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A Guide to Different Types of Drain Cleaners and When to Use Them
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A Guide to Different Types of Drain Cleaners and When to Use Them

December 12, 2023

Dealing with a blocked drain? If it’s more than a very minor blockage, it may be time to break out the drain cleaner. However, before you rush to pour it down the drain, it’s important that you know which type works best and whether there’s a more safe alternative.

Blocked Drain Solution

As with anything in home maintenance, there are various cleaning products available, and it can be hard to understand the difference between each individual type. As one of Melbourne’s leading plumbing companies, we are here to lay it all out in clear and simple terms.

Keep reading for a professional guide to the different types of drain cleaners and when to use them.

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When May a Drain Cleaner be Necessary? 

First things first, how do you know when the drain has a blockage? The answer is fairly simple. If the water is taking longer than usual to drain out of a sink or basin, chances are there’s a blockage somewhere in your plumbing system. This can be everywhere from the kitchen sink to your shower or the bathroom hand basin.

Blocked drains are typically caused by hair, food waste, oil, grease, or a variety of hygiene products (such as tissues, cosmetics, and wet wipes). In the best possible scenario, this blockage will represent an inconvenience and deter you from using the sinkholes. At worst, a clogged drain will lead to serious damage that will become more widespread the longer it is left untreated.

So, with this being said, it’s safe to say that getting your blocked drains resolved should be on the top of the priority list. If the blockage is not visible or easily resolvable, the next logical step is to use a drain cleaner.

Of course, if you feel that it’s out of your wheelhouse, we recommend contacting a local blocked drains plumber straight away. At MCN Plumbing, you can get expert help with blocked drains in Lilydale, Oakleigh, and Frankston. Your drains are in safe hands with our highly experienced plumbing team. 

What are The Different Types?

The majority of blocked drain cleaners come in three forms: liquid, gel, or powder. Irrespective of the type or brand, all of these products feature chemicals that are designed to activate movement in electrons and then produce heat to unclog the blockage.

Caustic Drain Cleaners (Alkaline or Base Drain Cleaners)

Chemical Composition
: Typically contain strong alkalis such as sodium hydroxide (lye) or potassium hydroxide.

Functionality: These chemicals work by saponification, turning grease into soap, and by liquefying or breaking down other organic materials.

Safety Considerations: Caustic blocked drain cleaners are highly alkaline and can cause severe burns. Users should wear protective gear and follow safety instructions diligently.

Oxidising Drain Cleaners

Chemical Composition
: Common oxidising agents include household bleach or peroxides.

Functionality: Oxidising drain cleaners work by generating heat and releasing oxygen, which helps in breaking down and removing organic materials.

Safety Considerations: While generally considered less harsh than caustic cleaners, oxidising cleaners may still produce fumes and should be used in well-ventilated areas. Mixing with other substances can create hazardous reactions.

Acid-Based Drain Cleaners

Chemical Composition
: Contain acids like sulfuric acid or hydrochloric acid.

Functionality: Acidic drain cleaners are most effective against mineral deposits, such as those caused by hard water, and can dissolve materials like hair and soap scum.

Safety Considerations: Blocked drain cleaner, particular those with acid-based cleaners are corrosive and can cause serious harm. Users should wear protective gear and use these products cautiously. They are not suitable for use on certain types of plumbing materials.

It’s important to be aware of the specific chemical composition of the drain cleaner before you apply it. Applying the wrong type or not taking the proper safety precautions can and will have serious after-effects–effects that can be easily avoided by taking a more cautious approach.

This next point is also vital. Never mix different types of drain cleaners together, as this will likely lead to a dangerous chemical reaction. If there’s uncertainty or if your drainage issue persists, seek out professional plumbing assistance straight away.

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What Are the Alternatives? 

The ability to resolve a blocked drain ultimately depends on the extent and root cause of the clogging. More deep rooted blockages, for example, may be caused by tree roots and therefore require the services of a plumbing team.

However, for minor blockages, here are two methods to explore before you think about using a bloacked drain cleaner. 

