Should I Pour Bleach in My Drains?

The short answer is no. Many people use bleach in their drains on an almost daily basis to keep them clean and fresh, but this is a bad idea. This is not the proper use for bleach, it contains toxic and volatile chemicals that can react negatively with the contents of the drain. Bleach can kill bacteria that are beneficial to a septic system, it can release toxic fumes and it can even damage your plumbing system. In this article, we will take a closer look at bleach and how it should be used in your home.

What is Bleach?

Bleach is a collective and generic term applied to chemical cleaning products that are used in homes and industries. They are effective stain removal products with broad spectrum bactericidal properties which make them a go to solution for cleaning and sterilizing. It’s common to see bleach used to clean swimming pools where they control bacteria, algae, and viruses. The active agent in most domestic liquid bleach cleaning products is chlorine. Chlorine is a powerful oxidizer, but it’s combined in bleach with a hypochlorite to prevent the formation of toxic gas.

Using Bleach to Clear Drain Clogs

For many people, bleach is their reflex approach to a clogged drain and this is a bad idea. Why? Well, the exact opposite is true, when you pour bleach into the drain you can create clogs and you may even burst your plumbing pipes. Bleach is an effective stain remover and disinfectant, but it has no dissolving properties. Adding bleach to particles trapped in the drain, such as hair, grease, oil, food scraps, and more, is not effective. Pouring bleach may be a simple act, but you will be causing more problems in the medium to long-term. When it comes to clearing drain clogs a professional plumber will always prefer a manual removal method over any chemical drain clearing product.

How to Use Bleach Safely

If you are using bleach for contact cleaning and disinfection purposes, there are some safety guidelines that should be followed carefully:

If you get bleach on your exposed skin, or even worse in your eyes, it can cause a lot of damage in a very short period of time. Care should be taken to avoid contact with your eyes, mouth, nose, and skin. Wear rubber gloves at all times before, during, and after cleaning to avoid accidental contact with your skin. Eye protection should be worn and it’s a good idea to wear a suitable mask to prevent the inhalation of toxic fumes. Remember that contact with residual substances may have some unexpected consequences and you need to take care.

Mixing bleach with other household cleaners can produce toxic fumes that may surprise you. Why? Well, bleach is an unstable and reactive chemical compound that can form a number of hazardous toxins and gasses when it’s mixed with other cleaners. A full list of these effects is beyond the scope of this article because there are so many cleaning products on the market. Some broad examples would include ammonia based cleaners (more on this below), disinfectants, toilet cleaners, rubbing alcohol, pesticides, acetone, and vinegar based cleaners (more on this later). So, to stay safe, simply use bleach in isolation, clean and rinse thoroughly before you use any other cleaning product.

Avoid Mixing Bleach with Ammonia Based Cleaners

Mixing bleach with ammonia based household cleaning products is a particularly bad idea. When bleach is combined with ammonia it produces chloramine which is a toxic gas. This gas will escape the drain, circulate through the air in your home and exposure can cause sickness. Depending on the length of the exposure time, a person could be very ill and in extreme cases a fatality is possible. The health consequences of chloramine gas exposure may include eye irritation, shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing, chest pains, throat irritation, and even a bout of pneumonia. Under the kitchen and bathroom sinks there may be a P-trap that’s designed to prevent clogs and the intrusion of sewer gasses into the home. If you take a look you can see a curved section and this is a prime location for cleaning chemicals that can remain there for a long time. So, when you add bleach to those drains, you may be unwittingly creating chloramine gasses because the bleach may be reacting with ammonia.

Avoid Mixing Bleach with Vinegar Based Cleaners

Vinegar based cleaning products tend to be a little kinder on your home. But, care should be exercised because vinegar is acidic and if it’s mixed with bleach there can be serious consequences. When acid and bleach are combined deliberately or accidentally they create chlorine gas. This is highly toxic, and there are a number of negative health effects, including burning eyes, breathing problems, vomiting, internal burns, skin burns, pneumonia, and even death. Again, residues of vinegar cleaners can be lurking on the surface, in the P-trap, in drains, and in other locations. So, exercise care if you want to use bleach for cleaning purposes. The production of chlorine gas in your home may seem unlikely, but thousands of people are injured in this way every year.

I Poured Bleach in the Drain, What Do I Do Next?

Hopefully, we’ve shown that adding bleach to the drain is a bad idea. But, what happens if you forget or you accidentally pour bleach in the drain. What should you do next? First, remember that bleach is reactive and it will not mix well with other household cleaning products that may create harmful gasses. This may already be occurring if there are residues of ammonia or vinegar based cleaning products in the P-trap. So, the best approach is to turn on the cold water tap and run a large volume of water into the drain. This should dilute the bleach and any other chemicals that are lurking there and render them harmless.

If you have a drain clog that you cannot remove with a DIY approach, contact your local plumber today.