The key active ingredients in Liquid-Plumr are sodium hydroxide, also known as lye, and sodium hypochlorite, or bleach. When mixed with water, sodium hydroxide reacts to both become corrosive and to release heat. As this corrosive, heat-releasing mixture travels through the pipes, it breaks down and dissolves blockages such as soap or organic matter like food and grease. The bleach also helps to dissolve hair and cosmetic products. The product contains surface-acting agents that reduce foaming and help promote the chemical reaction.
Tips and Warnings
The process usually takes about 15 minutes to complete. Unlike some harsher drain cleaners, Liquid-Plumr's active ingredients are designed to degrade quickly so as not to interfere with bacteria in septic systems. The product's manufacturers, however, do not recommend that Liquid-Plumr be used with rubber pipes, which can be damaged by the process, or in conjunction with any other household products. Ammonia products in particular will react with the bleach to release a poisonous gas.
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Besides the standard drain cleaner, Liquid-Plumr produces some varieties of its product that work in different ways. The Liquid-Plumr Foaming Pipe Snake also contains hydrogen peroxide and thickens into a foam that reaches the edge of the pipes as well as clogs. In addition, the company manufactures Liquid-Plumr Power Jet Instant Clog Remover, which simply pulses a powerful blast of carbon dioxide into the piping to force clogs loose.
Liquid-Plumr is not able to clear every type of clog. If an object is stuck in a pipe, for example, Liquid-Plumr might make the drain seem to clear more quickly because it is able to dissolve the matter that has built up around the object. However, a professional plumber ultimately will need to physically remove the object. The reaction also does not dissolve waste matter that clogs toilet pipes, so the product generally does not work on toilet clogs.
Liquid-Plumr's largest direct competitor, Drano, works largely in the same way and contains the same active ingredients. Other drain cleaners achieve similar results with other alkali products, like potassium hydroxide. In addition, other cleaners use an acidic substance or enzymes to eat away at matter blocking pipes.
Liquid-Plumr is produced by the Clorox Corp. The company acquired the product in 1969 by pooling all its available cash at the time and heavily promoted the product, cutting Drano's share of the market from about 90 percent to about half.