A sulfuric acid drain cleaner can be an effective tool for cleaning a clogged drain, but it also can be incredibly dangerous. It is simple to use, readily available in low concentrations and can chemically break down many materials, as well as generating some heat to melt blockages. On the other hand, it also emits fumes, is corrosive, can cause serious harm if it touches the skin and can cause death if used improperly. If a sulfuric acid drain cleaner is used in strict accordance with all recommended safety precautions, then many of the concerns involved in using the chemical can be put to rest, although there might always be some factors that are either unknown or beyond the user's control that could cause a disaster.
One of the main benefits in using a sulfuric acid drain cleaner is that it has the ability to remove nearly any reasonable clog, with the exception of very heavy, solid clogs that are caused by inorganic materials. It also does not require any special training to use, because it is simply poured into a drain and left to work until the clog is gone. A cleaner with a sulfuric acid base also is very convenient and economical, because leftovers can be stored for later use, and it can be applied to any drain that can be reached without requiring space for tools.
There also are a number of disadvantages to using a sulfuric acid drain cleaner. The largest one is that sulfuric acid is a highly toxic, caustic material that will emit harmful fumes the second it is exposed to air. These fumes can cause severe eye irritation and have the potential to burn the tissue inside the nose and lungs if inhaled deeply. The fumes will persist in the room in which the cleaner is used in until it has flushed out of the drain, requiring good ventilation in the meantime.
Another consideration when using a sulfuric acid drain cleaner is that the same chemical effect that causes the cleaner to easily dissolve the matter in a clog also will dissolve nearly anything it comes in contact with over time, including skin and clothing. Once the acid has been poured into a drain, it must be left alone until the acid has worked. If the clog does not clear out, then the acid will be left in the drain and could cause problems for a plumber who arrives later to clear it. It also cannot be used in drains with garbage disposals or other devices that have the potential to splash the acid back outside the drain.
Most importantly, sulfuric acid drain cleaner has a very powerful chemical reaction when it meets water or some other drain-cleaning chemicals. It generates heat that could cause violent explosions or eruptions of toxic fumes, so it can really only be applied to a mostly dry drain. This is one reason why sulfuric acid solutions with higher concentrations of the chemical are regulated and only available to professional plumbers.
Even once a clog has been cleared, sulfuric acid drain cleaner could still cause problems. It has the potential to kill the necessary bacteria in a septic system and it can cause pipes to corrode. Sulfuric acid also can cause environmental problems, depending on the type of sewage system in an area where it is used.
What Is a Sulphuric Acid Drain Cleaner Made From?
Sulfuric acid is a byproduct of the purification of iron ore. It is the most common acid used in liquid drain cleaners. Though it is the active ingredient, the drain cleaner isn’t purely acid. Each company adds other proprietary ingredients to dilute the acid and thicken up the product. Some drain cleaners contain buffered sulfuric acid, which is slightly safer than pure acid.
How Do You Safely Use Sulfuric Acid Drain Cleaner?
Sulfuric acid is a very effective drain cleaner. However, there are some steps that you should take to ensure your safety against this potent chemical agent.
- Always use this product in a well-ventilated area. Keep doors open, run fans and open windows if possible.
- Wear gloves, goggles and a mask to protect yourself from splashes and fumes.
- Pour the acid into the drain very slowly. This prevents splashing and prevents a sudden bubbling of acid if the drain is severely clogged.
- Sulfuric acid interacts with water by creating heat. It’s safest to add acid to a drain that already has water in it because the water helps absorb the heat. If the drain is dry, do not immediately turn on the water. Otherwise, the acid could interact and boil out of the drain.
- Do not use sulfuric acid or other cleaners if you have already dumped another chemical into the drain. You don’t know how the two may interact, and some chemical combinations can be hazardous.
Treatment for Clogs in Sinks or Showers
To clear a slow-moving drain, pour approximately seven ounces of cleaner into the basin. If the drain is entirely clogged, begin with 15 ounces of the chemical. Sulfuric acid can work very quickly, and you may see results in as little as ten seconds. Once you pour in the solution, walk away from the drain to prevent inhaling the fumes. To check if the cleaner got rid of the clog, slowly turn on the cold water after the initial ten seconds. If the water doesn’t drain, continue to wait and try again in a few minutes.
Managing Heavy-Duty Clogs in a Shower or Sink
A second dose may be necessary if the drain doesn’t clear in the first few minutes. Add an equal amount of drain cleaner as you did in the first dose and let it sit for an hour. After that time, slowly turn on the cold tap and check the water flow. If the drain clears, let the cold water run for a few minutes to flush out any remaining acid in the drain. This also helps push the clog out through the smaller pipes and into the larger sewer drain.
Unclogging a Toilet With Sulfuric Acid
Toilet clogs are different from sink problems because there is often a lot of material blocking the drain. While it may seem like dumping a large amount of sulfuric acid can solve the problem quickly, this isn’t a good idea. Pure sulfuric acid is too strong and dangerous to use in a toilet, but commercial products sold as drain cleaners have additives that make them slightly safer. Since a clogged toilet may contain water, the drain cleaner may become diluted before reaching the debris. If possible, remove the water above the solid material. Then, slowly pour up to 17 ounces of sulfuric acid cleaner onto the clog. After 10 minutes, flush the toilet three times or dump three to four buckets of cold water into the bowl to force the material through the pipes.
Neutralizing Sulfuric Acid
This powerful chemical solution not only eats away clogs but also your skin, metal and other fragile materials. As a result, there may be times you need to neutralize the acid before it does damage. For example:
- If the product spills on the floor, you may want to make it safer to clean up.
- You may want to remove any sulfuric acid residue left in a shower or sink before using it.
- If you can’t remove a clog, it’s a good idea to neutralize the acid before having a professional plumber evaluate the situation.
To change sulfuric acid into a less harmful substance, add ¼ cup of baking soda to one quart of water and slowly pour it over the surface or into the drain.
Is Sulfuric Acid Safe To Use in a Septic Tank?
A few ounces of sulfuric acid should be safe to use down a drain if you have a septic system. However, it may disrupt the system if you use it frequently. The bacteria that keep the system in balance can be killed off and prevent adequate wastewater processing.