What Are the Dangers of DIY Drain Cleaning

Home ownership is wonderful and rewarding, but it can also be expensive. When you have a plumbing issue, as you invariably will, you may be tempted to try taking care of it yourself. The obvious solution for drain cleaning is a chemical like Drain-O or snaking your own drain, right?

If you don’t know the exact situations in which a chemical drain cleaner can be effective and how to use one safely, you may end up with a bigger issue on your hands than just a clogged drain. Say you pour a bottle of chemical cleaner into a sink that’s full of water but the chemical doesn’t work on the blockage.

What will you do with the vat of toxic chemicals that you’ve just created? Maybe you decide to skip the chemical drain cleaner and opt to snake your own drain instead but end up cracking your pipe. If you don’t know what you’re doing, DIY drain cleaning can create serious problems.


Products like Drain-o are made with lye-based ingredients that work by quickly decomposing organic materials like hair and food that may be in your plumbing. As they react with things in your pipes, they produce a lot of heat.

Your plumbing is designed to handle water, excrement, and toilet paper, it’s not built to withstand excessive heat from chemical reactions. If you don’t thoroughly rinse away the cleaner, it’ll continue to produce heat in your pipes. If the heat is too intense or lasts too long, it can cause cracks in the porcelain.

If your pipes are made of PVC, the heat can soften and weaken them. Older pipes may not be able to withstand the heat without cracking, and the chemicals can even “eat” the glue connecting your pipes.

What Are the Health Risks of Chemical Drain Cleaners?

Chemical drain cleaners are toxic to your lungs and skin. If you don’t have protective gear to wear, you should not be using chemical cleaners. Keep in mind that any toxic materials you put down your drain eventually make their way to your local wastewater treatment plant and could even end up in the groundwater supply.

Like your body, pipes are filled with good and bad bacteria. Chemical drain cleaning can kill all of the bacteria in your pipes, even the good kinds that help break down organic materials. This effect can occur throughout your pipes and even into the wastewater treatment plant.

Pipe Damage is Always a Risk

If you do attempt to use a chemical, avoid mixing multiple drain cleaners or a drain cleaner and a household cleaning product. If you’re not careful, you could end up causing a reaction that may lead to an explosion. If you’ve used a chemical cleaner and then decide to seek the help of a plumber, warn him or her about what you’ve used in your pipes so he/she isn’t exposed to the chemicals.

If you choose to clean your drain with something mechanical like a snake, you can easily turn a minor clog into a major issue. If you’re inexperienced, you may not know the difference between the feeling of hitting a curve in a pipe or hitting a clog. If you mistakenly think you’ve found the clog but have actually encountered a curve in the pipe, you could end up drilling a hole through your pipe.

At best, you could end up simply scratching the interior of your pipes, which could lead to rusting. Eventually, this could lead to weakened pipes that leak or burst. If you try to use a motorized snake, you could easily crack the pipe right then and there without knowing it. Replacing pipes and cleaning up water damage is much more costly in time and money than it would have been to hire a plumber in the first place.

Leave It to the Professionals

Chemical drain cleaning may be effective for your problem, and snaking your own drain may end up just pushing the clog further down the line rather than breaking it apart.

We understand the allure of diving into a DIY home project, but if you really want to save some green, skip the chemicals and snakes and call a qualified plumber instead.