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What is a PVC Drain Pipe?

A PVC drain pipe is a durable, lightweight plastic conduit widely used in modern plumbing. Its corrosion-resistant properties and ease of installation make it a favorite for transporting wastewater safely out of homes and buildings. Curious about how PVC pipes can enhance your home's drainage system? Discover their benefits and installation tips in our comprehensive guide.
M.C. Jones
M.C. Jones

PVC drain pipe, or perhaps more generally, PVC pipe, is the ubiquitous white tube most often used in plumbing applications. It is typically used to allow water to pass from one location, such as a roof, to another location, such as a sewer or gutter. Polyvinyl chloride pipe, or PVC pipe, is more often used to remove water, rather than supply it for consumption. Still, despite PVC's numerous benefits, including lower costs, and easier installation, according to the National Sanitation Foundation (NSF), copper pipe is actually the most commonly used piping in homes.

Proper drainage within and away from homes and buildings is important to prevent water damage to the structure. It also helps protect the surrounding landscaping. In addition to transporting water, PVC pipe can also be used to dispose of sewage.

PVC pipes can be a cheaper alternative to metal fittings like copper pipes.
PVC pipes can be a cheaper alternative to metal fittings like copper pipes.

While PVC piping can be used for potable and and non-potable water, it is most commonly used for non-potable water. When PVC piping was first introduced to the market, there were concerns that PVC and other plastic piping leaked harmful chemicals into the water. Since then, industry standards have been developed and piping that is appropriate for water is marked with designations such as NSF-61.

PVC drain pipe is usually used in plumbing applications.
PVC drain pipe is usually used in plumbing applications.

PVC drain pipe is often preferred over other forms of drainage pipe, including cast iron pipe, flexible tubing, or galvanized steel pipe. There are numerous benefits to PVC piping. One such benefit is that, when properly installed, it is impervious to root invasion and crush-resistant. Another benefit is that PVC pipe is typically cheaper than other alternatives such as copper or galvanized steel alternatives.

PVC drain pipe comes in several sizes. In the US, the most common size for water drainage is about 3 or 4 inches (about 7.6 or 10.2 cm). Those installing PVC piping should check with their municipalities to determine whether regulations over PVC pipe size, length or degrees of bend are in effect.

Most experts advocate a 4 inch (about 10.2 cm) diameter PVC drain pipe for drainage. They also strongly advocate avoiding bends, or "elbows," of 90 degrees unless it is where the downward pipe meets the ground. Instead, experts suggest a looser angle, such as 45 degrees followed by a small length of straight pipe and another 45 degree bend, or two 45 degree bends together, to achieve the total bend necessary. A single 90-degree bend can restrict water flow and make it more difficult to unclog the pipe.

Polyvinyl chloride was discovered in the 19th Century but its commercial uses were not realized until the 1920s, when additives were found to make it more pliable and easier to produce. Most hardware or home supply stores carry a full line of the pipes, joints and pipe fittings, as well as the sealants and tools necessary to finish the drainage project.

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Discussion Comments


In tight areas, can long 90 degree elbows be used instead of 45s?


@gregg1956 -- How do I know what the appropriate PVC drain pipe dimensions would be for my house? I have been told that I need to replace some of my pipes, and they're white plastic so I'm assuming they're PVC, but how do I know what dimensions or sizes I need?

I know how important it is to get this right the first time, I just don't know how to do that -- can you tell me?

Also, what is a flexible PVC drain pipe, and how do I know if I need one? The contractor that comes to my house keeps asking me all these questions about what I want in terms of my pipes, and I have no idea what to tell him. Can you give me a little advice?


When you're installing PVC pipes, it's crucial to make sure you've got your PVC drain pipe dimensions and sizes correct. The quickest way to get yourself into a situation where you need chronic pipe repairs is to use a pipe that doesn't work appropriately with your drain system or with the other pipes in your house.

You also need to be careful when choosing your PVC fittings. Although this seems like a very obvious point, you would be astounded at the amount of people who get the wrong size PVC drain pipe fittings and then try to make it work by forcing the pipe into the fitting or by stuffing the area around the pipe to make it stick in the fitting.

So be careful when you're installing your pipes -- this is a situation where an ounce of prevention is worth several thousand dollars of cure.


Ah -- thanks for this article. I was wondering why so many people went with PVC sewer drain pipes, but now I know! I never knew that there were so many benefits to using PVC for your pipes. Very interesting, wisegeek!

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    • PVC pipes can be a cheaper alternative to metal fittings like copper pipes.
      By: Sergejs Katkovskis
      PVC pipes can be a cheaper alternative to metal fittings like copper pipes.
    • PVC drain pipe is usually used in plumbing applications.
      By: AZP Worldwide
      PVC drain pipe is usually used in plumbing applications.