Is drain cleaner an acid or base? Drain cleaners are chemical substances operated to sewer pipes, clean sinks, drains, and plumbing fixtures. The kinds of cleaners on the market differ some are acids, and some are bases, each with its particular advantages and disadvantages. The pH level in every drain cleaner will regulate either the drain cleaner is an acid or a base.
A drain cleaner is a chemical product that dislodges sewer pipes or clogged wastewater drains. The term may also refer to a mechanical device for example a plumber’s snake, toilet plunger, drain auger, or similar device. At times, the term is applied to a plumber or other individual who does the drain cleaning and hygiene.
Chemical drain cleaners, handheld drain augers, plungers, air burst drain cleaners, and home remedy drain cleaners are usually applied to the issue of a clogged single drain, such as a sink, toilet, tub, or shower drain. An effective drain cleaner can eliminate soft obstructions (such as hair and grease) accumulating near the fixture’s drain inlet.
If more than one plumbing fixture is blocked then electric drain cleaners, battery-powered drain cleaners, sewer jetters, or some mechanical devices are generally needed to clear obstructions along the entire length of the drain piping system, that is, from fixture drain inlets via the main building drains and lateral piping outside the building to the collector sewer mains.
Solid formulations of harmful alkaline drain cleaners are made of a caustic substance (often sodium hydroxide or potassium hydroxide), aluminum substances, and additives. These additives also include wetting agents like alkyl aryl sulfonates, but the actual nature of these additives is not known for commercial drain cleaners, as they are regarded as the trade secrets which make each drain cleaner distinctive to its brand.
The aluminum particles which are included in the solid caustic drain cleaner is aluminum oxide which breaks down and re-oxidizes to release hydrogen gas. The components of this reaction are mentioned below. Because the release of hydrogen gas is overall an exothermic reaction the extra heat released aids to break down the greases, oils, etc. that form the clog.
Breakdown of aluminum oxide: Al2O3 + 2NaOH + 3H2O → 2Na[Al(OH)
Oxidation of aluminum metal: 2Al + 2NaOH + 6H2O → 2Na[Al(OH)
4] + 3H2
The actual breakdown of a clog takes place by reaction with the hydroxide ions (-OH) done by the cleaner. Clogs are composed of natural substances like hair, fats, oils, etc. and breakdown occurs through a saponification reaction of a base and triglycerol. The hydroxide ions from the dissolution of lye in water strike the carbonyl carbons of the fat, which rapidly kicks off the hydrophobic tails of the triglyceride (e.g. glyceryl trioleate) to isolate glycerol and a fatty acid salt.
Alkaline drain openers can dissolve fats and hair (containing proteins) inside pipes through alkaline hydrolysis of amide and ester functionalities respectively:
RCONH2 (amide or proteins)+ OH− → NH3 + RCOO−
RCO2R’ (ester or fats)+ OH− → R’OH + RCOO−
Because solid lye is hygroscopic it is difficult to place the solid particles of the cleaner directly in proximity to the clog. Otherwise, the lye itself will absorb water and actually create a mass on it’s own, worsening the clogging problem.
Liquid formulations of corrosive alkaline drain cleaners might contain lye (sodium hydroxide or potassium hydroxide) and sodium hypochlorite (bleach) in concentrations up to 60 percent. Other corrosive mixtures are present as two-part cleaners that are mixed as they are poured into the drain opening. Inside the drain, both the solutions react to release a gas, and surfactants confine the gas as dense foam. The intent of this foaming action is to coat the inside of the drain pipe to remove more of the substances that form the clog. Because liquid alkaline drain cleaners are essentially a base dissolved in water, this is even denser than water and can sink to the source of the clog.
Acidic drain cleaners generally contain sulfuric acid at high concentrations.
It can dissolve cellulose, proteins like hair, and fats through acid hydrolysis.
