You’re happily lathering up in the shower when you notice the water around your feet is slowly turning into a swimming pool. The realization hits you — you have a blocked drain.
This universal aspect of household life is frustrating and can lead to awful smells. Even more worryingly, research shows that blocked drains can cause illness — including sepsis, Legionnaires’ disease and pneumonia (1).
In this article, we’ve sourced only the best drain cleaners on the market. Our goal is to help keep your plumbing odor, disease and trouble-free.
How Do Drain Cleaners Work?
Drain cleaners are liquids or powders tipped into your waste pipes to remove blockages. The chemicals within them, when in contact with air, water, and the cause of the obstruction, react and dissolve the offending matter.
Typically, depending on their formula, they work in four different ways. However, some products include more than one of these processes:
- Heat: Caustic — sometimes referred to as alkaline — drain cleaners contain ingredients such as lye and potassium hydroxide. They elevate the temperature around the blockage, either melting or breaking down the offending matter and allowing it to disperse.
- Acid hydrolysis: Certain acids, when combined with water, invoke a chemical reaction known as acid hydrolysis. This chemical change dissolves blockage materials (2). Due to their corrosive and dangerous nature, they’re typically only used by professionals.
- Oxidization: Ingredients such as peroxides, perchlorates, nitrates and hypochlorites mix with water — releasing electrons from the blockage. This reduces its mass, encouraging it to disperse (3).
- Enzymatic reaction: Some drain cleaners include a bacteria and enzyme blend which effectively “eat” the obstruction (4). This is considered the safest process — both for you and the environment.
Function vs. Safety
There’s little point using the most powerful drain cleaner possible if it’s going to destroy your pipes, melt your hand and fill your home with poisonous gas.
Here are some points to consider.
Aluminum and Old Plumbing
If your metal plumbing is showing signs of corrosion or includes aluminum materials, try to avoid using caustic or acid-based cleaners. Instead, use a safer enzymatic product.
These powerful acid/alkaline reactions can wreck your pipework. And this could lead to a more significant problem than a simple clog.
If you have a complete blockage — as opposed to slow draining — don’t use a caustic or acidic drain cleaner.
This may lead to the cleaner “sitting” on top of the obstruction. In other words, it would be allowing it time to penetrate your pipework and cause corrosion.
Ideally, try a mechanical solution first on total blocks before using any drain cleaner.
Location of Blockage
Generally speaking, bathroom blockages are due to hair buildup. Kitchen clogs, on the other hand, are due to grease and organic materials.
Acidic cleaners work best on protein-based impediments — such as hair. In comparison, alkaline compounds are most effective on fats (5).
Use Protective Equipment
These precautions are also important because drain cleaners can cause dangerous injuries. Some associated with drain cleaners include burns, thrombosis and esophageal cancer (7).
However, don’t be scared! As long as you’re sensible and follow these safety measures, there’s no reason to worry. If you are concerned, use a safe drain cleaner that uses enzymes instead.
How to Choose the Best Drain Cleaners
Selecting the ideal drain cleaner depends upon function, safety, and awareness concerns. Here are some factors to consider:
Volume of Product
If your blockage is a one-off, we’d suggest choosing a “single-dose” or smaller volume product. Conversely, if obstructions are a frequent occurrence, it may be worthwhile purchasing a more substantial amount.
However, if your drain is becoming blocked in increasing frequency, you might need to do more. It may be beneficial to look at the cause rather than treating the symptoms.
Type of Blockage
Remember, bathroom obstructions such as hair and nails respond best to acidic ingredients. Kitchen clogs from food and fats clear best with alkaline.
Health and the Environment
Acidic and alkaline compounds in drain cleaners cause the most damage to the environment. They can also cause you harm if misused (8).
The safest drain cleaners and those with the least environmental impact are enzyme-based options.
The Best Drain Cleaners of 2021
We’ve researched academic studies, and compared the best products recommended by industry authorities. We also looked at genuine user experience. Combined with our insight, this has allowed us to collate what we believe to be the best drain cleaners available.
1. Thrift Marketing Drain Cleaner
Are you one of those people who have little patience and want immediate results? If that’s the case, we believe this may best one of the best drain cleaners for you.
According to the manufacturer, this powerful alkaline-based product will clear even solidly-blocked drains, within 60 seconds. The story is similar in user experience. Many testimonials indicate that this drain cleaner clears blocks, where many of the market-leading products have failed.
