleaned to counteract the damage.
To prevent your drain pipe from being closed off by clogs, give it a drink about every one or two weeks. Do this by heating up about a gallon of water until it boils. Pour the boiling water down your drain in small amounts in increments of a few minutes each time. This will effectively prevent debris such as hair and grease from building up inside the drain pipe and causing a clog.
Additionally, by being mindful of the following will help to reduce build-up in your drain and furthermore help to lower the prevalence of fatbergs in your local sewer systems:
For a more extensive list of things best left out of the drain check this out.
Natural Drain Cleaner Alternatives
Here are some great, effective natural drain cleaner solutions that you can make or use at home, without the need for chemicals.
The Good Old-Fashioned Plunger Method
Most people think of toilets when it comes to plunging, but it’s an effective process for clearing sink clogs, too. You can purchase a mini plunger for less than $5 at most hardware stores—the key is to make sure it’s cup-style. The trick is to submerge the plunger (the top of the bell should be covered with water) and make sure the rubber ring is inserted directly into the drain opening. Push and pull on the handle with quick, concentrated thrusts for 20 seconds without lifting the plunger out of the drain and breaking the seal.
Some say that plungers aren’t the most efficient method for unclogging your drains, and can actually be risky for you to use if you’ve used chemical drain cleaners in the past. They could potentially spray some material out of the drain and some of that could make contact with your skin. So while they might be better in terms of not damaging your pipes, we would recommend trying one of the other methods or making sure you use your utmost common sense and are adequately suited and masked up for protection just in case.
If the toilet plunger won't open the drain, reach for a toilet snake. A drain snake can be up to 25 feet in length, which is easily long enough for your sink. If you have a drain snake available, you can quickly, naturally get rid of an annoying clog. It’s also pretty satisfying seeing all of the gunk pulled from the drain, even if it is slightly disgusting too. Here are the 3 basic steps to using one:
For a toilet clog: Pour a healthy amount of liquid soap into your toilet bowl, about half a cup. The soap is denser and heavier than water and should drop to the bottom of the bowl. Let the liquid dish soap sit in the bowl for 20-30 minutes. After 20 minutes fill up a container with hot water (not boiling, as it could crack the toilet bowl) and pour it into the bowl. This should help shift the clog. I tried this last week and it worked a dream!
Vinegar and Baking Soda Combination
Mix 1/2 cup baking soda with 1/4 cup table salt and pour down the drain giving you trouble. Follow by pouring 1 cup of heated vinegar down the drain (it will foam and bubble). Cover the drain with a plug or duct tape to prevent the mixture from escaping. Let it sit for 15 minutes.
Washing soda (different to baking kind and has a higher ph). If you find that water is not flowing through the drain pipe at all, try using washing soda instead. A cup should be enough but you will have to wait a while to allow the soda to work through the clog. Follow it up with the vinegar and baking soda combination. But since washing soda is higher in pH than baking soda, you should not use it often as it will damage your PVC pipes. Remember that washing soda should never be combined with a commercial cleaner as this will create a dangerous reaction.
Salt, Borax and Vinegar Start with 1/4 cup of salt, 1/4 cup of Borax, and then a 1/2 cup of vinegar. Add a pot of boiling water and let it sit for at least an hour or until it clears.
Baking Soda and Salt Mix salt and baking soda together. About a 1/2 cup of each and pour down the drain. Let it sit for a minimum of a half hour or as long as overnight. Once it has a significant time, clear it with a pot of boiling water.
Wire Coat Hanger
If you are forced into a Macgyver-style situation, a wire coat hanger may be useful. The key is to straighten the hanger out but leave the hook. Make sure you have a grocery bag or something to discard your findings.
Use the hook end of the hanger to fish in the drain and pull up any food or hair buildup that is clogging the passageway in the pipe. After removing as much as you possibly can, run hot water down the sink.
So as you can see, there are some greener solutions to clogged drains that are safer to breathe than toxic chemicals. These methods won't eat away at your pipes, which will save you money and headaches down the road. Overall it is just a great way to help out the environment, and stay healthy!
For more complex, harder to shift clogs, you will likely need the help of a professional plumbing service.