Clearing out clogged drains is part and parcel with taking care of a home. No matter how diligent a person is about keeping foreign matter out of the pipes, clogs happen. When they do, knowing how to effectively clear them is one of the go-to skills every homeowner has to have in their toolbelt. Many homeowners turn to a chemical drain cleaner, like Drano, to clear away those pesky clogs. While Drano has an on-going marketing campaign promising how safe their chemical drain cleaners are for septic systems, we want to set the record straight concerning the truth about Drano and your septic system.
The Effect of Drano on Your Septic System
To fully explain the effect of Drano on your septic system, we first need to revisit how septic systems work. When functioning properly, the bacteria in a home’s septic system break down the solids in your septic tank, reducing the amount of sludge that settles to the bottom. Liquids rise to the top before exiting through an outlet baffle that will lead to the drain field, where the effluent will be purified and reabsorbed into the water table. The bacteria in your septic system are integral in breaking down the solids, slowing the accumulation of sludge in the bottom of your septic tank. A higher accumulation of sludge can mean devastating things for your septic system, whether by causing sewage to back up into your home or solids finding their way into your drain field, which can lead to total system failure.
Because of the integral role the bacteria play in your septic system’s proper functioning, it is critically important to be careful about what type of chemicals you pour into your system. Anything that may kill off the system’s bacteria should be strictly limited, if not avoided altogether. Looking at the ingredients on a bottle of Drano reveal it to be a lye-based chemical cleaner containing high levels of bleach, aluminum and salt, which all work together to create an intense chemical reaction that will literally burn away the clogs in your plumbing. This reaction is so intense that plumbers uniformly advise against using Drano on any clogs in your home, regardless of whether you have a septic system. When it comes to your septic system, this chemical combination is devastating for the bacterial environment, with as little as 0.4 ounces being enough to destroy the bacteria in your septic tank. If such a minimal amount is enough to wreak havoc on your system’s bacteria, consider the effects of following the manufacture’s recommendations of using 16 to 32 ounces per clog!
Septic-Safe Methods for Unclogging a Drain
While Drano and other similar chemical drain cleaners are not a good option for septic owners, there are many septic-safe methods for unclogging your drains.
Perhaps the simplest method for clearing a clog is pouring boiling water down the afflicted drain. This method is particularly good for clearing away small clogs caused by soap, grease, or even minimal amounts of hair.
Vinegar and Baking Soda
When boiling water doesn’t do the trick, the harmless but bubbly chemical reaction caused by mixing vinegar and baking soda may be strong enough to unclog your drain. Pour a cup of baking soda down the clogged drain, followed by a half cup of vinegar. Stop up the drain and wait a half hour before flushing with hot water.
Manually Clearing the Clog
When these methods fail, it’s time to physically remove the clog, using either a plunger, barbed wand, or a plumber’s snake. If you’ve tried these methods and your drain is still not draining properly, it may be time to call in a plumber to assess the situation. Sometimes, slow drains mean there’s a clog in the pipes, and sometimes your septic system is telling you it’s time for a service visit.