Chemical drain cleaners, also called drain openers or uncloggers, are effective at cleaning drains. However, these solutions are harmful to the body and can damage a home's septic system because of their ingredients, according to Purdue University. When using drain cleaners, it's wise to use protective gloves and safety goggles and to avoid fumes. Also, store these chemicals away from children.
Acidic drain cleaners contain sulphuric acid, along with a few additives, according to eNotes.com. This acid is the chemical compound H2SO4 and is colorless, odorless, oily and corrosive. The acid also goes by the names of oil of vitriol, hydrogen sulfate or spirit of sulfur. Sulphuric acid results during the purification process linked with iron ore. This type of acid is dangerous to human skin, as it reacts right away to organic material as well as with several metals such as zinc. (It does not react with steel.) Direct contact can cause the skin to burn, injure the mucous membranes and eyes, irritate the respiratory tract, burn the digestive system if ingested, and even etch tooth enamel. Contact with even a diluted version of sulfuric acid can be harmful.
Lye also is known as caustic soda or sodium hydroxide. This chemical is highly caustic, as its chemical action eats away even human skin tissue. When lye comes into contact with skin or mucous membranes, it can result in burns and often deep ulcerations that lead to scars. Even lye vapors, mists or dust can burn skin, and contact with eyes can lead to blindness and other damage. When lye is mixed with chlorine and water, an alkaline substance called sodium hypochloride is produced, which is basically caustic drain cleaner. Surfactants also might be added to caustic drain cleaners to decrease surface tension and foaming and help with the mixing of solutions.
Potassium hydroxide, also called caustic potash, is the chemical compound KOH, according to Potassium-hydroxide.com. This compound is a strong metallic base and dissolves easily in water while giving off a lot of heat and forming a strong alkaline, caustic solution. Potassium hydroxide is similar to lye/sodium hydroxide in its chemical properties. However, it is more expensive to use than sodium hydroxide. It usually forms through the electrolysis of potassium chloride. Potassium hydroxide easily can corrode tissue and be toxic if inhaled or ingested.