Home & Garden Cleaning & Laundry

The Harmful Effects of Drain Cleaners


    • Drain cleaners consist of a number of different chemicals that work together to dissolve obstructions in pipes. Commonly, drain cleaners contain acids such as sodium hydroxide and sodium hypochlorite. Because of the acidic nature of drain cleaners, caution should be taken to avoid splashing onto skin or into eyes. If drain cleaner comes into contact with skin or eyes, the chemicals must be washed off immediately to avoid burns or vision damage.

    Ingestion Hazards

    • Since these drain cleaners can harm skin and eyes, they prove just as harmful when ingested. Most chemical drain cleaners bear a toxic notation, meaning that they can cause severe internal damage or even death when ingested. The corrosive nature of drain cleaners works just as corrosively within the human body. If a person or pet swallows drain cleaner, symptoms include nausea and vomiting. Because of the potential toxic nature of ingesting drain cleaner, calling poison control is best in cases of ingestion.

    Mixing and Storage

    • When not in use, drain cleaners can still have harmful effects. Storing drain cleaners with other cleaners such as bleach produces harmful gas fumes. According to the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services, mixing cleaners containing acids with bleach-containing cleaners creates hydrochloric and hypochlorous acids. These gas fumes cause mucus membrane irritation, respiratory problems, chest pain and vomiting. In serious cases of exposure, it can lead to death. Drain cleaners also have negative effects when stored or used with ammonia. Because of these problems, drain cleaners must always be used and stored in well-ventilated areas, taking care that the container is well-sealed to prevent fumes from escaping.

    Environmental Concerns

    • Usually, proper usage of drain cleaners doesn't result in too many harmful effects on the environment. However, over-usage or improper usage of drain cleaners and other household cleaners can lead to environmental damage. The University of Wisconsin Extension's Elaine Andrews notes that the disposal of solvent-based cleaners can contaminate drinking water and potentially damage septic systems. According to an article on the Cornell Cooperative Extension website, large quantities of drain cleaners within a septic system can corrode the metal in a system and destroy useful bacteria that breaks down materials.

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