Chemical Cleaner or a Plumber’s Snake?

So, your pipes are clogged. No big deal; it happens all the time, and it doesn’t mean you did anything wrong. Particles of grease, hair, oils, soaps, detergents, dead skin, and all sorts of other stuff flow down your showers, sinks, toilets, bathtubs, and every other drain pretty much every day. Over time, all this assorted sludge and grime will build up along the inner walls of your pipes and can eventually create a clog. That, or someone tried to cram several washcloths down the bathroom sink’s drain. Hey, we don’t know. People do stuff.

Obviously, you want to clear this clog. The question is how to go about it. There are lots of options you have at your disposal, and they are NOT all created equal. You should start with a plunger made for the type of drain you’re dealing with; don’t use your toilet plunger in your kitchen sink. That’s yucky. If a plunger doesn’t do the trick, you have two more options: a chemical cleaning agent or a plumber’s snake. But which should you use on this particular clog? Why does that one work better for X type of clog, but not Y type of clog?

We can answer most of these questions and help you figure out the right course of action for any clog you might encounter. We can also teach you a thing or two about the best ways to unclog a pipe. It’s what we do, after all.

Chemical Cleaners  

When choosing a chemical drain cleaner, the most important thing is to choose one that will be safe and effective. There are a huge variety of chemical cleaners available, but a lot of them contain harmful or even toxic chemicals that can be dangerous to interact with. If you’ve ever been around a chemical drain cleaner before, you probably remember how they tend to sting the eyes. Make sure you use gloves whenever handling chemical cleaners, and consider goggles as well.

We know we don’t have to say this, but DO NOT drink chemical drain cleaning solutions. Your plumbing isn’t quite as resilient as your home’s. Chemical cleaners use acid, bleach, lye, or other caustic materials to generate heat and break away the buildup that causes clogs. That heat can also eat away at the pipes themselves. You don’t want to try to fix a clog and end up with a leak!   

The most famous chemical cleaner is probably Drano, but for the reasons we mentioned above, Benjamin Franklin Plumbing® of Dallas doesn’t recommend that product. You need a cleaner that will solve your immediate clog problem without creating bigger problems in the future. When we use a drain cleaning products, we go with BioBen.

BioBen is a natural biological drain line, which means unlike Drano or similar substances, it doesn’t use harmful or caustic chemicals to clean out clogs. Instead, BioBen introduces naturally occurring bacteria into your pipes. This bacteria eats the kind of grime that builds up inside pipes, clearing it away without harming the actual walls of the pipe. We think that’s pretty clever. It’s also considerably safer and more environmentally friendly than traditional chemical cleaners.

Whichever cleaner you end up going with, do some research on that specific brand. Find out how it works and whether or not you think it’ll work for you. After that, read the instructions and follow them carefully. Make sure you take your time and use all the proper precautions. Using chemical cleaners feels really routine, but that’s part of why you should be careful; most car accidents, for example, happen in neighborhoods those involved are familiar with.

Chemical cleaners work best on the sorts of clogs that occur from build-up. They’re made to eat away the grime that accumulates from regular usage. If you have a naturally occurring clog that you suspect is close to the top of the pipe, near the drain, a chemical cleaner should be perfectly effective at treating it. Chemical products tend to get a little less effective the further away the clog is from the point of entry. They also won’t always be able to do too much against tree roots or other items lodged in the pipes.

If you’re suspicious that one of those things is the cause of the clog, you probably should skip the chemical cleaner and try a more invasive solution. Chemical cleaners can be a good first-pass at clearing clogs as long as you use the right one and follow the instructions. If the cleaner proves ineffective, you still have other options. If it does work, it’s the quickest, easiest, and (usually) cheapest solution.

Plumber’s Snake

A plumber’s snake is for the clogs too heavy-duty for a chemical cleaner to handle. It’s a long, thin and flexible length of metal wire, usually around ¼-inch thick and tightly coiled. At one end of the snake there will be a handle and crank. At the other end there is an auger (it’s that corkscrew-looking thing). You thread the end with this auger into the drain you want to snake. As you’re pushing the snake further into the drain, rotate the handle clockwise. This will rotate the auger and uncoil the snake, allowing it to go further into the pipe. This process will dislodge grime along the sides of the pipe’s walls.

Keep uncoiling the snake further down the pipe until you start to feel resistance. That’s how you know you’ve found the clog. Keep rotating, but yank up on the snake every now and then to see if you can “catch” the clog in the auger and remove it. Keep working the clog this way until you feel it start to break up. If you continue to feel strong resistance after a concerted effort to dislodge the clog, the culprit could be a solid object you won’t be able to break away.

In that case, you’ll have to try to catch it in the auger and pull it out along with the snake. When you remove the snake from the drain, do so slowly so you don’t lose the crud you’re pulling out. If that happens, you’ll be back at square one! After the snake is out, pour some water down the drain to check on whether or not it’s still clogged.

As you’ve probably noticed, one of the chief advantages to a snake is that it’s pretty straightforward. As far as home solutions, the snake is your heaviest hitter. It can be very helpful to have a snake in the house. You have to be a bit more careful with snakes than you would be with a chemical cleaner, however. Make sure you’re not jamming the snake in too hard or rotating too violently. If you do it wrong, you could scrape up the inside of your pipes and damage their integrity.

The other main disadvantage of a plumber’s snake is it doesn’t always fully break up or remove the clog. Sometimes, the best the auger at the end of the snake can do is push a hole through the clog. That leaves behind part of the clog, which means it’s free to build up and clog again. Using a snake is also more invasive and time-consuming than using a chemical cleaner is, and can often become a dirty job. When it comes to getting at and removing major clogs or clogs that are deep down in your pipes, however, a plumber’s snake can be your best friend.

If you’ve tried a chemical cleaner and a snake and you still can’t clear out a clog, you should call in the cavalry. Professional plumbers have access to yet another tier of clog-clearing technology: hydro jetting pipe rejuvenation. Hydro jetting uses an awesome, high-tech type of snake with a video camera installed in it. We put it down into your pipes and can actually see where the problems are using the camera. Then we blast them away with highly pressurized jets of hot water. Consider it a kind of clog-clearing “nuclear option.”

If you need a professional to help clear out your clogs, or if you’re just interested in making sure your pipes are clean and effective so you don’t have to worry about clogs in the first place, get in touch with Benjamin Franklin Plumbing® of Dallas today. Whether it’s plunging, chemical cleaning, snaking, or awesome techno-hydro blasting, we’ve got the experience and skill necessary to clear the toughest clogs.