Q&A / 

Drain Cleaner Debate

DEAR TIM: You're completely wrong in your past column about using Drano for clogs. If it doesn't unclog immediately, it stands in your drain and the acid erodes your pipes. At least, this is the case with older homes with galvanized iron and copper parts. I've got the bills to prove it. Dave Werner, New York, New York

DEAR DAVE: It might not be obvious at my website unless you go digging, but among other things I am a licensed master plumber. Over the years, I have developed a pretty good understanding of drain cleaners of all types. You are correct that some drain cleaners are acidic. Some are very dangerous acids that should only be used by professionals and even then with very great care.

Drano's active ingredient is sodium hypochlorite - chorline bleach.

Author's Note: At the time this original column was written, the previous statement was true. The latest information available from the manufacturer now states the formulation has been changed and the active ingredient is lye - sodium hydroxide.

It is not acidic by any means. It is actually a base and has a pH of 10 or greater. Yes, chlorine ions can be corrosive to certain metals if they are in *constant* contact with the metal over a *long* period of time.

If your theory is right, then I need you to prove it. I will assemble a metal drain p-trap of your choice made with any traditional plumbing metal you pick: galvanized iron, copper, cast iron or lead. Then, I will ship it to you and you prop it up and fill it to the brim with pure Drano. I guarantee you a dinner for four at the restaurant of your choice in NYC that the Drano will not eat a hole in the metal.

Your bills are from years of wear and tear on the drainage piping in your home. Drainage pipes actually do corrode and wear out over time. When a clog finally happens in an old pipe, the combination of drain cleaners and aggressive mechanical drain cleaning activities can easily poke a hole in a pipe. I have seen brass p-traps where the metal has become paper thin over time from normal wear and tear. Push a wooden toothpick into the bottom of the p-trap and presto you get a leak.

There is a natural way to keep your drains clean. It just takes a few minutes once a month as well as a couple of friends. Read my past column on this ingenious method that has worked for me for years.

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