This drain cleaner is suitable for use in bathrooms, kitchens, grease traps and sewer lines. Furthermore, it won’t damage porcelain, polished brass, chrome or plastic pipes.
Equally, there’s no complicated mixing to worry about. Simply add the required amount of powder — as indicated on the label — to your drain hole. Then wash down with hot water to activate.
Additionally, if the provenance is of importance, this product is made in the USA.
- Fastest-acting drain cleaner we found.
- Suitable for all-around home use.
- Damaging to aluminum, paint and clothing.
- Avoid contact with hands — it burns.
|Active Ingredient Type||Alkaline — sodium hydroxide)|
2. RID-X Septic Tank Enzyme Treatment
No-one wants the embarrassment of a visible and foul-smelling backed-up septic tank. If that sounds familiar, we may have found the optimal drain cleaner.
The adage that prevention is better than cure applies here. You should add this enzyme-based formula monthly to your system. In doing so, it continually works to break down human waste, cleaning your system and thwarting backup.
Each product contains sufficient powder to maintain your tanks for up to 16 weeks — for a 1500-gallon tank. This drain cleaner attacks grease, oils, protein and paper.
Furthermore, you can use this drain cleaner with confidence — being completely safe to handle. Pour the powder into your toilet and flush twice — that’s it.
Its active ingredients of cellulase, lipase, protease and amylase are wholly natural. You can rest assured they create environmental implications.
- Addresses buildup before an obstruction occurs.
- Safe for you and the environment.
- Excellent user testimonials.
- Long-lasting supply.
- Won’t unblock existing clogs.
- Not recommended for use in French drains.
|Active Ingredient Type||Bacteria and enzymes|
3. Bio-Clean Drain Septic Bacteria
Got a blockage? Yet, do you want to have the smallest impact on the environment as possible? We believe this is one of the best drain cleaners. It includes a proprietary blend of bacteria, combined with the enzymes lipase, amylase, protease and cellulose.
Effectively, when mixed with warm water and tipped into drains, the active ingredients act to “digest” dead organic waste. This process converts the obstruction material into the harmless compounds of carbon dioxide, water and mineral ash.
You can use it throughout the home for toilet, kitchen, bathtub obstructions. Additionally, this product is so safe that the manufacturer explains you can deploy it in cat litter boxes, the laundry room and RV tanks.
Finally, you can utilize this drain cleaner with confidence on all types of pipework. This is because the enzymes don’t affect inorganic materials such as metal and plastic.
- No risk to you or the environment.
- Includes up to 100 treatments.
- Doesn’t produce heat, boiling or fumes.
- Suitable for frequent precautionary use.
- Won’t eliminate inorganic blockages.
|Active Ingredient Type||Bacteria and enzymes|
4. Green Gobbler Main Line Opener
If you’re concerned about accidentally coming into contact with a drain cleaner, consider this drain cleaner from Green Gobbler.
This oxidizing product’s active ingredient is lauramine oxide. Its a plant-based chemical that, for most people, invokes no reaction when on your skin (9). If irritation does occur, just wash it off.
Users indicate that it’s highly effective at treating blockages caused by hair, grease, soap and baby wipes. This drain cleaner is gentle on the environment, and will not damage your pipes (plastic or copper) or septic system. In fact, it purposely clings to the interior of your plumbing for preventative effects.
Furthermore, we feel this is one of the easiest drain cleaners to use. Its thick liquid formula requires no mixing. Tip the indicated dose into the drain, and it gets to work within around 30 minutes.
Finally, it produces no odor or gas when used and is non-flammable.
- Made in the USA.
- Suitable for bathroom and kitchen use.
- 30-day money-back guarantee.
- Doesn’t contain bleach.
- Not as environmentally-friendly as enzyme products.
|Weight||64 fluid ounces|
|Active Ingredient Type||Oxidizing —lauramine oxide|
5. Drano Max Gel Clog Remover
This product might suit your needs if you suffer from frequent blockages. It’s probably one of the most famous examples worldwide and is seriously easy on the wallet. Hence, it is possibly suitable for those who use a drain cleaner more frequently and require a substantial supply.
The maker has formulated an alkaline product that cuts through standing water to address the obstruction cause directly. Primarily, it’s angled towards those with complete blocks instead of solely slow-draining issues.
