Unfortunately, drainage pipes are prone to becoming clogged, and there are tons of ways in which this can happen. Whether it be kitchen sinks falling victim to chunks of food or wads of grease falling down, or bathroom sinks getting backed up with hair and harsh chemicals. Pipes in any home are bound to end up clogged one way or another.
Furthermore, with one of the most common types of pipes in modern homes being PVC pipes, and one of the most common methods for unclogging them being drain cleaners. It’s vital to understand how each of these operate, and some of the items you have at your disposal when these sort of situations arise.
What is a Drain Cleaner?
A drain cleaner is a chemical product that is used to unblock sewer pipes or unclog wastewater drains. They are proven to dissolve hair, sludge, and other debris on immediate contact, and are generally odorless, so as not to leave behind any pungent odors circulating through your home. They also typically include high-density formulas that consist of non-flammable and biodegradable ingredients so that they don’t permanently damage your home’s pipes as well.
What are PVC Pipes?
PVC pipes, also known as Polyvinyl Chloride pipes, are the most common pipes used for plumping today. Made from a combination of plastic and vinyl, these pipes are extremely durable, long-lasting, and able to withstand extreme water pressure without cracking or tearing. On top of this they do not rust, rot, or wear over time, which is why they are the most commonly used pipe for water systems, underground wiring, and sewer lines.
Plus, even though they are one of the more durable forms of plumbing pipes, they are actually a lot easier to fix compared to copper sewers, which has also contributed to their popularity.
Do You Need a Specific Drain Cleaner for PVC Pipes?
Even though PVC pipes are one of the most durable pipes for plumbing, since they are made from plastic and vinyl, they cannot hold up to harsh chemicals. Especially compared to heavy-duty cast iron pipes that are made from metal. Which is why it is so important that you carefully choose a specialized cleaner that can get the job done, without damaging the plastic. The most common chemicals used in drain cleaners for PVC pipes include caustic, oxidizing, and acidic, each with varying levels of efficiency.
What Ingredients in Drain Cleaners Will Damage PVC Pipes?
Throughout history, PVC pipes have proven to be exceptionally strong and durable. However, there are certain ingredients in modern drain cleaners that even PVC pipes cannot withstand. It is first worth mentioning that PVC pipes have a low capacity of handling hot water temperature, and that when certain chemicals react with water, they can produce hydrogen. Which can then heat up to an extremely high temperature and clear the clog, while also damaging your PVC pipes.
Some of these chemicals include aluminum, and lye (sodium hydroxide). In fact, regardless of the type of pipes, chemical drain cleaners of all kinds can cause damage by creating heat, which can then warp or melt the pipe, leading to leaks. Outside of these, other chemicals that can damage your PVC pipes include; sodium nitrate, bleach, and even salt.
How to Use a Drain Cleaner
Now that you have a general idea as to what drain cleaners are, and how they work, next is understanding how to use them. First, you will need to select the right drain cleaner, and pour it down the drain. Keep in mind that some drain cleaners are specifically designed for one type of drain, but not for all.
For example, some are only effective and safe to use in sinks, tubs, and showers, but not in toilets, urinals, or garbage disposals. While others can be used on all types of drains. So, the first step is choosing the right drain cleaner. Once you’ve decided on the type of cleaner you need, simply pour it down the drain. Just make sure to remove the drain stopper beforehand so that you don’t damage it or cause it to corrode.
Next, let the drain cleaner work its magic, as the chemicals should work to break up the debris in about 10-15 minutes. After you’ve let the chemicals settle, flush it down with warm water, and then repeat the process until it starts to drain properly again. Sometimes if there is a major blockage, it can take a few applications to really break through, and restore your pipes. But if you repeat this process a few times, you should be able to cut through any blockage in your pipes.
5 Best Drain Cleaners for PVC Pipes
If you’ve got PVC pipes, the absolute best solution you can use is the Drano Max Gel Clog Remover. This extremely powerful formula collides and clings longer than other drain cleaners to help clean up even the nastiest of clogs. Working effectively to drive out the sludgy or pasty waste, making way for a smooth flow. While also quickly restoring the drain by passing through standing water and removing everything in its path. Moreover, this thick, gel-based clog remover is suitable for most almost all types of pipes and is has an ingredient that ensure your pipes won’t corrode.