According to a manufacturer, potential hazards include violent reaction with water and the production of explosive hydrogen vapors on coming in contact with most metals, chronic (delayed) and acute (immediate) health hazards if ingested, inhaled, or contacted, including severe eye, flesh and skin burns or even permanent visual loss, inflammation of respiratory membranes, and caustic burns to all human tissue. It may even be life-taking if swallowed down. Due to the vigorous reaction between the acid and water, some acidic drain openers should be added steadily into the pipe to be cleaned.
Acidic drain openers (in quite high concentrations) hydrolyze proteins and fats through acid hydrolysis, similar to their alkaline versions mentioned above:
RCONH2(amide or proteins) + H3O+ → NH4+ + RCOOH
RCO2R’(ester or fats) + H2O + H2SO4 → RCO2H + R’OH
Concentrated sulfuric acid dehydrates substances having carbohydrates, like tissue paper which consists of cellulose,
(C6H10O5)n + H2SO4 → 6n C + 5n H2O
A drain cleaner which contains strong acids is considered an acid drain cleaner. In these drain cleaners, the active ingredient is usually acid. A base drain cleaner, on the other hand, will have active base ingredients like lye. Drain cleaners that are considered as a base may also have potassium hydroxide (KOH).
Before, drain cleaners were primarily made acidic. While acid drain cleaners can still be found on the market today base drain cleaners have become known as well. If you don’t want to be thinking, “is drain cleaner an acid, or a base then it is best to look the components of each one. Moreover, you will also know which one is the correct one to choose for the cleaning job ahead.
Advantages of chemical drain cleaners comprise ready availability of some formulations through retailer stores and potential ease of use for removing soft hair and grease clogs that gather close the drain openings.
Disadvantages of chemical drain cleaners have a lack of effectiveness for removing clogs far from the drain opening (such as, clogs that occur in toilets or in the main sewer drain), an inability to eliminate most solid obstructions, and the safety considerations mentioned below.
The danger arises from chemical drain cleaners’ potential to injure eyes, lungs, and skin, and damage to clothing and household materials like wood, paint, aluminum, and fiberglass. Chemical drain cleaners should be used according to the manufacturer’s guide as other use may cause injury. Strongly corrosive and acid drain cleaners are among the most dangerous household products available to the public. Chemical drain cleaners can lead to strong reactions sometimes explosively, with other chemicals that may have been used in past, which can result in serious injury to anyone in the surroundings. In one such incident, a five-year-old boy was left scarred for life after an acidic drain cleaner leaked through his bedroom ceiling as he was asleep.
Strong alkali drain cleaners are equally able of causing fast, severe burns, as seen in the cases of a woman doused with concentrated lye in a strike. A small girl was also permanently, disfigured by a common lye drain opener. However, because the acidic or basic drain cleaners themselves are washed down the drain line this contributes to pollution in the water supply. The heat generation can rather soften plastic PVC pipes, and the pressure buildup by gas generation can cause older pipes to burst. Commercial chemical-based solutions can lead to corrosion and other damage to your pipes and sewer lines.
Sometimes, individuals may unknowingly mix two various types of drain cleaners, which can even lead to deadly results. For instance, consider the mixing of an acidic and basic drain cleaner:
Sulfuric acid + sodium hydroxide → sodium sulfate (a salt) + water
H2SO4 + 2 NaOH → Na2SO4 + 2H2O
The neutralization reaction of the acid and base may seem non-toxic, but in reality, this reaction is solely exothermic and can cause pipes to violently burst. Consider another example of mixing, this time between an acid drain cleaner and bleach:
Hydrochloric acid + bleach → water + table salt + chlorine gas
2HCl + NaClO → H2O + NaCl + Cl2
This reaction makes chlorine gas, which is hazardous to the lungs.
Handheld drain augers
Handheld drain augers are specifically designed to clean portions of a drain within 7 metres (25 ft) of the drain opening. The cable of a handheld drain auger is molded into a drain by the mechanical force created when the operator rotates a drum that harbour the cable.