Vinegar and Baking Soda

Materials Needed: White vinegar, baking soda


  1. Pour about a cup of baking soda into the drain.
  2. Follow it with a cup of white vinegar.
  3. Allow the mixture to sit in the drain for at least 15 minutes. During this time, it will fizz and bubble, helping to break down debris.
  4. Follow up with hot water to flush away the dissolved materials.

Effectiveness: This method is effective for minor clogs and routine maintenance. The chemical reaction between vinegar and baking soda helps dislodge and break down organic materials.

Note: While this method is safer and more environmentally friendly than chemical cleaners, it may not be as potent for severe clogs. It’s a good preventive measure and suitable for periodic maintenance.

Plunger Method

Materials Needed: Plunger


  1. Ensure there is enough water in the sink or tub to cover the plunger’s rubber cup.
  2. Place the plunger over the drain, forming a tight seal.
  3. Push and pull the plunger in a rhythmic motion to create suction. Do this for about 30 seconds.
  4. After plunging, remove the plunger quickly to break the seal and allow water to rush down, hopefully dislodging the clog.

Effectiveness: The plunger is effective for clearing blockages caused by the compression and release of air and water. It works well for simple clogs caused by organic matter.

Note: For better results, make sure there is a tight seal between the plunger and the drain. In some cases, it may take several attempts to completely clear the clog. If the issue persists, consider using other methods or seeking professional help.

Both the vinegar and baking soda method and the plunger method offer non-toxic alternatives to chemical drain cleaners. They are suitable for mild to moderate clogs and are often the first line of defence before resorting to stronger measures. If these methods prove ineffective, or if there’s a persistent issue, it’s advisable to consult a professional plumber.

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Tips for Using a Drain Cleaner

If other options are exhausted and you have not yet contacted a plumber, using a drain cleaner may become the next logical step.

Using drain cleaners, especially those containing caustic, oxidising, or acid-based chemicals, isn’t something that you should do on an ad-hoc basis. If you’re thinking  about using drain cleaners for blocked drains in Melbourne, here are 5 important guidelines on how to use drain cleaners safely:

Wear Protective Gear:


  • Wear Safety Glasses: Protect your eyes from splashes by wearing safety glasses or goggles.
  • Use Rubber Gloves: Chemical-resistant rubber gloves help protect your hands from direct contact with the drain cleaner.
  • Wear Long Sleeves and Pants: Cover your arms and legs to minimise skin exposure to the chemicals.


Use in a Well-Ventilated Area:


  • Open Windows and Doors: Ensure proper ventilation in the area where you’re using the drain cleaner. Open windows and doors to allow fresh air to circulate and prevent the buildup of fumes.


Always Read and Follow Instructions:


  • Carefully Read Product Labels: Follow the manufacturer’s instructions on the product label. Pay attention to recommended safety precautions and usage guidelines.
  • Dosage and Application: Use the recommended amount of the drain cleaner, and apply it as directed. Overusing the product may not enhance its effectiveness and can be hazardous.


Prevent Splashes


  • Pour Carefully: When applying liquid or gel drain cleaners, pour them carefully to avoid splashing. Do not shake the bottle vigorously.
  • Avoid Overfilling: Do not overfill the drain with the cleaner, as this can lead to splashing.


Never Mix Products

  • Don’t Mix Different Drain Cleaners: Never mix different types of drain cleaners, as this can cause chemical reactions and release toxic fumes. Always stick to one product at a time.

Get a Professional Opinion

If you’re dealing with
blocked drains at a Melbourne home or business, it always pays to partner with a professional plumber. Plumbers have the knowledge, skillset and most importantly, the technology and products to find the root cause of blockages, and work to find an effective blocked blocked drain solution.

While drain cleaners may be effective in certain circumstances, any more extensive clogging or drainage issues will need to be handled by a seasoned industry professional, like the team right here at MCN Plumbing.

From pipe repairs to pipe relining, hydro jet cleaning and CCTV diagnostics, we leave no stone unturned until your drains are fully functional once again. Whether you need expert help with blocked drains in Carnegie, Coburg or South Yarra, our mobile plumbers are never too far away. What’s more, every MCN service comes with $0 callout fees, workmanship guarantees, and honest advice from start to finish.


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