Cleaning PVC pipes can be a nightmare. While you can tackle small pieces of dirt with homemade remedies, they are no match for more stubborn clogs. And when all else fails, you might be tempted to reach for more extreme solutions such as muriatic acid. But while this cleaner will certainly work, is it safe for you for PVC?
We’ll answer the following questions in this article:
- What is muriatic acid?
- What conditions can PVC handle?
- What are some better cleaning alternatives to muriatic acid?
- How to use muriatic acid
What is muriatic acid? Chemical overview
Muriatic acid is an alternative name for diluted hydrochloric acid.
Hydrochloric acid is hydrogen chloride dissolved in water. It’s one of the strongest inorganic acids in existence, which makes it very popular in industrial settings.
However, it’s also an incredibly dangerous substance. Although muriatic acid might be a diluted version of hydrochloric acid, it still has a very low pH. Just a few drops are strong enough to dissolve materials such as metal and cement.
But what makes muriatic acid truly dangerous are the fumes. Since it is practically just a gas dissolved in water, it evaporates rapidly. Its fumes are very toxic, especially if they enter the nasal pathways. They might lead to a series of health complications, including lung damage and even loss of consciousness.
The fumes can also condense on metal surfaces inside the room, eventually leading to corrosion.
For the most part, lye is a much better alternative to muriatic acid. While it’s not completely safe either, it comes with fewer drawbacks.
The chemical resistance of PVC pipes – what you should know
PVC stands for polyvinyl chloride, a type of plastic polymer. It’s been growing in popularity for the past few years due to its excellent resistance and cheap production costs.
One of the most common applications of PVC is water pipes. They’re not only cheaper but also more durable than their metal counterparts. They withstand fluctuations in temperature better and handle most times of chemicals well.
Inorganic substances won’t dissolve PVC. These include hydroxides and acids such as muriatic acid.
PVC is only weak to organic solvents such as acetone, toluene, and xylene. However, it would still take a long time for them to dissolve it.
Can you use muriatic acid with PVC pipes?
PVC handles hydrochloric acid well enough. Since muriatic acid is much weaker, you shouldn’t have to worry about using it to clean your PVC pipes. However, this is only true for one-time use.
Muriatic acid can still damage PVC over time. While it won’t dissolve them, it can soften the polymer, making it much less resilient. Prolonged exposure can even cause swelling and bloating. Thus, we recommend using other cleaning products first. And if you absolutely must use muriatic acid, use it as sparingly as possible.
Moreover, all acids generate heat when they react with another substance. Unfortunately, plastic, such as PVC, warps when exposed to high temperatures.
But the biggest concern isn’t PVC itself. Most pipes feature rubber covers at the joints. These joints are much more vulnerable to acids than PVC, which is another reason why you should use this cleaner only as a last resort.
If you know, you have some metal components in your pipes, don’t ever use muriatic acid. Even a diluted solution can still corrode the metal, leading to expensive repairs.
Alternatives to muriatic acid – 4 best options
Although muriatic acids can make quick work of most clogs, it isn’t the best cleaning option. It’s extremely toxic to both you and the environment, which is why you should use it only as a last resort.
Consider using one of the following four options first:
1) Baking soda and vinegar
Baking soda and vinegar are arguably the best natural options for unclogging PVC pipes. When combined, these components react together, releasing carbon dioxide. As the gas passes up through the clog, it weakens the clog, making it easy to remove.
This method works best if you wash the drain with boiling water after you’re done. But while it’s fairly effective, it can’t tackle more stubborn clogs.
2) Hydrogen Peroxide
You can unclog your PVC pipes with hydrogen peroxide as well. A 3% solution is strong enough to dissolve organic debris but not strong enough to damage PVC. To this day, it remains one of our favorite cleaning options.
It works best in combination with baking soda. First, sprinkle roughly one cup of baking soda into the drain. Add hydrogen peroxide after 10 minutes and let it sit for a few hours. And finally, rinse the sink with hot or boiling water.
You might have to repeat this process several times before you achieve the desired results. If it still doesn’t work after multiple tries, consider using other methods.
3) Enzyme-based cleaners
Enzyme-based cleaners are the safest options on the market. The only downside is that you must buy them.
These cleaners contain either bacterial colonies or specific enzymes. Both decompose organic waste, keeping your PVC pipes clean.
But contrary to popular belief, enzyme-based cleaners won’t unclog your pipes. Since they require free passage, they’re only good for maintenance and prevention. They’re not the cheapest either.
Lye is a common name for sodium hydroxide, an extremely caustic substance. However, caustic substances are generally much gentler than most materials.
Still, lye is a harmful chemical to humans. It can cause skin irritation and even blindness if you don’t handle it properly. Make sure you wear protective goggles and clothing when using it. Only used it if none of the other methods worked.
Note: Lye reacts violently with water and can cause water to spray upwards from the drain. Always keep a safe distance from the drain until the reaction ends.
5) Call a professional plumber
DIY methods will only get you so far. If the clog still doesn’t disappear, you’re better off hiring a professional plumber. Using more chemicals will likely only lead to further damage at this point, resulting in costly repairs.
How to use muriatic acid
Firstly, we don’t recommend using muriatic acid to unclog your PVC pipes. Although it won’t damage plastic, it’s still an extremely toxic substance. If none of the above methods worked, you’re better off reaching out to a plumber.
If you still intend to use it, you can read the following guide for reference. Use it at your own risk.
1) Wear protective equipment
This is the most important step when handling corrosive chemicals such as muriatic acid. It should never come into contact with your bare skin, let alone your eyes. Always wear protective gear to avoid any injuries. We especially recommend wearing goggles as the acid can even cause blindness.
2) Keep the room ventilated
Unlike lye, muriatic acid remains dangerous even if you don’t touch it directly. It’s simply gas dissolved in water, meaning it creates toxic fumes. These can damage your respiratory system and even corrode other metallic parts in your room.
Always keep an open window where you’re working. We advise against using the acid if you can’t ensure proper ventilation.
3) Dilute it
Although muriatic acid might already be diluted, it’s still strong. We recommend diluting it with a 1:10 ratio, acid to water.
Make sure you add acid to water and not the other way around. If you attempt to do it the other way, the acid will splash in the other direction, leading to damage and even injury.
4) Apply the acid
You can now apply the acid to clean the pipes. Let it sit for a bit. Don’t flush it down immediately, as this will cause it to spray backward. Some spraying is inevitable, though – make sure you stand far enough from the sink when flushing.
Our final thoughts on cleaning PVC pipes with muriatic acid
PVC pipes are slowly replacing the metallic ones. But although they’re both cheap and durable, they’re not immune to clogs. Poor maintenance can cause debris to form inside the pipes, which interrupts the flow of water. This can make cleaning a nightmare.
Since PVC pipes are made of a plastic polymer, they’re immune to inorganic acids. Thus, you can clean them safely with muriatic. However, we don’t recommend using it often. Doing so can soften the PVC, leading to swelling and bloating.
Don’t use it if there are any metallic components in your pipe system – the acid will dissolve them.
The main concern of using muriatic acid lies in its safety. It’s incredibly toxic to both you and the environment, especially compared to other cleaning options.
Muriatic acid and its fumes can corrode metallic furniture in your room even without direct contact. Worse, the fumes can damage your lungs. In extreme cases, they can even make you pass out.
We recommend using products such as enzyme-based cleaners and lye first. If you still want to use muriatic acid, make sure you wear protective equipment. The acid mustn’t touch your skin or eyes. If it does, seek medical attention immediately. Always add acid to water and not the other way around to prevent splashing.
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