The average homeowner’s go-to when encountering a clog in their plumbing system is Drano. But improper use of good tools can lead to bad results. (And whether or not Drano is a good tool is a topic of another post – This one!)
So what happens when you use Drano on a clogged toilet and what should you do instead?
How Does Drano Fight Clogs?
Understanding how Drano clears clogs is key.
Drano has a variety of types and people often use the name to refer to all kinds of chemical drain uncloggers. But most often, Drano is a thick, gel-like bleach and/or lye solution that is formulated to sink to the clog in a backed-up drain and eat through the hair, soap, or other gunk that is causing the clog.
This doesn’t work for toilet clogs due to the shape of a toilet drain.
Mind Your P’s and … S’s
Unlike the p-trap on a sink or tub drain, toilets have an s-trap configuration built into their base. Toilets use this configuration to create the little pool of water in the toilet bowl.
For Drano, this means that the gel will also gather and sit in the bowl of the toilet – and this isn’t where the clog is! Without direct contact of the gel with the clog, Drano can’t do its job.
Different Systems – Different Clogs
The consistency of toilet clogs is typically different from sink or tub drains. Bathroom sink or tub clogs are often primarily hair. Kitchen sink clogs are food particulates. Both of these clogs are typically less dense and more porous than toilet clogs that are made of toilet paper and feces.
Hair and food clogs allow the Drano to work its way into the clog faster and contact more of the clog. This allows the bleach and lye to work at breaking down the clog more efficiently so when you rinse out the drain in 15-30 minutes as directed by the bottle, the clog is dissolved enough to clear.
Chemical Reaction -> Side Effects
Drano is meant for specific kinds of clogs. Bleach and lye will eat nicely through the hair, soap scum, food debris, and other gunk that is found in bathroom and kitchen sinks. However, this is a very exothermic reaction and produces undesirable reactants.
Heat and ammonia gas build-up, generating as long as there is organic material to react with. If enough heat and pressure builds up, the porcelain of the toilet may crack. That’s right -if you’re not mindful, Drano can potentially break your toilet.
Further, Drano eats all kinds of organic material. Most toilets are sealed at the bottom with a wax ring – which is entirely made of 100% organic beeswax. If the clog is located just underneath the toilet, then the Drano can settle right where the wax ring is located.
Once this ring is weakened or eaten through, it will cause your toilet to start leaking at the base. If this leak is slow and goes undetected, it can cause serious damage to the subfloor, and possibly rot it out if it goes on too long.
There are always safety concerns when using Drano. When used exactly as directed, bleach and lye are safe for plastic and metal pipes. However, you never want your skin or eyes to come in contact with Drano. This will cause burns and irritation. Even breathing in the fumes can hurt your lungs.
Many plumbers will ask if Drano has been used on a clog prior to clearing it. They may wait 24 hours before working on the clog if it has been. If you try a mechanical method too soon after using Drano on a clog, there is a high chance that you will splash the chemicals onto yourself.
For most homeowners, the other go-to solution for a toilet clog is a toilet plunger. While this is a good method on its own, it can be rather dangerous when combined with Drano. Because the Drano has likely been ineffective at doing anything to the clog, plunging a stubborn clog will most likely only lead to splashing the skin-irritating chemicals on yourself.
Remember – Drano eats organic material. And your skin is organic!
If Not Drano, Then What?
When you encounter a toilet clog, there are good methods that a homeowner can use to clear the clog. Toilet plungers, toilet augers, and snakes are all viable methods.
The toilet plunger is the first thing to reach for when encountering a clogged toilet. Note that there are different types of plungers. A sink plunger is the classic plunger and is not going to be able to unclog your toilet. What you want is something like this – the Korky Beehive plunger. Made specifically for the shape of modern toilets, the Beehive is powerful enough to clear most clogs – and our top drain technician swears by it.
If the right plunger isn’t doing the job, the next step is to get a toilet auger or small drain snake. While these options are going to help you clear deeper, more stubborn clogs, they come with a small warning. You do run the risk of scratching the surface of your toilet or even cracking it if used improperly.
If you aren’t comfortable with using an auger and your plunger isn’t cutting it, your best option is to contact a pro – they can typically get your toilet unclogged quickly, and doing so is fairly inexpensive when you weigh the risks.
Here at Honey Go Fix It, we have the equipment and experience to clear clogs quickly and safely. We can also help assess a more permanent fix if this is a repetitive problem. Although it is always nice to be able to get the toilet working on your own, sometimes you just need a little help from Your Neighborhood Drain Experts.