Bleach

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Copymutt

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Good morning gents.
I’ve not found a solid answer to this one. Will dumping a gallon of bleach down the john every few months damage anything. Main drain is cast from the mid fifties. Sinks, tub are a mix of ABS & PVC. My wife is convinced this will keep the lines clear, based on her internet searches. This is an endeavor to mitigate the frequent, multiple times per year snaking that works but never produces the culprit. We’ve tried Zep crystals for a couple years and as the blockage is upstream from an immediate exterior clean out it would not be roots. Everything is accessible in the crawl space. We’re very careful not to put grease or much vegetable matter down the sink. No grinder.
Thanks in advance.
Jim
 

JG plumbing

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There is some reaction between bleach and ammonia (which urine makes ammonia) that can be deadly.

I'm going from memory, the conditions have to be right, but it can be a mistake to use bleach.

I'd hire a plumber to track it down and fix the problem.
 

PerplexedPlumber

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If you have a special finish in the bowl, yes, it can damage the finish. *IF* you have a well-glazed bowl, a little bleach shouldn't hurt if you flush well a couple of times, but there is no need to use a gallon! Maybe 1/4 cup or less, and once every few weeks to months instead of weekly. Different problems occur in toilets, from the types of minerals in hard water deposits to a biofilm. Bleach will help with a biofilm, but not necessarily help with mineral stains and it is unlikely to dissolve mineral deposits since this is a strongly caustic solution. On a regular basis, use cleaners designed for toilet cleaning, along with a brush. If the typical cleaners don't work, you will need to learn more about the water quality for your area.

Bleach will oxidize iron. Bleach will oxidize common stainless steel (type 304 - starts with pitting of the surface). Too much bleach would be very bad for a septic system, since you rely on microorganisms to break down waste.

If you have to use a snake that often, you probably have other problems, and things may have been flushed that shouldn't have been. Perhaps there is an accumulation of years of hair that isn't being fully removed, or perhaps there is an unexpected physical obstruction or a bad plumbing repair that narrows the drain. You may need a plumber to resolve the root issue.

And as JG said: Be careful about mixing bleach with sources of ammonia - very, very bad.
 

Copymutt

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On sewer district. Connected decades ago as they threatened to condemn private wells if you didn’t. Sounds like it’s best to downsize the treatment of chlorine.
Thanks for all comments.
 

PerplexedPlumber

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Frodo: bleach is essentially lye (Drano) with added chlorine. It turns fats into soaps(at a slow rate), like making lye soap.
 

Mitchell-DIY-Guy

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Frodo: bleach is essentially lye (Drano) with added chlorine. It turns fats into soaps(at a slow rate), like making lye soap.
Say what? Liquid household bleach is 6% sodium hypochlorite, NaOCl. Lye is sodium hydroxide (NaOH). Drano (in crystal form is composed of:
It is the reaction of sodium hydroxide with the aluminum that makes Drano work.

Liquid Drano and Liquid Plumber are both what are called “liquid enzyme drain cleaners” and don’t use the same chemical reaction as crystal Drano to work.

Give me a mechanical snake any day! Never had much luck with these drain cleaners...
 

arctic bill

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when i do drain line unblocking with a fish , I ask the home owner to wash down all the sinks, toilets what ever with bleach . who knows what i have pull back from the sewer .
 

PerplexedPlumber

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Say what? Liquid household bleach is 6% sodium hypochlorite, NaOCl. Lye is sodium hydroxide (NaOH). Drano (in crystal form is composed of:
It is the reaction of sodium hydroxide with the aluminum that makes Drano work.

Liquid Drano and Liquid Plumber are both what are called “liquid enzyme drain cleaners” and don’t use the same chemical reaction as crystal Drano to work.

Give me a mechanical snake any day! Never had much luck with these drain cleaners...
When you pass chlorine gas through a sodium hydroxide solution, it forms sodium hypochlorite. A little excess of sodium hydroxide keeps the chlorine in the hypochlorite form. Sodium chloride is table salt. Not sure what the purpose of nitrate is in this formulation. It would seem that hydrogen gas could form if that is aluminum metal; looked online and that was confirmed. [I had to look at the Wikipedia entry to see how thse worked together.] On the MSDS for the liquid Drano product and for Liquid Plumber, sodium hydroxide and sodium hypochlorite are listed. I still expect that most of the work is being done by the sodium hydroxide. This breaks down proteins and "saponifies" fats on its own. But as you said, those haven't been good problem solvers. When an issue has occurred, I've tried them, enzyme-based products as well, but usually those work a little after 2 or 3 applications, and there is a root issue that needs to be resolved. The last time that occurred, we demolished the house and rebuilt. [Of course, we had been planning to do that anyway. <g>]
 
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Mitchell-DIY-Guy

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Yes, hydrogen--and heat, sometimes lots of it--are a byproduct of the use of crystal Drano.