Many handheld augers have cables that are tiny and thin enough to pass via common sink traps, while some manufacturers do not commend utilizing handheld drain augers in toilets because of their potential to scratch ceramic surfaces. Instead, a special closet auger (from “water closet”) should be used.
Similar to handheld augers, drain rods can be used as well for clearing blockages in long, straight pipes.
Advantages of handheld drain augers contain low relative cost and ready availability through hardware stores. While, drawbacks contain a reach that is normally limited to 7 metres (25 ft), and the potential for the twisting cable to scratch the ceramic surfaces of plumbing fixtures. They are also only effective on small-diameter pipes – 40–50 millimeter rather than main sewer pipes of 110 mm.
Safety considerations include a requirement to wear protective gloves and eye protection, and to practice clean hygiene after coming into contact with drain fluids.
Air burst drain cleaners
Air burst drain cleaners use accelerated carbon dioxide gas, air, or other gases to rupture the clog membrane. Accelerated gas creates a force on standing water that can dislodge blockages that accumulate close to drain openings.
Advantages of air burst drain cleaners contain the potential to rapidly clear clogs and slow-running drains, in contrast to chemical cleaners that can take comparatively more time to work. Air burst cleaners can clear obstructions that are further away from drain openings than can a plunger, and in contrast to drain augers do not risk scratching the ceramic surfaces of sinks, bathtubs and toilets.
Disadvantages of air burst drain cleaners contain a limited cleaning range in pipes that do not contain standing water and, in general, ineffectiveness for unclogging blocked main sewer drains.
Safety considerations for air burst drain cleaners contain a requirement to wear eye protection and, when using an air burst cleaner that takes compressed gas cartridges, careful handling of unused cartridges.
Home remedy drain cleaners
Home remedy drain cleaners contain boiling water poured into drain openings to remove soap and hair clogs; or, baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) poured into a drain, followed by vinegar.
Frequently advised home remedies of mixtures of baking soda (a weak base) and vinegar (a weak acid) are not effective but not particularly harmful. The use of baking soda to saponify fats in the line, followed by vinegar to neutralize is fine, but typically ineffective. It takes the strength of lye to turn a vegetable or animal fat to soap. The use of stronger agents together, for example lye (sodium hydroxide) and hydrochloric acid or sulfuric acid is a bad strategy. The two agents do not complement each other but neutralize each other making the combination ineffective. The mixture will generate a lot of heat, which can destroy pipes. Acids (E.G vinegar) mixed with bleach will make harmful chlorine fumes.
Advantages of home remedy drain cleaners include ready availability and environmental safety, though they are limited in effectiveness compared to other drain cleaners.
Boiling water is not recommended. Boiling water (212 °F/100 °C) exceeds the Vicat hardness (thermal deformation temperature) of PVC drain line (65 °C (149 °F)). It can melt the wax ring on which the toilet is mounted.
Safety considerations for home remedy drain cleaners include the requirement to handle ingredients (for example, lye) with the appropriate care.
Hydro-mechanical drain cleaners
Hydro-mechanical drain cleans use high-pressure water to break up obstructions and flush these smaller particles down the drain.
Most municipal building codes mandate that drain plumbing increase in diameter as it moves closer to the municipal sewer system. I.E., most kitchen sinks evacuate water with a 1+1⁄2-inch drain pipe, which feeds into a larger 4-inch drain pipe on the main plumbing stack before heading to a septic tank or to the city sewage system. This means that, barring intrusion by tree roots or other debris into ■■■■■■ piping, the vast majority of household drain clogs occur in the smallest-diameter piping, usually in the pop-up or drain trap, where they can be reached easily by a hydro-mechanical device’s water hose.
