We all know the feeling. You hear the drain gurgling, and seconds later, the tub, toilet, or kitchen sink is backing up with water. That's when you might have reached for a liquid drain cleaner.
The best drain cleaners can restore your drain openers in a matter of minutes. They eliminate unwanted hair and grease, restoring the opening to a like-new condition, making these powerful products a handy item around the house.
Of course, drain cleaning products aren't perfect. They can fail to remove clogs and damage your home's pipes in the process. Here's everything you need to know about liquid drain cleaners to make an informed decision the next time you have a clog. And we'll tell you about some alternatives, as well.
A Brief History of Drain Cleaner
The drain cleaner industry is almost as old as the modern draining system. Although there's virtually no documented history of the drain cleaner's evolution, the two sectors evolved in tandem. That's because most Americans couldn't afford drain cleaning products until the early 20th century and instead threw out the dirty water from their sink, shower, or bathroom basins.
The first drain cleaner hit the market after people discovered that zinc corrodes pipes due to water exposure. Most drainage systems used zinc to coat the galvanized iron pipes, which, left untreated, could cause rust and plaque to accumulate in the drain. Drain cleaners provided a safe way to treat this problem, whether the build-up happened in the sink, shower, or garbage disposal.
While few houses today have galvanized iron pipes, we continue to use the same chemicals as clog removers. These formulas exist in liquid, gel, and powder form. They cause chemical reactions that break down the drains' clogs. Some cleaners also generate heat to neutralize problematic soap scum or bacon grease.
Most chemical drain cleaners come in one of the following forms:
- Oxidizing drain cleaner: As the name suggests, oxidizing drain cleaners use oxidation to remove clogs. Products such as bleach and peroxide siphon electrons from the clog, forcing it to take on water. The more water a clog has, the easier it is to move it through standing water.
- Acidic drain cleaner: If you have a severe drain clog, an acid drain cleaner should be your last resort. It usually contains a high concentration of sulfuric acid, which causes a violent reaction when it touches metal. Exposure to sulfuric acid by a person can cause vision loss, inflammation, and chemical burns, so always use hand and eye protection if using this type of clog remover.
- Caustic drain cleaner: Many drain clog removers use an alkaline, such as sodium hydroxide or potassium hydroxide, to clear drain pipes. This caustic substance breaks down oil, grease, soap scum, and other natural clogs. This process, also known as saponification, mirrors a base dissolving in water.
The best drain cleaner will depend on your home.
- If you have PVC pipes, you should avoid any drain clog removers that generate heat. The chemical reaction can melt the PVC and cause extensive damage to your piping.
- However, if you have stainless steel pipes, you're free to use any drain opener.
Note that drain clog removers don't start and end with this list. There are other, less common solutions like battery-powered, hydro-mechanical, and enzymatic drain cleaners. You can also use DIY drain cleaners that utilize ingredients around the home to get rid of grease and hair clogs.
The Role of the Plumber in Drain Cleaning
The word "plumber" dates back to the Roman Empire. During the turn of the millennium, septic systems used lead drain pipes to transport water. In Latin, lead is "plumbum," and professionals that worked on the pipes were "plumbarius," which people later shortened to plumber.
Plumbers do far more than fix clogged drains. They can determine the optimal design for water supply and detect issues with existing systems. If the pipes sustain damage, plumbers are the go-to resource to install, repair, and maintain the fixtures.
In the United States, plumbers must pass a certification exam to practice plumbing. The licensing process ensures that workers have a specified level of skill and expertise. The examination tests plumbers on all aspects of the industry, including septic systems, chemical drain removers, and building regulations.
It's a good idea to contact a professional if you have severe drain clogs. They can provide safe and reliable solutions that are able to work when your drain snake or toilet plunger does not. Plumbers also have the proper protective equipment, so you don't need to expose yourself to caustic cleaners like sulfuric or hydrochloric acid.
Having plumbers over at your home can be expensive, though. According to HomeAdvisor.com, the average hourly cost for plumbing services ranges from $45 to $200. Considering that most grease and hair clogs take several hours to remove, you can expect to pay upward of $450 for one visit.
The Best Drain Cleaners in 2021
If you have a hair clog in your bathtub drain, there's no shortage of options to help remove it. Let's start with the granddaddy of them all: Drano. It's a premium drain cleaner from S.C. Johnson & Sons that has been around for nearly a century.
Drano comes in a crystal form that contains several chemicals, including lye, sodium nitrate, salt, and aluminum. When you put Drano in your pipes with boiling water, the aluminum reacts with the lye, causing hydrogen gas to build up. Simultaneously, the sodium nitrate reacts with the excess hydrogen gas to safely eliminate the grease or hair clog.
Drano makes other products, such as Drano Kit, a mechanical drain snake that breaks apart clogs. The company also makes Drano Foamer, Liquid Drano, and Drano Aerosol Plunger. The best drain cleaner for your needs will depend on the type of clog, the location, and the material used to construct your pipes.
Here are other prominent drain cleaners and the ideal times to use them:
Liquid Plumr Clog Destroy + Hair Clog Eliminator - Ideal for Hair Clogs
Liquid Plumr comes in a thick gel that can remove hair clogs from your shower drain, kitchen sink, and bathtub. The product is safe on all pipes and drains and works in as few as 15 minutes. All you have to do is pour it in the sink, shower, or garbage disposal, and then flush the liquid with boiling water a few hours later.
Bio Clean - Ideal for Enzymatic Drain Opening
Bio-Clean uses naturally-occurring enzymes to dissolve soap scum, hair, grease, and other unwanted matter. The enzymatic drain cleaner takes some time to work, so make sure to use it overnight. Since it uses organic bacteria, the product is safe for home use.