My point is that bleach is bleach. Bleach as we know it, isn't Drano with added chlorine. Bleach isn't going to open a clogged drain. Drano may help. A drain snake or "rooter job" will.

Bleach is a mighty good disinfectant though, and @arctic bill suggesting to homeowners to clean up a snaked drain/sink with bleach is a good one.

My bathroom vanity sinks would clog now and then and the best solution was not drain cleaner, or a snake: I simple but a basin underneath, took apart the P-Trap and associated parts held by the compression fittings, and cleaned them all up. Just have to remember not to try and clean them in the sink where you just removed the trap!
 

PerplexedPlumber

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OK, I'll say that was an oversimplification. Drano is caustic (sodium hydroxide), with additional ingredients with additional reactions. Bleach is a caustic solution with added chlorine (or chlorinating agent). If the most effective ingredient is the caustic, you don't need the chlorine. Bleach is cheaper, but the chlorine can be more corrosive than helpful. If you use a lot of it, it is bad for the septic system microorganisms too (and yes, caustic alone will kill microorganisms also). That said, I did a quick check and most drain cleaners include sodium hypochlorite as well as sodium hydroxide. I only found one that listed only sodium hydroxide. So the point is relatively moot, and I don't see a significant difference between using bleach or drain cleaner, provided either is used safely.
 

Mitchell-DIY-Guy

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Yes you did oversimplify. People rely on facts here, so it's best to get your chemistry correct. Really.
Bleach is not "a caustic solution with added chlorine"; it's Sodium Hypochlorite. Household bleach is ~6%. Read a bottle of Clorox.
Yes it's caustic in that it has a high pH.
You can find more concentrated versions used for chlorination, say at a pool store or industrial chemical supply. At that point, they are not "household".

Here are a few quotes, all from different websites, most of them from professional plumbers trying to provide guidance for homeowners and non-professionals:
  • But, if you have a clogged bathtub drain, using bleach won’t do much. Bleach is great for cleaning, but it is not that good when it comes to dissolving and removing clogs from the drains.
  • Bleach alone will not dissolve hair or grease, so its use as a drain cleaner is kind of useless. It won't work.
  • Bleach has no effect in dissolving the common culprits of household drain clogs, like hair, food scraps, and grease. Also, pouring bleach can harm the integrity of your drains and pipes. It’s a lose-lose scenario.
  • Bleach is a toxic and volatile compound that needs to be handled with care. Certainly, pouring it down a drain is dangerous and not the proper use.
  • Bleach is a powerful disinfectant and stain remover. But it has no value as a drain clog remover.
  • Bleach cannot dissolve built-up drain gunk. It cannot dissolve things like food waste, breadcrumbs, grease, and hair.
It's great for cleaning and a great disinfectant. That's it. The fact that some drain cleaners contain some compounds with some chlorine in them isn't relevant: they are added by the manufacturer to control the reaction that actually does eat the clog.

You said "I don't see a significant difference between using bleach or drain cleaner" and the answer is there IS a significant difference. Bleach isn't going to unclog a drain.

The danger when using bleach (even for disinfection) by "just pouring it down the drain" is you don't always know what is presently in the drain. If you don't flush ALL of it out, then the next person putting something in the drain doesn't know what's there either. Both scenarios can cause the bleach to release toxic gas.
 

PerplexedPlumber

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Some people I suspect simply enjoy a measure of reactivity. Please see the safety data sheets for the products you've mentioned. Most list "sodium hydroxide and sodium hypochlorite" in similar percentages to bleach, and sometimes with no additional ingredients. There are products that list only sodium hydroxide, which avoids the added risk of chlorine when it doesn't benefit the outcome, but those aren't common. And while I haven't found that more expensive versions of drain cleaners add to the outcome over a basic drain cleaner, this doesn't mean that someone won't find a little benefit for some clogs. Again, the sodium hydroxide present in bleach and drain cleaner products *does* dissolve protein and it saponifies fats, but not quickly. Digesting hair is a much greater challenge than digesting most proteins that may find their way into a drain. It is better to open a drain and remove a hair clog. I understood that we were talking about houshold bleach, we have not been talking about super-strength industrial chemical products. As I said earlier, small amounts of bleach with infrequent use should be OK for cleaning a toilet, provided the surfaces in contact with bleach are well-glazed and have no special finish and the pipes are not iron. Cleaning a clog is a different issue.

THE END
 
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