Advantages of hydro-mechanical drain cleaners are their eco-friendliness (most use only tap water), their ability to dislodge and remove clogs like sand or cat litter that 'back-fill when using a conventional snake, and their friendliness to plumbing joints. Unlike air-burst cleaners, hydro-mechanical drain cleaners do not pressurize plumbing joints. On some models of hydro-mechanical drain cleaner both hot and cold water can be used, providing added cleaning power for fat, protein, or other easily melting drain clogs.
Disadvantages of hydro-mechanical drain cleaners included limited reach into drain plumbing, and the necessity of a water source to act as the motive agent.
Safety considerations for hydro-mechanical drain cleaners include the risk of injury from high-pressure water coming into contact with skin or delicate areas of the body (i.e., eyes, and face).
Electric drain cleaners
Electric drain cleaners, also called plumber’s snakes, use the mechanical force of an electric motor to twist a flexible cable or spring in a clockwise direction and drive it into a pipe. Electric drain cleaners are commonly available with cable lengths of up to 40 meters and can go as far as 80 meters.
Advantages of electric drain cleaners include the ability to clean long sections of sewer drain, the ability to remove solid objects such as tree roots and jewelry, and ready availability through hardware stores and tool rental counters. Machines using springs can easily negotiate multiple 90-degree bends while maintaining their effectiveness and without damaging the pipe.
Disadvantages of electric drain cleaners include high relative cost and weight, and the considerable physical effort that may be required to control the cable.
Safety considerations for electric drain cleaners include the requirement to wear work gloves and eye protection, to carefully control the cable during operation to avoid overstressing it, to use appropriate caution when working around rotating machinery, and to use properly grounded electrical outlets.
Sewer jetting is the process of shooting high powered streams of water through the drain, down into the sewer in order to blast away any debris blocking the passage of water. This is more effective than using a snake, blades, or even drain rods because, first the water is shot at such a high intensity that the force isn’t even comparable to manual labour, secondly the water is much more capable of bending around curved or angular pipes to reach all the tight spots.
A sewer jetter is composed of a controlled high-pressure water source such as a pressure washer or reciprocating displacement pump, a flexible high-pressure line (called a jetter hose which connects the high-pressure engine to the mini-reel) of up to hundreds of metres (several hundred feet) in length, the Mini-Reel (a hose reel which can be taken a distance from the engine) and a nozzle that uses hydraulic force to pull the line into sewer drains, clean the sides of pipes, and flush out residue. High-pressure sewer jetters can be mounted on trolleys, inside vans or on trailers. The power of a sewer jetter ranges from 1,000 psi (68 atm) to 5,000 psi (340 atm). Sewer jetter nozzles come in different sizes and applications; a bullet-type nozzle with a streamlined profile can clear a hole for the larger root cutting nozzle. Root-cutter nozzles are designed to cut roots with a spinning nozzle that shoots a jet stream horizontally inside the pipe. High pressure sewer jetters with root-cutting nozzles can clear a hole through the center of a root-infested sewer line and with its rear-facing jet streams cut the roots and clean the pipe walls, flushing the root debris through the sewer line. The sewer jetter has been labeled as a technological advancement of the plumber’s snake (also known as an electric eel) drain clearing method.
Portable sewer jetters and pressure washer sewer jetter attachments are primarily used by service personnel and homeowners to remove soft obstructions throughout the length of a building’s sewer drain and to prevent the recurrence of clogs by cleaning the sides of drain pipes and flushing out residue. Pressure washer sewer jetter attachments are generally lower in cost and weight than electric drain cleaners with an equivalent reach, and can present a lower risk of scratching plumbing fixtures.
Truck and trailer-mounted sewer jetters used by municipalities and larger service companyie’s benefit from the high hydraulic horsepower delivered by powerful displacement pumps and so can remove tree roots and other solid obstructions
Advantages of sewer jetters include the relative ease of penetrating long sewer lines and the ability to remove residue that accumulates along the sides of sewer pipes, thereby reducing the need for subsequent drain cleaning.
