Blocked drains are a fact of life. No matter how well you scrape your plates before putting them in the kitchen sink, or how careful you are to remove any stray hair from your bathtub, all drains will get clogged. The only question is when, and how much.
While home remedies can help you deal with smaller blockages and keep your pipes and drains clean on a regular basis, the more hard core ones will require the help of a commercial drain cleaner.
How to Choose a Drain Unblocker
There are several points to consider before you actually purchase a drain cleaner. If you inadvertently purchase the wrong one, you may find that it isn’t doing a good enough job, or that it has damaged your drains. This is what you need to bear in mind:
Type of Drain Unblocker
Drain cleaners can either be chemical- or enzyme-based.
Chemical drain unblockers are usually based on caustic soda (also known as sodium hydroxide), which will power through any blockage without damaging your pipes. These cleaners will produce a gaseous heat that literally eats away any soap buildup, congealed fat, limescale and tangled-up hair.
You should use chemical-based drain cleaners to clean solid blockages in your bathroom or kitchen pipes (this includes both showers and sinks).
Chemical-based drain cleaners are not the right choice for cleaning toilets, waste disposals or other units that may overflow if blocked.
Try to use a plunger and some hot water to loosen up the blockage before you pour a chemical unblocker into your drain. Never use a plunger afterwards!
Enzyme-based drain cleaners are gentler, and will be very effective at dissolving organic substances, like mould or food. They will also keep working after use to prevent future buildup.
These drain unblockers won’t be able to get rid of solid blockages, as they need to flow through a pipe and coat it to be effective.
You can use enzyme drain cleaners to clean both bathroom and kitchen pipes that aren’t completely blocked, and you should always use them when cleaning toilets and other waste disposals.
Type of Drain
The drain unblocker you purchase also needs to be compatible with the type of plumbing you have in your home. Some products will work well with both metal and PVC pipes, while others will only be safe to use with one or the other.
Drain unblockers come in gel, liquid and powder form. Both liquid and gel cleaners usually work best, as they cling to all the sides of the drain, and are easy to pour.
Some powder cleaners can be too harsh and cause damage to your pipes, so make sure you carefully read the label of any product before you purchase it.
Number of Uses
You can buy small packages of drain cleaner that you will only use once. These tend to be more expensive, so it’s always best to buy a larger bottle that will last you a longer amount of time, and that you will have on hand should you need to tackle an unexpected blockage.
Most drain unblockers will work in around 10-20 minutes. If you are looking for quick results, this is the type of product to purchase.
However, there are also products that you need to leave in the drain for 12 or even 24 hours, in which case you’ll need to make sure no water travels down the pipe while the product is working.
These slow-acting drain cleaners tend to be gentler, so if you are worried of damaging your pipes (if they are old and corroded, for example), you may need to choose this type of product.
Drain unblockers can be odourless or come with a distinct, usually fresh-yet-artificial, scent. Which one you choose will be entirely down to personal preference. If you don’t like the harsh, artificial smells that these products have, be prepared for a bit of that drain smell to penetrate your home.
Outdoor vs. Indoor Drain Unblockers
Drain unblockers will usually work either indoors or outdoors, and practically never be usable in both instances. The ingredients used in cleaning indoor and outdoor pipes are completely different, so make sure you don’t mix the two up, and accidentally pour something that was designed to clear up garden debris into your kitchen sink, as your pipes can get damaged.
The ingredients in drain cleaners are very dangerous and should never fall into the hands of children. This is why these products come with safety caps and nozzle tops.
Depending on how agile and inquisitive your kids are, consider getting a drain cleaner that even you find difficult to open. To be extra safe, always keep it out of the curious reach of tiny hands.
Best Drain Unblockers in the UK
Here are the 6 best drain unblockers you can buy in the UK:
Mr Muscle Drain Unblocker
The Mr Muscle Drain Unblocker comes in the form of a thick gel that will deal with all kinds of blockages and drain obstructions.
You can use this product on kitchen and bathroom sinks as well as bathtubs.
You can’t use this product to unblock a toilet or a waste disposal unit.
You can let it work for 5-30 minutes if you are dealing with a milder obstruction, and even leave it overnight, if you are trying to deal with a drain that hasn’t been cleaned in years.