You can utilize this drain cleaner in bathrooms, kitchens, garages and laundry rooms. This fast-acting product aims to work within seven minutes.
Contrary to popular opinion, the manufacturer states that it will not damage metal and PVC pipes, garbage disposal systems or septic tanks. As such, it can be left overnight for seriously stubborn clogs. However, while effective, the chemicals within this product are known to have adverse effects on the environment (10).
- High volume at a budget price.
- Money-back guarantee.
- World-leading product.
- Hazardous to nature.
- Dangerous to children and pets.
- May burn skin.
|Weight||2 x 80 fluid ounces|
|Active Ingredient Type||Alkaline — sodium hydroxide and sodium hypochlorite|
6. XIONLAB Industrial Strength Drain Cleaner
Going for an environmentally aware product doesn’t have to mean compromise. We feel this could be one of the best drain cleaners for those people who want power and a clean conscience.
The manufacturer states this product is industrial strength — and users agree. Its key lies in its gel formulation. Being heavier than water, it sinks to the root cause of your blockage, without sitting on the surface of your U-bend. Testimonials and experts agree that it’s effective at dispersing oils, fats, hair and lint throughout your home.
Furthermore, it’s biodegradable and has gained a Terra Care seal, indicating it meets environmental safety standards (11).
However, there remains a little mystery. The product doesn’t disclose its active ingredients — the label just indicates a Trade Secret/Proprietary mix. Hence, while undoubtedly an efficacious product, it’s impossible to say how it’s achieved.
- Safe on pipes and septic tanks.
- No toxic fumes.
- Small USA-based family business.
- Industrial strength.
- Won’t dissolve food or paper.
- Takes six hours to work.
|Weight||32 fluid ounces|
|Active Ingredient Type||Undisclosed|
7. ComStar Pure Lye Bead Drain Opener
If you want the purest product around with no frills or flashy branding, we believe you’re in luck.
This drain cleaner is 99 percent lye — a caustic metal hydroxide that disperses blockages through heat. You’re won’t pay for any additional fillers such as water, surfactants or dyes.
Instead of a typical powder formulation, the manufacturer has supplied this lye in bead form. This helps each measure sink through standing water and directly address the problem obstruction.
This drain cleaner is suitable for drains, cesspools, septic tanks and grease traps. It shouldn’t damage plastic pipes, porcelain or metal furniture.
However, while it may not hurt your home, it could injure you. The label clearly states that it’s a poison. Hence, the manufacturer recommends that during use you should wear eye-goggles and gloves. Furthermore, once delivered into your drain, stand back as there is a risk of eruption.
- Pure product with no fillers.
- Users indicate unblocking within a few minutes.
- Wide range of applications.
- Available in volumes up to 55 gallons.
- Dangerous to nature and you.
|Active Ingredient Type||Alkaline — lye|
Detailed Comparison Chart
|Product||Best||Weight||Active Ingredient Type||Type|
|Thrift Marketing Drain Cleaner||Fast-Action||2 lbs||Alkaline (sodium hydroxide)||Powder|
|RID-X Septic Tank Enzyme Treatment||Septic Tanks||9.8 oz||Bacteria and enzymes||Powder|
|Bio-Clean Drain Septic Bacteria||Eco-Friendly||2 lbs||Bacteria and enzymes||Powder|
|Green Gobbler Main Line Opener||Safety||64 oz||Oxidizing (lauramine oxide)||Liquid|
|Drano Max Gel Clog Remover||Value||80 oz||Alkaline (sodium hydroxide & sodium hypochlorite)||Liquid gel|
|XIONLAB Industrial Strength Cleaner||Both Worlds||32 oz||Undisclosed||Liquid gel|
|ComStar Pure Lye Drain Opener||No-Frills||1 lb||Alkaline (lye)||Beads|
Breaking It Down
Food, grease, hair and waste can all contribute to a blockage. The best drain cleaners provide an effortless way to either prevent or cure this unwanted situation. However, convenience can come at a price, and we’re not just talking about dollars.
When selecting your ideal product, consider the dangers to the environment and your health in using these powders or liquids. Alkaline cleaners are corrosive to pipes, your skin and can add poison to the environment. Conversely, bacteria and enzyme-based products are safe to handle. Plus, experts have shown they’re gentle to nature.
Whichever you choose, the above products may be your best bet to prevent stress and frustration, and unwanted smells!