Can Hydrochloric Acid Be Used To Clean Pipes?

When it comes to tackling troublesome clogs or grubby plumbing in your home, you might reach for caustic chemicals. After all, they’ll eat through just about anything, so that’s a good thing, right? Although harsh chemicals have their place, it isn’t in cleaning plumbing in your home.

Some plumbers will utilize hydrochloric acid to address issues with your plumbing, but they can accurately determine if it’ll harm your home’s plumbing. For example, while it can be safe for copper pipes, it can corrode and eat through other plumbing materials (PVC, galvanized steel, etc.). 

So, although you might be tempted to reach for hydrochloric acid, it’s best to rethink it before committing. Here are a few things to know about hydrochloric acid and plumbing (plus a few drain-cleaning alternatives).  

Is Hydrochloric Acid Safe For Plumbing?

As mentioned, plumbers do use hydrochloric acid to eliminate tough clogs in plumbing. You might also hear them refer to it as muriatic acid, which is a less pure version of hydrochloric acid (both are strong acids). However, while they do use it on some occasions, they have to consider the age of your plumbing system, the pipe material, and the severity of the clog. 

If you have certain pipe materials, the acid could eat through the pipes, causing issues. In addition, it can corrode metal pipes, making them weaker as the solution passes through. If your system is already damaged or old, it might wreak havoc on the system, leading to more severe issues. 

For this reason, many plumbers will attempt to remedy the problem with an alternative method. For example, they might use a pipe camera to visualize the problem and an electric drain snake or high-pressure water cleaner to rid the issue. 

Can I Pour Hydrochloric Acid Down The Drain?

Although you can technically pour hydrochloric acid down the drain, we don’t recommend it. Even if you dilute the acid, it could still cause damage, especially if your system is old or damaged. If the solution interacts chemically with the plumbing in your home, it could lead to expensive plumbing repairs, so it’s best to steer clear of DIYs with hydrochloric acid. 

In addition, hydrochloric acid is a dangerous acid. When using it, you need to have proper protective gear, including gloves, a long-sleeved shirt, glasses, and so on. Hydrochloric acid, even in low concentrations, can cause skin inflammation and erythema, and in more severe cases (high concentrations), chemical burns to your skin and mucous membranes. 

Will Hydrochloric Acid Clear And Clean Drains?

Given its highly acidic nature, hydrochloric acid will burn through most clogs. For example, let’s say your stainless steel kitchen sink has a clog. You decide to pour concentrated hydrochloric acid down the drain to eliminate the troublesome blockage. 

Although it’ll almost surely clean out the clog, it could cause a list of other adverse effects. It could burn through your pipes, corrode the steel composition of your sink, create harmful fumes, and mildly to severely irritate your skin and eyes. 

What Should I Avoid When Cleaning The Plumbing In My Home?

When cleaning the plumbing throughout your home, it’s usually best to stick to mild cleaners. Harsh chemicals are hard on the pipes in your home, so many plumbers recommend steering clear of cleaners containing these chemicals unless absolutely necessary. 

Chemicals That Generate Heat

For the most part, you should avoid using chemicals that generate heat to clean or unclog pipes in your home. When you use these chemicals, they can react, which produces quite a bit of heat. These chemicals include sodium hydroxide, hydrochloric acid, and sulfuric acid. 

Sodium hydroxide, in particular, can generate enough heat to raise the temperature beyond the boiling point of PVC pipes. So, in addition to its caustic nature, it can cause PVC pipes to soften and melt (under continued exposure).

The reaction worsens if you mix a cocktail of drain cleaners or chemicals. Let’s say you mix acidic and caustic drain cleaners. The chemical response multiplies since you used more than one chemical. 

It can generate enough heat to the point of chemicals erupting from the drain. Adding water to slow the reaction and dilute the chemicals can lead to additional heat production, resulting in more damage to the plumbing. So, you should never mix these chemicals for drain cleaning purposes.  

Oxidizing Agents

You should also avoid oxidizing agents for basic cleaning and de-clogging purposes. Sodium hypochlorite (aka chlorine bleach) can cause issues in your drain, especially when combined with caustic chemicals. This is common in drain cleaners, as the combination of the two enhances the effectiveness. 

Once the materials causing issues within the drain to combine with the oxidizers, a chemical reaction occurs. Much like the above chemicals, this reaction generates heat. This can cause problems, especially for PVC pipes. To be on the safe side, avoid using these chemicals for regular cleaning purposes or de-clogging. 

Cleaning Solution Alternatives For Plumbing

Natural, easy cleaning solutions are the best option for cleaning stubborn drains. In many cases, you can tackle clogs and dirty drains with solutions that are easier on the plumbing. Of course, there are some scenarios where tough clogs might require the assistance of a plumber, but it doesn’t hurt to try a few plumbing-safe DIY tricks. 

Use Vinegar And Baking Soda

Baking Soda And Vinegar

Baking soda and vinegar create a powerful cleaning combo that can handle de-clogging, cleaning, and deodorizing. While it might not be able to handle extremely stubborn clogs, it’ll usually do the trick for more minor clogs. They work great if you simply need to clean or deodorize the drain or plumbing. 

Generally, you should use equal parts of each ingredient, pouring it one after the other down the drain. This will create a chemical reaction in the drain that can help dislodge blockages, deodorize, and clean. The best part? It won’t harm the plumbing. 

Try An Enzymatic Cleaner

You might want to consider enzymatic cleaning agents if you prefer to utilize a commercial drain cleaner for tough clogs. These drain cleaners are much safer for your plumbing, as they don’t generate heat as they work. 

Instead, these drain cleaners use living organisms that thrive off eating organic materials. It takes them longer to complete the job than their chemical-based competitor, but since they won’t sacrifice your plumbing in the process (it doesn’t generate heat and is non-corrosive), it’s well worth the wait.

Note: Enzymatic drain cleaners have a short shelf-life, so be sure to use them within this time frame. If the cleaner is beyond its useable time frame, it may not work as intended.  

Use A Plunger

While you might write off the plunger as a toilet-use-only tool, it can be a helpful tool for tackling plumbing issues in other areas of your home. You can use it to unclog shower and bathtub drains (although we recommend cleaning it first). You can also buy specialized sink plungers designed to unclog your kitchen sink. 

If you tried baking soda and vinegar, but don’t have an enzymatic cleaner on hand, try using the plunger to tackle clogged drains. 

Use A Drain Snake Or Auger

Sometimes, a drain snake or auger is your best bet, especially if the blockage is lodged farther down the pipe. These tools feature a long cable with a handle at the end. To use it, you simply feed the cable into the drain until you feel the cable meet resistance. 

Once it encounters the clog, rotate the handle to work the cable into the clog. The design of the cable ensures it’ll grasp onto or dislodge common blockages, such as hair, food scraps, soap scum, toilet paper, etc. 

After rotating the snake until it catches on the clog, slowly withdraw it from the drain. Remove any gunk clinging to the cable, then feed it back into the drain and repeat the process until you no longer encounter resistance.

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