Building An Addition: A Homeowner's Guide

Drain Cleaning Mistakes To Avoid When You Have Copper Pipes

by Toni Richards

Copper piping is often used to install water supply lines in the home, and some older homes have copper drain pipes as well. Copper has been used for decades due to its strength, resilience, and corrosion resistance. However, you should understand that copper can corrode over time. If you want to prevent corrosion, then you should be careful when you clean clogs out of your kitchen drains. Keep reading to learn about some mistakes that can cause damage.

Mistake - Using Drain Cleaning Chemicals

Most kitchen clogs are made out of a combination of grease and food particles that cling to the sides of your drain pipes. These clogs are difficult to remove without the assistance of heat or chemical disintegration. This is one reason why individuals typically turn to chemical drain cleaners. Acidic drain cleaners are ones that contain sulfuric or hydrochloric acid. These substances chemically react to the clog and this creates heat. The heat dissolves the grease so the clog releases. Caustic drain cleaners made from lye are also quite common. These materials turn grease into soap so it can be flushed from the piping. Unfortunately, it takes some time for the products to work through the clogs. For example, a product like Drano needs about 30 minutes to work through a tough clog.

As the chemicals sit in your drain, they react with the copper piping. Strong acids, like sulfuric acid, can actually dissolve copper and create holes in your pipes. Strong bases, like lye, interact with the metal as well and pull electrons from the copper. This can cause weaknesses too.

It is a much better idea to use natural or homemade drain cleaning solution to clear clogs from copper piping. However, some recipes call for salt. Salt will cause a corrosion concern as well. When salt comes into contact with copper it forms a material called copper sulphate. This material forms the telltale green patina on the outside of the copper. Instead of using salt, use a mild acid like vinegar to dissolve the clog formation. Pour about one cup of vinegar down the drain and then flush with hot water afterwards. Only let the vinegar sit for 15 or 20 minutes so the acid does not negatively affect the drain pipe.

Mistake - Using A Plunger

Copper pipes will fail over time. As they wear down, they will thin and start to build small holes called pits on the inside of the piping. These pits are the result of natural wear. Both high and low pH water can cause the pitting as wastes run through your drain. Acidic substances can cause issues too, and so can high speed water that flows through the waste system. Small leaks and holes can be repaired to increase the longevity of the drainage system. However, if you place a good deal of pressure on thinned and pitted pipes, then you may force a large hole to open up. Replacement may then be necessary sooner rather than later. This type of pressure can be forced against the pipes when you use a plunger. 

Instead of using a plunger, use an auger or drain snake instead. A hand crank model with a 25 foot cable is ideal for kitchen drain clogs. Also, make sure the device has a retrieving end that looks much like an open spring. Use the handle of the device to move the end or tip into the drain. Once you feel some pressure on the auger, pull it back up and look for the clog on the end of the snake. 

If you are concerned about the hand crank type of snake placing too much pressure on your copper drain pipes, then opt for a flat tape auger instead. This tool allows you to maneuver a much thinner tape, wire, or hose down the drain. A spear head will sit on the end of the auger to break up the clog and force it through the drain. 

Contact a local plumber, such as Lowry Services: Electric, Plumbing, Heating & Cooling, for more information.