Plus, it is even capable of removing tough wastes like hair and other gunk build up from soaps and shampoos. Furthermore, leaving it overnight won’t cause any serious damage to your pipes, PVC or otherwise. However, you don’t have to leave it overnight because most of the time it works in 15-30 minutes, Drano Max Gel Clog Remover will eat through pipe debris, making it the absolute best formula for unclogging PVC pipes. If Drano doesn’t work, most drain cleaners probably won’t either, so check out our 5 Easy Fixes When Drano Doesn’t Work article here.
Another fantastic option is the Bio-Clean Drain and Septic Cleaner. This extremely effective drain cleaner features a special combination of natural microbes and enzymes that are designed to digest dead organic waste found in plumbing systems. Furthermore, it is a multipurpose solution that can safely be applied to clogged kitchen sinks, showers, bath tubs, garbage disposals, septic tanks, cat litter pans, motorhomes and much more.
Plus, this unique formula is environmentally safe for humans, plants, and animals, as it’s made entirely out of all-natural ingredients that are biodegradable and salmonella-free. All of which are non-hazardous, non-flammable, non-caustic, and non-polluting, making it one of the most eco-friendly drain cleaners on the market. Helping to remove organic waste from any sort of piping system, including PVC pipes.
The Professor Amos Superfast Drain Cleaner is also an extraordinarily powerful drain cleaner that is both affordable, and safe to use on all types of plumbing systems. Using this fast-acting formula, you can easily dissolve and break through any hair, soap, oil, grease, or animal fat clogging up your drains. With their proprietary Accelerator formula, homeowners can break through even the worst grime and slime messes, helping to clear up the pipes instantly to keep water flowing, and drains fresh and clean.
More specifically, the Professor’s unique saponification reaction liquifies the hardened grease and scum that hair and food naturally attach to, while simultaneously working to dissolve the clog. Furthermore, it is safe to use on metal, plastic or PVC pipes, as well as public sewage systems, septic tanks, and cesspools. Making it one of the safest, and most effective formulas for all types of plumbing pipes.
4. Liquid-Plumr Hair Clog Eliminator
Next up we have the Liquid-Plumr Hair Clog Eliminator. This powerful drain cleaner is specifically formulated to eat through, and destroy hair clogs, which is the most common reason for clogs in your drain. With this extremely effective solution carrying 70% more actives to clear fully-blocked and slow-running drains the first time. Not only that but it is entirely safe to use on all septic systems and pipes, including PVC, plastic, metal and older pipes.
That being said, it should not be used in toilets or garbage disposals. This unique hair-eliminating gel is widely used by professionals across North America, and stands as the most reliable solution for unclogging drains that are blocked with hair. Plus, if for whatever reason it is unable to destroy even the toughest hair clogs, you are guaranteed a full refund.
Last but certainly not least there’s the Green Gobbler Liquid Hair & Grease Clog Remover. First and foremost, this drain opener is safe to use in pipes, toilets, sinks, tubs, and showers, and is non-corrosive to all types of pipes and does not contain bleach or sodium hydroxide. In fact, the Green Gobbler Dissolver strictly uses powerful biodegradable surfactants that are environmentally friendly, and odorless.
Moreover, this highly-effective formula clears up clogged drains rapidly, and can dissolve hair, toilet paper, flushable personal care wipes, soap scum, and other organic matter in no time. The unique dual-chamber bottle comes with 2 pre-measured applications that are easy to use, and can eat through any clog in under 2 hours. Plus, it remains one of the top-rated formulas used by professional plumbers, and you’re even guaranteed a 30-day hassle-free money-back guarantee if for whatever reason you are unhappy with your purchase.
What are Some Alternative Options to Cleaning Your Pipes?
“Snaking the Line” Method
One popular alternative for cleaning out your pipes is to use the classic ‘Snaking the Line’ method. All you need to do is go to your nearest hardware store and purchase a heavy-duty drain snake, or you can also use a disposable snake that comes with drain pipe cleaners. If you opt to go with one of the heavy-duty snakes from the hardware store, it will likely have a crank that you will need to rotate in order to feel the snake down the drain.
Alternatively, there are also gas and electric powered commercial grade drain snakes that can be rented from major retail outlets. In order to use this method effectively, you will first need to clear out any gunk or debris in and around the stopper, and then insert the snake down the pipe. Next, you will need to turn the snake as it continues down the drain so that it scrapes the side of the drainage pipe along the way. You will need to continue to rotate it until you break through the clog, or the snake won’t go any further.
