A clogged drain is a headache for any homeowner, but when a clogged drain appears in a household with a septic system, one big concern is how to unclog the drain without causing damage to the septic system. For many homeowners, our first impulse is to reach for a chemical drain cleaner, but when you have a septic system, these harsh chemicals are the last thing you should use to unclog a drain. Here we offer some clever septic-safe methods for unclogging a drain.
Why Chemical Drain Cleaners are Bad for Septic Systems
While it is easy to understand the appeal of chemical drain cleaners, they are a decidedly bad option for tackling clogged drains in homes with septic systems. The theory behind chemical drain cleaners is simple – pour harsh chemicals down the drain that will eat away at the clog until it is small enough to pass through the plumbing system. The chemicals quite literally melt the clog away. Chemical drain cleaners are among the home cleaners blacklisted from use with septic systems because one of the key ingredients is sodium hydroxide, or lye. Some contain sulfuric acid or hydrochloric acid. All of these chemicals are not only devastating for the septic system’s bacterial ecosystem, but they are also highly corrosive and will eat away at the tank itself. In fact, the corrosiveness of these drain cleaners is one reason plumbers agree they should be avoided altogether, regardless of whether a home has a septic system.
Septic-Safe Method #1: Unclogging a Drain with Boiling Water
Sometimes the simplest solution really is the best. Very often, small clogs in pipes can be cleared by slowly pouring boiling water down the drain. This method works especially well on clogs caused by grease, soap, or even small clumps of hair. In order for this method to work, the water must be boiling – not just hot, but boiling. However, this method does require some caution. Pouring boiling water onto a porcelain sink can actually cause it to crack. If you have a porcelain sink, be careful to pour the water directly down the drain. Boiling water can also soften the joints in PVC pipes, and because of this, we do not recommend this method for use with PVC pipes.
Septic-Safe Method #2: Unclogging a Drain with Vinegar & Baking Soda
As kids, we mixed baking soda and vinegar with red food dye to replicate an erupting volcano. As adults, that same experiment (minus the red food dye) is a septic-safe method for clearing a clogged drain. When baking soda and vinegar are combined, a chemical reaction occurs that creates carbonic acid, which immediately decomposes into carbon dioxide gas. The result? Lots and lots of bubbles that have the power to loosen and clear away most clogs. Pour half a box (or about 1 cup) of baking soda followed by a half cup of white vinegar down the affected drain. Stop up the drain and wait half an hour before flushing with hot (or boiling) water. This tried and true method of unclogging a drain is not only septic-safe, but it is also perfectly safe for the plumbing inside your home.
Septic-Safe Method #3: Unclogging a Drain Manually
When the first two methods of clearing a clogged drain do not work, it may be time to break out some dishwashing gloves and manually remove the clog. Using either a plunger, plastic drain cleaning tool, or a heavy-duty plumber’s snake, carefully dislodge the clog to either loosen it enough to flow through the home’s plumbing or remove it from the pipes altogether. These methods are a last resort, taken just before calling a plumber, and some caution should be exercised in ensuring you do not inadvertently damage the affected drains by forcing a snake in or out of the plumbing system.
One good way to deal with clogged drains is to help prevent them from happening in the first place. Fats, oils, and greases, which account for many kitchen drain clogs, should never be poured down the sink. Because hair is the most common cause of bathroom clogs, it is also a good idea to use protective screens that will prevent hair from going down the drains. When these septic-safe methods for unclogging a drain do not work, it may be a sign that your septic system is in need of a check-up. Are your drains running slow and gurgling? Contact us today to schedule a service visit.