When the kitchen sink drain develops a clog, many people instinctively reach for a caustic drain cleaner, such as Drano. They often do this before considering whether it's actually the best way to clear the clog. In many cases, it isn't. Using Drano can actually be harmful. The caustic nature of Drano is even more of a concern when clearing a clog in a garbage disposal. In most cases, you don't need to use Drano when clearing drain clogs.
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Treating a garbage disposal with Drano is not recommended. Drano's caustic ingredients can harm your disposal, and even you, if you inhale the resulting dangerous fumes.
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. This chemical is otherwise known as caustic soda or lye. The compound can cause severe burns and damage pipes.
Sodium hydroxide releases heat when it combines with water. If the chemical lingers in the garbage disposal or drain, it can produce caustic soda drains. This situation results in harmful fumes when the Drano combines with other chemicals, such as bleach or ammonia. Because of the dangers involved, it's best to consider alternatives before pouring Drano into 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. This causes 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 garbage disposal. Turning the rotor back and forth with the wrench usually dislodges the clog. When you run water and turn the disposal on, the clogs gets macerated and flushed down the drain.
Plunge the Drain to Clear
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. If it isn't secure on the drain opening, you won't get sufficient suction.
A plunger 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.
Try Snaking or Safer Chemicals
Plunging doesn't always work, but there are more alternatives to pouring caustic chemicals into your garbage disposal. One is to disassemble the P-trap and clean it. While the P-trap is off, snake out the wall drain to remove clogs within reach of the auger.
If you prefer the convenience of chemicals, consider using Liquid-Plumbr instead. This product's active ingredient is citric acid. This is the chemical that makes lemons sour, rather than sodium hydroxide found in Drano. You may also have success by combining vinegar and baking soda to make a fizzing concoction. Such a mixture may take some time to work, but this mix is completely safe for you, the pipes and the environment.
If you finally decide that Drano is your best option, keep some safety tips in mind. After applying Drano, be sure to cover the garbage disposal before turning it on to prevent splashing. This will protect you from dangerous chemical burns. It will also help to preserve any surrounding surfaces, such as countertops and floors.
Chris Deziel is a contractor, builder and general fix-it pro who has been active in the construction trades for 40 years. He has degrees in science and humanities and years of teaching experience. An avid craftsman and musician, Deziel began writing on home improvement topics in 2010. He worked as an expert consultant with eHow Now and Pro Referral -- a Home Depot site. A DIYer by nature, Deziel regularly shares tips and tricks for a better home and garden at Hunker and Family Handyman.