Buster Bathroom Plughole Unblocker
If you are looking for a single-use bathroom drain unblocker, the Buster Bathroom Plughole Unblocker works really well. All you need to do is pour the entire bottle into your drain, and let it work for 15-30 minutes.
You can also let it work overnight, if you are dealing with an extreme issue.
Use this product in your bathroom sinks, tubs and showers. Don’t use it in the kitchen.
Buster Plughole Unblocker Kitchen
Buster does make a drain unblocker that you should use in the kitchen though, so if you like their bathroom drain cleaner, you’ll like this one too.
It’s great for getting rid of all the food and fat buildup that naturally occurs in kitchen sinks, and will ensure your water flows evenly, especially if used on a regular basis.
HG Drain and Plug Unblocker
The HG Drain and Plug Unblocker is a powerful agent that will get rid of most blockages in 30 minutes. If you have a stubborn drain to deal with, this product can certainly help you out.
It also won’t harm any plastic drainpipes, but it shouldn’t be used around aluminium or zinc. You can use it both in your kitchen and your bathroom.
This is an enzyme drain unblocker, so there won’t be any violent chemical reaction happening in your pipes.
This is one of the most aggressive drain unblockers you can find on the market, so make sure you don’t use it for smaller blockages.
It’s great for dealing with both soap and grease buildup, and it will also quickly get rid of any hair tangles in your pipes.
This is a chemical cleaner, so you can expect a more violent process. If you are not sure about the quality of your pipes, you should probably skip this one.
If you are looking to unblock outdoor drains, try this Jeyes solution. It’s very strong and should never be used indoors, but it’s great at tackling leaf and other waste blockages.
It also leaves a pleasant smell behind, which is very efficient in masking the chemical reaction it causes.
Be sure not to use this product in places that can be accessed by pets and wildlife, as it is extremely toxic, and always flush hot water down the pipes you have used it on.
How to Use a Drain Unblocker
Before you use a drain unblocker, make sure to carefully read the label and understand exactly what you need to do. Not all products require the same use, so just because you have used one before doesn’t mean you now know how to handle all of them.
The improper handling of a drain cleaner can both damage your sink, toilet, bathtub or pipes, and cause serious burns on your skin. Inhaling the fumes that chemical drain cleaners produce can also be harmful, so make sure to wear gloves and even a mask if necessary when handling them.
This is what typical drain cleaner use looks like:
- Drain any standing water from your sink, tub or toilet before using a drain cleaner.
- Carefully open the product and pour the required amount into the drain.
- Let the cleaner sit for the recommended amount of time. Set an alarm so as not to forget you’ve left the product in the drain.
- Rinse your drain with hot water.
- Safely store the rest of the product out of the reach of children.
How Does a Drain Unblocker Work?
Chemical- and enzyme-based drain unblockers work in different ways.
Chemical-based cleaners cause a chemical reaction that emits gaseous heat that then breaks up the obstruction. This reaction also comes with a very distinctive smell.
Enzyme cleaners contain bacteria and enzymes that gently eat aways at an obstruction. You won’t be able to tell if they are working, as they are completely silent and stealthy.
How Long to Leave a Drain Unblocker?
Always read the manufacturer’s instructions when using a drain unblocker, but as a general rule, let it work for 15 minutes before running hot water through your drain.
If the blockage in your pipes is severe, you may need to repeat the process several times, or reach for a stronger product.
Does Drain Cleaner Damage Pipes?
Chemical-based unblockers can corrode stainless steel sinks and plugholes, so you need to be very careful when pouring them.
As for the PVC pipes that you can find in most UK homes today, they shouldn’t be damaged by any of the more popular drain cleaners on the market. However, you should still always check the label to make sure you have chosen the right product.
The longer you use a drain cleaner, the more damage it will be causing, but this damage will be practically insignificant. Enzyme drain cleaners are gentler than chemical-based ones, so only use the harshest products when your drain is absolutely unblockable with a plunger and an enzyme cleaner.
Does Drain Cleaner Dissolve Hair?
Yes, drain cleaner will dissolve any hair that has been clogging your pipes. Both chemical and enzyme cleaners will have the same effect, even though they work in different ways.
Wrapping It Up
Choosing the right type of drain cleaner will help you get rid of any blockages quickly and effectively. All of the products on this list are a great choice, so just consider your needs and price point, and get unblocking.