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Blue PVC pipe laid in ground.

Drain cleaners promise a cheap and easy way to clear blockages from clogged or slow-moving drains. However, if you have PVC pipes in your Austin home, using these often low-cost products is probably a bad idea.

Although they’re easy to acquire and easy to use, store-bought drain cleaners can cause significant and potentially irreparable plumbing damage. What might seem like a quick fix today could be an expensive pipe replacement project tomorrow.


Many drain cleaners work by essentially eating or burning through the organic matter responsible for blockages. Whether this is soap scum, build-ups of hair, or human waste, these solutions quickly break blockages down to a smaller size so that they can move through the pipes unimpeded.

Unfortunately, the same corrosive action that clears blockages can harm pipes. Whether you’re trying to clear blockages in aging copper pipes or brand-new PVC pipes remains true. Nearly all chemical drain cleaners include sodium hydroxide. This active ingredient creates heat during a chemical reaction with the targeted materials. When exposure to the resulting heat lasts too long or when the heat generated by sodium hydroxide is too high, PVC pipes may also start to break down. They might warp, melt, or develop small holes and other areas of structural weakness. Excess heat can even melt the adhesive that holds PVC pipes together.


The risk of damaging your PVC pipes with a drain cleaner increases significantly when your chosen solution doesn’t work. The sodium hydroxide these products contain is intended to produce heat upon contact with most organic materials. This heat-generating process can last quite a long time when blockages are excessively tough, compacted, or large. If the intended outcome is never achieved, neither the chemicals themselves nor the resulting heat is allowed to move out of the location.

Once you’ve put a drain cleaner into a clogged drain, you cannot effectively flush this product out until you get the related blockage to move. Like all other blockage-clearing efforts that homeowners can make themselves, attempting to push only partially dissolved blockage through your plumbing system will force the problem deeper into the pipes. Conversely, letting the backup and the drain cleaning chemicals remain right where they are will invariably result in excess wear on the affected plumbing structures. This is essentially a lose-lose situation.

Using a drain cleaner on a clog that won’t budge can be dangerous for homeowners too. If you attempt to plunge a drain after adding a chemical drain cleaner, you risk sustaining skin burns, eye burns, and other injuries. The same chemicals that are corrosive enough to eat through pipes can cause serious harm to humans. Even breathing their fumes in for long periods can harm the respiratory system. The risk of sustaining physical injuries from drain cleaners rises when homeowners attempt to bail contaminated waters out of clogged fixtures by themselves.


There is a relatively small selection of drain cleaner types that may be safe to use in PVC pipes in certain instances. These are known as enzymatic drain cleaners. Rather than using corrosive, heat-generating chemicals to clear blockages, many enzymatic drain cleaners rely solely on the natural activities of enzymes and select strains of bacteria. When introduced into blocked drains, enzymes break down the molecules in the trapped organic matter until these are small enough for bacteria to eat.

As you might imagine, the process of an all-natural, enzymatic drain cleaner is relatively lengthy. Whereas chemical drain cleaners are advertised as able to clear most clogs within just a matter of minutes, an enzymatic drain cleaner can take days. For most clogs, many of these products are advertised as taking eight to 24 hours. Thus, they may be a simple enough solution if you can tolerate having your commode, shower, sink, or bathtub out of commission for quite a while.


Although enzymatic drain cleaners aren’t as detrimental to PVC pipes as caustic, corrosive drain cleaners are, they certainly aren’t without drawbacks. The first and most important of these is that not all enzymatic drain cleaners are truly chemical-free. For example, some enzymatic drain cleaners include sodium hydroxide as an active ingredient to maintain their competitive edge. Thus, despite being marketed as all-natural and safe for PVC pipes, these formulas can be just as harmful as their alternatives.

If you intend to use an enzymatic drain cleaner, read the fine print on these products. If they contain any amount of sodium hydroxide, keep looking. Although enzymatic drain cleaners with sodium hydroxide have far less of this pipe-damaging ingredient than chemical drain cleaners do, they can still wreak havoc on older PVC pipes and PVC pipes with already loose connections.


Enzymatic cleaning solutions, such as Total-C, do, in fact, work. Total-C is a drain maintaining product designed to instantly emulsify grease, oils, and fats without using harsh acids, alkaline, etc. With a fresh citrus scent and a professional licensed plumber to help you with the job, we can have your pipes clean and unclogged in no time. Not only does it smell good, but it also keeps your drain flowing longer, treats the entire plumbing system, is concentrated to do the job, is safe for the environment, and doesn’t contain any harsh or toxic chemicals. Total-C will keep your drains flowing as they should, which is why we highly recommend it to all our customers. However, remember that it can only be purchased from licensed plumbing professionals. So, when your drains are acting up and you need the assistance of a professional, contact our friendly team, and we’ll have your drain flowing better than ever!


One of the most significant benefits of not using drain cleaners of any type and for any kind of residential piping is the ability to keep blockages simple and accessible. However, both enzymatic and chemical drain cleaners can prove problematic when they don’t work because these products add more contamination to already stagnant water. Most stagnant water in blocked fixtures already contains fair amounts of biological contaminants and pathogens. Adding more to this mix enhances the chances of skin, eye, and respiratory injury, infection, or distress.

Moreover, partially clearing blockages with products that only partially break down accumulations of organic matter simply pushes clogs further along in the plumbing system. In most homes, it’s also rarely possible to know that a clogged drain results from built-up organic waste. In households with small children, bathtub, shower, and toilet clogs can result from trapped toys, toothbrushes, hair accessories, razors or razor caps, and more. Drain cleaners of any type won’t get these blockages to move.


Prevention is always the cheapest and most effective way to protect your pipes and drains. However, if you have a blocked drain and believe that the cause is compacted organic waste, you may be able to troubleshoot the issue using an appropriate plunger. Sink plungers should be used in tubs, showers, and basins, and toilet plungers should be exclusively used in incommodes. If plunging doesn’t help, call a plumber. Continued drain clearing efforts might cause damage to your pipes, or they might force the problem down into a more troublesome location.

Since 1980, S & D Plumbing has provided fast, friendly, and affordable drain cleaning solutions to Austin, TX residents, and the surrounding area. We also offer leak detection, hydro-jetting, tunnel drain replacement, and more. So don’t put corrosive drain cleaners into your PVC pipes. If you’ve got a slow-moving or blocked drain, call us.

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