As you continue to rotate the snake, you should be able to collect all the hair that is clogging your drain. Once you feel resistance, you will have reached the clog, and can then slowly remove the snake from your drain. If you are using a residential grade drain snake, then you will need to rotate the snake’s handle the opposite way to retract it.
Once you have removed any debris that was in the way, you will then have to run hot water from your faucet in order to make sure that you’ve truly cleared out anything that was in the way. If you find that your drain is still clogged, repeat the process until you’ve cleared out all the debris that’s in the way.
Clean the P-Trap
Alternatively, you can also choose to ‘Clean the P-Trap’. The P-Trap is the curved section of your pipes that you would typically see underneath your bathroom or kitchen sink, shaped like the letter ‘P’ (hence the name). When you come across clogged or slow draining sinks, this can oftentimes be a result of the P-trap getting bogged down with soap scum, hair, grease, and other debris that has accidentally fallen down the drain. With the P-Trap being the most common place to find a clog in your drains. If you then want to clean out your P-Trap, you will need to start by clearing out the area under your sink, and placing a bucket (or large dishpan) directly underneath the pipes.
Once you’ve cleared out the space, and placed a bucket underneath the P-Trap, you can then start removing the coupling nuts attached to the drain pipe. You will need to loosen the nuts on each side of the trap in order to accomplish this, which can thankfully be done by hand. Unless your plumbing system is older, in which case you may need a pair of channel lock pliers or a wrench to loosen them. At which point you should likely start to see water draining out and into your bucket.
Next, you will plug the pipe coming from the wall by stuffing a cloth or rag into the pipe, which will help to block any sewer gas from coming up your sewage pipes and into your home. Now you can start to clean out the inside of the P-Trap. Start by gently cleaning out the piece that is attached to your sink, and remove any dirt or grime you find present. You can even take it to another sink in your home to rinse it out if need be. Just be sure to clean out all the dirt, grime, soap scum, or hair trapped inside to prevent the clog from reoccurring.
After you’ve cleaned out the P-Trap, all you need to do is put it all back together, and run some water for a few minutes to check for any leaks. If everything runs smoothly, and there is no leakage, you can safely remove the bucket and your job is finished!
What Should I Do if My Pipes Won’t Unclog?
If after you have tried these methods, and still notice that your bathroom or kitchen sink is leaking or clogged, then you will need to call in some professional help (a plumber). The honest truth is that most clogs are only going to worsen with time if they are left alone. Which is why you will need to call a plumber IMMEDIATELY if none of the over-the-counter drain cleaners, plungers, or drain snakes are working. Especially since trying to repair the clog yourself could end up permanently damaging the porcelain or piping systems. Not to mention the surrounding drywall, paint, subfloor or floor covering.
Are Drain Cleaners Toxic to Humans?
While chemical drain cleaners are one of the most popular methods for dealing with drain problems. Many of these strong substances contain aggressive and toxic chemicals such as lye, bleach, sulfuric acid or hydrochloric acid. While all of these are tremendously effective in dissolving blockages such as hair or food, they can also be extremely unhealthy for humans.
Which is why it is highly recommended to use them along with personal protective equipment such as masks, goggles, and gloves in order to prevent inhalation and accidental spillage on clothes or skin. Which could then result in serious injuries. Not to mention the negative implications these can have on the environment, putting nearby plants and wildlife in severe danger.
Are Drain Cleaners Toxic to Pets?
As previously mentioned, not only are drain cleaners toxic to humans, but they can be toxic to pets and the environment as well. Even though the chemicals found in these cleaners go through treatment processes, they can still eventually seep into surrounding landfills, and public sewage systems. When it comes to household pets, even the tiniest bit of these chemicals that gets spilled onto the floor, and licked up by these animals can end up with some pretty severe consequences. So, for both your and your pets’ sake, be extra careful when handling these sorts of products.
There is no question that a lot of thought needs to go into unclogging a PVC pipe in your home. Even though they are extremely durable, they are not indestructible and certain chemicals typically found in modern drain cleaners can seriously damage or corrode your pipes. However, so long as you keep this handy guide by your side, you should have no problem removing even the toughest clogs in your home. Without completely destroying your PVC pipes in the process.
Jamie is the Founder of My Home Dwelling. He is a homeowner and enjoys sharing his homeowner tips with others. He has real estate experience working as a new home construction Realtor. Jamie has worked on numerous residential construction sites helping with interior and exterior renovations. He loves refinishing furniture, DIY home projects, and sharing his knowledge online.