Disadvantages of pressure washer sewer jetter attachments and many portable jetters include an inability to extract tree roots and other hard obstructions. Disadvantages of truck- and trailer-mounted sewer jetters include high relative cost and weight, and the requirement for extensive training to comply with manufacturers’ safety guidelines.
Safety considerations for sewer jetters include a requirement to wear protective gloves and eye protection, to avoid contact with sewer drain fluids, and to ensure that the jetter nozzle operates only inside the sewer pipe. Furthermore, larger truck- and trailer-mounted units that operate with sufficient power to cut tree roots require extensive training and strict adherence to manufacturers’ safety guidelines to avoid serious injury.
Enzymatic drain cleaners
Enzymatic drain cleaners contain either bacteria or concentrated enzymes that degrade the organic residue that builds up on sewer pipes to help prevent slow-running drains. Most enzymatic drain cleaners are intended for general maintenance to maintain proper flow and are not intended to clear fully clogged drain pipes.
Advantages of enzymatic drain cleaners include relative safety for use in a wide range of plumbing fixtures, low environmental impact, low cost and ease of use.
Disadvantages of most enzymatic drain cleaners include longer cleaning times compared to most other drain cleaners. Because enzymatic cleaners rely on liquid flowing through the pipe to disperse, they are also generally not intended to open completely clogged drains.
Safety considerations for enzymatic drain cleaners include a requirement to avoid contact with eyes and prolonged contact with skin.
Most modern drain cleaner pH is high or basic (also known as alkaline). Drano is a basic drain cleaner. Basic drain cleaners are among the most alkaline substances available. Some score a 14 on the 14 point pH scale.
Some drain cleaners have strong acids as their active ingredients, while others have strong bases instead. Lye is a common strong base, with a chemical formula of NaOH (sodium hydroxide). Basic drain cleaners may also contain potassium hydroxide, KOH. Acidic drain cleaners commonly contain sulfuric acid, H2SO4.
Chemical drain cleaners are one way to unclog sinks. They’re bases, so they give electrons to the clogging substance, and their hydroxide ions create the reaction that clears the clog. Their alkaline, or basic, chemicals release heat and turn grease into a soap-like substance that’s more easily dissolved.
While whole eggs are relatively pH neutral, egg white is one of the few food products that is naturally alkaline, with an initial pH value that can be as low as 7.6 at time of lay, but with increasing alkalinity as the egg ages, and can reach pH of 9.2.
Vinegar is mildly acidic with a pH of 2–3. Apple cider vinegar is slightly more alkaline than pure vinegar because it contains more alkaline nutrients. However, it’s still acidic.
2.6 to 2.7
How acidic is Coke? Its pH is reported to be 2.6 to 2.7, mainly due to H3PO4, phosphoric acid.
Chemically speaking, coffee is acidic because it contains acidic properties such as chlorogenic acid, tannins, and polyphenols. The caffeine in coffee also stimulates the release of more stomach acid, causing stomach irritation to some people.
Hydrochloric acid, also known as muriatic acid, is the most common acid used by plumbers to unclog drains.
Oxidizing drain cleaners contain sodium hypochlorite which is a base and it has a pH of 11 in diluted form. In concentrated forms, its pH can go up to 13. Acidic drain cleaner contain concentrated sulfuric or hydrochloric acid. The pH of sulfuric acid is between 0 and 1, while that of hydrochloric acid is 0.
Blood is normally slightly basic, with a normal pH range of about 7.35 to 7.45. Usually the body maintains the pH of blood close to 7.40. A doctor evaluates a person’s acid-base balance by measuring the pH and levels of carbon dioxide (an acid) and bicarbonate (a base) in the blood.
As we discussed, drain cleaners can be either an acid or a base. Both of these types of cleaners are effective in removing stubborn clogs in pipes. However, if you choose to go with a chemical solution, you need to be careful during the cleaning process