When the kitchen sink drain develops a clog, many people instinctively reach for a caustic drain cleaner, such as Drano, before considering whether or not it's actually the best way to clear the clog. In many cases, it isn't, and it can actually be harmful. The caustic nature of Drano is even more of a concern when clearing a clog in a garbage disposal, and in most cases, you don't need it.
Before Using Drano, Consider Alternatives
S.C. Johnson, the company that manufactures Drano products, advises that all Drano products except one -- Drano Kitchen Crystals -- are safe for garbage disposals. But the main ingredient in all Drano drain cleaning products, including Dual Force Foam, Liquid Clog Remover, Max Gel and Snake Plus, is sodium hydroxide, otherwise known as caustic soda or lye. This compound can cause severe burns, and it can damage pipes. It releases heat when it combines with water, and if it lingers in the garbage disposal or drain, it can produce harmful fumes when it combines with other chemicals, such as bleach or ammonia. So it's best to consider alternatives before pouring this chemical into your garbage disposal.
Clearing Garbage Disposal Clogs
In most cases, you can clear clogs in a garbage disposal without using any type of chemical. Most clogs are caused by food or other items lodging between the rotor and casing of the disposal canister, causing the rotor to lock up and the drain to overflow. You can usually release the rotor by inserting a hex wrench into the socket in the middle of the rotor from underneath the disposal. Turning the rotor back and forth usually dislodges the clog, and when you run water and turn the disposal on, the clogs gets macerated and flushed down the drain.
Plunge the Drain
If a clog has developed in the pipes past the garbage disposal, try plunging the sink before you resort to other strategies for clearing it. You need a sink plunger -- not a toilet plunger -- and it should fit completely around the drain opening. It works best if there is an inch or so of water in the sink. If, after several tries, plunging seems to have no effect, cover the sink overflow holes with duct tape. That concentrates the force of the plunger on the clog and increases the chances of breaking it up.
Use a Snake or Try Safer Chemicals
Plunging doesn't always work, but there are more alternatives to pouring caustic soda into your garbage disposal. One is to disassemble the P-trap and clean it; while it's off, you can snake out the wall drain to remove clogs within reach of the auger. If you prefer the convenience of chemicals, consider Liquid Plumbr. Its active ingredient is citric acid, the chemical that makes lemons sour, instead of sodium hydroxide. You may also have success by combining vinegar and baking soda to make a fizzing concoction that may take time to work, but is completely safe for you, the pipes and the environment. If you finally decide to use Drano, be sure to cover the garbage disposal before turning it on to prevent splashing.