Drain cleaners (aka drain openers) are chemical substances that are poured into a clogged drain for the sole purpose of clearing out any debris and unclogging it. Drain cleaners are formulated to dissolve organic waste, food particles, hair and other common substances that clog drains. Drain cleaners can be in the form of liquid, pellets or powder.
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What Types of Drain Cleaners Are There?
Before discussing the ingredients of a drain unclogging solution, we need to learn about the different types. Drain cleaners are classified based on the main ingredients used.
Most companies refuse to specify their exact formula and chemical additives that enhance the dissolving action. So we will focus on the main ingredients present in each type of drain cleaner that you can find at the store or make at home.
Sulfuric Acid (H2SO4)
The most common chemical used in liquid drain cleaner is sulfuric acid. Sulfuric acid is a byproduct of iron ore purification process. There are other sources of this acid, too.
The main reason for adding sulfuric acid to a drain cleaning solution is the strong dissolving action when it contacts organic material such as food, hair, grease, leaves and other debris.
Sulfuric acid-based drain cleaners cannot be used when the drain pipes are made of certain metals.
Hydrochloric Acid (2HCl)
Not all acidic drain openers are made with sulfuric acid. The other common main ingredient in acidic drain openers is hydrochloric acid (aka muriatic acid).
Like sulfuric acid, hydrochloric acid will corrode metal pipes. It also corrodes porcelain, so if you have a porcelain sink you should not use liquid drain cleaners with this ingredient.
Additives in Acidic Drain Cleaners
The drain opener is not completely sulfuric acid or any other chemical. Many additives are added to make the acid effective for unclogging and to dilute the dangerous effects of pure acid.
The choice of additive ingredients varies from one manufacturer to other. Since these additives make a difference in their brand, drain cleaner companies generally refuse to publish their formulas.
The most common drain cleaner additive is sodium hypochloride. This is made by mixing sodium hydroxide which is also called as caustic soda with chlorine. Thus, this drain opener gets its name; caustic drain opener.
Other chemicals are added to the cleaning solution to reduce foaming, reduce surface tension and for better mixing of the solution components.
Other choices of main alkali ingredients in caustic drain openers are sodium hydroxide (soda lye), sodium hypochlorite (bleach), potassium hydroxide (potash lye) and others. This is not an exclusive list.
- Read more: Which Alkali is Used To Open a Drain?
Additives In Caustic Drain Cleaners
The typical additives in caustic drain cleaners include wetting agents and penetrating agents. These chemicals act as a catalyst or enhancer. Companies use two types of wetting agents, namely anionic and ionic.
These agents are added in very small amounts to the caustic drain cleaners for immediate and effective action.
Solid Caustic Drain Cleaners
Solid drain cleaners can be found in solid pellet form. Acidic drain openers cannot be made in solid form — only caustic drain cleaners can. These use the same main ingredients as caustic drain openers.
Sodium hydroxide or potassium hydroxide is added in granular form. This allows the solution to be pressed into solid pellets or pucks.
Aluminum turning is another important additive. Aluminum turning is patented and is available only in certain brands.
Biological or Enzyme Drain Cleaners
Biological drain cleaners are a relatively new form of drain opener that consist of enzymes that dissolve organic waste. These are non-hazardous and non-chemical drain cleaners.
These contain enzymes and bacterial cultures that react to organic residue. When the enzymes are mixed with water, the bacteria start to multiply. They feed on the waste for energy thereby consuming it and unclogging the drain in the process. The bacteria can multiply 2-3 times and expand to twice their size within 30 minutes.
Other ingredients in biological drain openers are wetting agents, preservatives and others. This type of drain opener is also called as enzyme biological drain openers.
This is not an exclusive list. There are numerous brands of liquid drain cleaners which use a variety of ingredients. In general, an acidic drain opener will have an acid main ingredient; caustic one with have a base as the main ingredient. Biological drain openers use enzymes and bacteria, and so on. The types, additives and other elements vary from one brand to another.