CLR Clear Pipes & Drains - Ideal for Removing Monthly Build-Up
The best way to avoid a problem with your garbage disposals, shower, or sink is to stay on top of routine maintenance. CLR Clear Pipes & Drains offers a safe and convenient solution to remove pesky build-up in your septic system. Use the liquid drain cleaner once a month to keep your home clog-free.
Xionlab Safer Drain Opener - Ideal for Hybrid Clog Removal
Xionlab Safer Drain Opener utilizes a combination of acidic and caustic chemicals, as well as an enzymatic cleaner, to get rid of tough clogs. The formula works best for grease and hair but struggles with food particles. The product can clear clogged drains in as few as two hours.
Thrift Odorless Drain Cleaner - Ideal for Crystal Clog Removal
All you need is hot water and Thrift Odorless Drain Cleaner to remove hair, fats, and grease from your drains. The formula works in one minute flat as the crystals dissolve the build-up in your clogged drains. This product works well on septic systems but underperforms on clogs in standing water.
Green Gobbler - Ideal for Eco-Friendly Applications
If you care about the environment, Green Gobbler should be on your shortlist for clog removers. The product liquefies hard-to-reach grease and hair that can block your drains and sinks. The environmentally safe clog remover doesn't contain harmful chemicals, making Green Gobbler one of the best options on the market for people with green thumbs.
The Drawbacks of Drain Cleaners
The climate crisis is forcing people to reconsider their relationship with the environment. There's an ongoing discussion about oxidizing, acidic, and caustic drain cleaners and their impact on the world around us. Many environmentalists argue that pouring sulfuric acid and chlorine hydroxide down the drain has detrimental effects on the water supply.
The chemicals don't stay contained in standing water, though. These potent compounds can end up in landfills and the local ecosystems, harming wildlife and humans in the process. If the toxins seep into the soil, they can impact trees, flowers, fauna, and subterranean animals.
Even the best drain cleaners have drawbacks beyond their environmental impact. For instance, Xionlab Safer Drain Opener is a liability if you have children or pets since the clog remover has potentially damaging side effects for small humans or animals that come in contact with the product.
Safety should be your priority when addressing grease and hair clogs. Make sure to read the precautions and follow the directions. Some best practices for using drain clog removers include:
- Wearing rubber gloves and eye protection
- Never mixing it with other cleaning products
- Using it in a well-ventilated area
- Never using it with a plunge
- Never applying a drain cleaner to a completely blocked drain
Improper usage can create noxious fumes and chemical burns. The active ingredients that dissolve clogs will do the same to your skin, hair, and eyes. If you accidentally splash some on yourself, seek immediate medical attention.
A clog remover can also damage your pipes, especially if you have an older home. The formula generates heat that can melt PVC and corrode antiquated materials. In that case, you might end up paying thousands of dollars to fix your pipes instead of removing a single clog from the shower drain or kitchen sink.
If your garbage disposals or bathroom sinks seem slow, you probably have a clog. It doesn't have to be that way, though. Taking a proactive role in routine pipe maintenance can make all the difference in clog prevention.
- First, use an enzyme treatment to address existing clogs or accumulation. These organic products aren't as powerful as their chemical counterparts, but they are safe and effective. They keep food, grease, and hair out of your drains. One of the top eco-friendly options is Green Gobbler, which liquefies paper, soap, and hair that linger in your drains and pipes. Best of all, Green Gobbler doesn't contain bleach or other harmful compounds.
- Second, avoid putting grease or fat in your garbage disposal. These items congeal as they cool and can create an impenetrable barrier in your drain. Always dispose of food participants in the trash can.
- Third, embrace hot water and baking soda. The combination can help prevent unwanted clogs and scum from sticking to your pipes. Hot water and baking soda can also disinfect your kitchen and bathroom sinks and serve as a deodorizer.
- Finally, add a drain screen or mesh strainer to your sink. These simple devices catch the small things that can cause big problems later. Don't forget to clean your filter frequently to eliminate unpleasant smells and optimize performance.
If all of these steps sound like a lot of effort, we understand. At The Shroom Company, we invented TubShroom to simplify the cleaning process. Our goal is to eliminate drain clogs once and for all, thanks to our innovative line of hair catchers and universal stopper covers.
Here are some of our most popular options:
We've reimagined how toilet plungers should work. Instead of poking and prodding at things, you can get rid of clogs in one simple step. The ToiletShroom even comes with a dredging tool that doubles as a squeegee, keeping your toilet bowl in pristine condition.
So, what makes this product the ultimate toilet cleaner? The innovative design works on most toilet models, and thanks to its low angle, can force out clogs with one push. It also comes with a one-year warranty, so you have peace of mind after your purchase.
Hair doesn't stand a chance against the TubShroom. This device fits inside your drains, collecting hair and soap before it becomes an issue. The product doesn't require harsh chemicals, so the clean-up process is a snap.
Using this hair catcher couldn't be easier. Just place the TubShroom in your drains and remove it after it collects debris. The handy tool comes in four fun colors, including organic green, marina blue, autumn orange, and clean white.
Our universal stopper cover will keep your drains cleaner than ever. The device lets you plug the drain, whether you use it in the sink, bathtub, or shower. It features a built-in suction cup so that there's no issue with it moving while in use.
StopShroom is compatible with SinkShroom and TubShroom Drain Protectors. All you need to do is connect the two objects. Check out our full stock of StopShroom that matches every bathroom decor.