Dangers of Chemical Drain Cleaners

Published: 22nd June 2010
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While getting ready for work in the morning, you casually glance into the sink - all of a sudden, you're confronted with a clogged drain! Before you instinctively reach for that chemical drain cleaner, you may want to consider other options. The American Association of Poison Control Centers considers drain openers and other household cleaners as some of the most common poisons involved in accidental poisoning deaths. Last year alone, more than 2,000 people were injured while using drain cleaners. If you have children or pets, it is even more important to consider the dangers of chemical drain cleaners.

Most of these cleaners contain sodium hydroxide, a strong caustic metallic base also known as lye or caustic soda. It can be found in a number of household cleaners - from degreasers and rust inhibitors to oven cleaners and defoamers. This drain cleaning chemical is corrosive and can cause damage to any area of the body that is exposed to it. The following is an outline of the dangers posed by chemical drain cleaners and less dangerous alternatives to bust that clog!


A person who ingests chemical drain cleaners will experience severe throat and mouth pain, as well as burns and tissue damage in the esophagus and stomach. The person will also experience severe abdominal pain, vomiting, sudden drops in blood pressure and breathing difficulties.

If you or someone you know swallows drain cleaner, immediately contact local Emergency Medical Services or the National Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222. If the person is not vomiting and can breathe, provide him or her with a glass of milk to ease some of the symptoms. Do not induce vomiting unless expressly directed to do so by Emergency Medical Services, as this can cause greater damage to the victim's mouth and esophagus.

The long term effects of ingesting a chemical drain cleaner depends on how much is swallowed and the length of time before help arrives. The American Association of Poison Control Centers reported cases of people dying up to one month after the chemicals are ingested.

Contact with Skin and Eyes

Chemicals splashing onto the skin can cause severe burns and other skin damage. Should it make contact with the eyes, these chemicals can cause anything from mild irritation to blindness.


Even if the chemicals do not touch your skin, inhaling the fumes can cause problems. Simply using the chemicals without proper ventilation can result in upper respiratory tract problems, and in severe cases, lung damage or chemical pneumonia.


Your pets are always in danger of being harmed by drain cleaners. Even though the smell is strong and uninviting, your pets do not understand the inherent dangers of these chemicals. Always use caution when a cat or dog can access the drain being cleaned.


A Consumer Reports study found most chemical drain cleaners are not only dangerous, they are ineffective. The product testers discovered mechanical devices that use water pressure to break up the clog are much more effective. Even a canister of compressed gas is more effective to get your drain working again!

When tacking home plumbing problems, think twice before reaching for a caustic chemical drain cleaner! There are a number of ways to keep your drain running normally without putting your family in danger.

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