Many folks reach for the powerful, caustic drain cleaner the moment their kitchen drain shows signs of clogging. Or, maybe the drain gives a few subtle hints of a clog as it slowly drains. After all, who wants to deal with gunk and goop consisting of partially decomposed food scraps clogging the drain? Not us, that’s for sure!
While these harsh drain cleaners are undoubtedly convenient, are they doing more harm than good? Are they even safe for septic systems? We’re here to tackle these questions for you, so stick around to learn more!
Can You Use A Chemical Drain Cleaner With A Septic System?
Before we discuss chemical drain cleaners, let’s talk about septic tanks. Septic systems are finicky systems, and they’re considerably different in how they work than public sewer systems. How so? The bacteria are the star of the show – they’re what make the system work.
The bacteria in the system work to break down waste, leaving the water clean enough to move down into the earth safely. There are three layers in the tank itself: watery waste, a layer of sludge, and a layer of scum.
The watery waste, also called effluent, fills most of the tank. This is where anaerobic bacteria start breaking down the material in the effluent. The sludge layer is the material that falls to the bottom, consisting of the inorganic solids and byproducts created through bacterial digestion.
Last, the layer of scum, which floats on the top, is composed of fats, greases, and oils. A filter in the tank prevents the solids from exiting through the outlet pipe, which is where effluent flows to the drain field. The drain field creates a large area where the bacteria can thrive, and the treated water can seep into the ground.
Now, with the basics of how a septic tank works in mind, we can answer the main question: can you use a chemical drain cleaner with a septic tank? Generally, the answer is no. Due to the finite bacteria balance, adding harsh chemicals could throw off the system.
These chemicals kill the bacteria, which do most of the hard work in the system. While most septic systems are designed to handle light use of these products (like antibacterial soaps, etc.), heavy use can wreak havoc on the system.
Is It OK To Use Drano With A Septic Tank?
Drano is a popular chemical drain cleaner across the board. However, if you have a septic tank, it’s best to steer clear of Drano for tough clogs. The formula contains ingredients that can cause a harsh chemical reaction while it tries to break down clogs resulting from soap scum, grease, and hair.
Although Drano manufacturers claim that the cleaner is perfectly safe for pipes and septic systems, it’s not your best bet. In fact, most plumbers and septic experts will advise you to steer clear of Drano and similar chemical agents.
So, with the sage advice of plumbing and septic experts in mind, we recommend skipping the use of Drano (or any other chemical drain cleaning agent) in your drains, especially if you have a septic system.
How Do You Unclog A Drain With A Septic System?
Now, you’re probably wondering, “If Drano is off the table, what am I supposed to use to get rid of this clog?” We get it – Drano (and many other chemical agents) are the convenient choice for dissolving drain clogs. We don’t want to go searching for the clog either, but a chemical cocktail isn’t the best option.
So, we put together a few different methods for tackling the problematic clog blocking your drain.
Use Boiling Water
Boiling water can be a great way to loosen clogs in your drain. That said, there are a few things you need to know before you jump the gun and pour scalding water down your drain.
First, you need to know what kind of pipes you have. Certain types of plumbing can’t handle the heat and may melt. This includes PVC, CPVC, and PEX, which are all types of plastic plumbing. CPVC and PEX can handle temperatures up to 200 degrees Fahrenheit, while PVC tops out at 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Considering water boils at 212 degrees, this method isn’t a good idea if you have these types of plumbing.
It should be just fine if you have iron, copper, or galvanized steel pipes. However, if you have any rubber or plastic joints throughout, the excessive heat may cause melting. So, proceed with caution.
Secondly, boiling water isn’t a good idea for porcelain sinks. The hot water can shock the porcelain, causing it to crack. So, if you have a porcelain sink, jump to the following method.
If you decide the pipes are in the clear and can take the hot temperatures, go ahead and use boiling water. Slowly pour a few cups of boiling water (not just hot – it needs to be boiling) down the drain. Boiling water works great for clogs consisting of grease, soap, and even small clumps of hair.
Use Vinegar And Baking Soda
If the prospect of boiling water, melted PVC joints, or a cracked sink doesn’t sound appealing, give this method a go. Using vinegar and baking soda, you can channel your inner middle school self with this throwback science experiment (remember the volcano experiments?).
The combination of baking soda and vinegar causes a chemical reaction that creates carbonic acid. The acid immediately turns into carbon dioxide gas, making tons of bubbles that help loosen and clear most clogs.
Here’s what you’ll need:
- Baking soda
- White vinegar
- Sink stopper
- Hot water
This method is pretty simple but will take roughly half an hour to complete. Start by pouring approximately 1 cup of baking soda down the drain and follow up with a half cup of white vinegar. Put the stopper in the drain, then wait about half an hour.
After thirty minutes, remove the stopper and flush the drain with hot water. The makeshift science experiment should have worked its magic, leaving you with a clear, fully functioning drain.
Default To Manually Unclogging The Drain
If the boiling water wasn’t a suitable pick for your drain or the science experiment didn’t do the trick, you’ll need to unclog the drain manually. Here’s what you’ll need:
- Plunger, drain cleaning tool, or plumber’s snake
- Dishwashing gloves
If you have a sink plunger, use that to dislodge the clog. We recommend using a sink plunger (not a nasty toilet plunger), which is designed for this type of thing. Cover the drain completely with the plunger cup, then cover the cup with a few inches of water (if there’s standing water in the sink, you don’t need to add water). Plunge the drain a few times. It may take a few repetitions before you dislodge the clog.
You’ll know you’re successful when the water in the sink whirls down the drain quickly as soon as you pull the plunger away. Alternatively, you could use a plastic drain cleaning tool or a heavy-duty plumber’s snake.
If you decide to use a plumber’s snake, be careful not to damage the drains and plumbing by forcing the snake in or out of the system.