How Do Drain Cleaners Work?

Before you read one more word, hear us loud and clear — besides all-natural BioOne, we typically steer our customers far, far away from tampering with any chemical drain cleaner. While they can work, they’re not 100% foolproof. More importantly, though, a plumbing novice can often use too much, which can actually have an adverse effect and corrode your plumbing.

Now that we got that out of the way, as a homeowner, we think it’s still important to understand how each type of drain cleaner works. That’s right! There are more than one — in fact, there are three main kinds of drain cleaners to be exact. Each “[works] by either taking or giving electrons to the clogging substance, generating heat in the process.” Thanks to How Stuff Works and a little bit of plumbing ingenuity, we’ve outlined the specific science behind each option below:

How does each type of drain cleaner work?

  • Caustic: These drain cleaners are basic solutions, meaning that they are low on the acidity scale with a higher pH level. They contain substances like lye and caustic potash, which give electrons to the clogging substance, creating a reaction with their hydroxide ions to clear the clog. In the exchange, heat is released, which turns grease into a soap-like substance that is more easily dissolved. Caustic drain cleaners are typically heavier than water, which enables them to reach the clog through standing water.

  • Oxidizing: These drain cleaners contain slightly more acidic substances, like household bleach, peroxides and nitrates. These kinds of chemicals cause the organic material that’s causing the clog to lose electrons and become oxidized, helping it break up and clear. This product is also heavier than water and will move through standing water like caustic drain cleaners.

  • Acid: Acid drain cleaners are sometimes sold only to plumbers and, therefore, can not even be found in stores. These cleaners typically contain high concentrations of sulfuric acid or hydrochloric acid, substances that increase hydronium ions in a solution and attract electrons from the clog. The hydronium ions react chemically with the material in the clog, and the reaction releases heat, which is necessary to melt congealed grease — strong stuff!

And there you have it! The magic behind those mystical products that say sayonara to clogged drains. All clogged drains, that is… right? WRONG! Sometimes, even with professional plumbing intervention, a clog just won’t budge using traditional plunging or drain cleaning methods. In that case, we turn to hydro jet technology — a tried and true, plumbing-safe method we’ve been using for more than 30 years!