We clogged a ton of drains, purposefully, and then cleared them out with a variety of different drain cleaners. It was dirty work, but in the end our analysis and testing showed that the classic Drano Max Gel Clog Remover is the fastest and strongest of the many options available on the market. It’s not the only one worth its salt, but it has stood the test of time in order to be the best around.
Drano was the first name which came to mind when we thought about drain cleaners and the professional strength proved to be the best way to handle the majority of drains. It takes out just about everything quickly and cleanly, and we had more trouble clogging the drain back up afterwards than with any of the others.
Table of Contents
How We Selected Products
Plumbers were called. Sales people at DIY stores bugged. Online reviews consulted.
Then one of our potential reviewers got wise and spent the time to research the actual chemistry behind drain cleaners, which launched us off on a chase.
We found a couple of enzymatic drain cleaners first, hoping that they’d allow for some quick, green, safe cleaning. We ended up settling on GREEN GOBBLER Ultimate Main Drain Opener and their Dissolve line.
Afterwards, we went with what was recommended by our interviewees. Drano Max Gel Clog Remover came highly recommended from sales people at stores and the online reviews which we looked at.
Most of the plumbers we talked to recommended any kind of 100% lye after we convinced them that we didn’t need them to snake the drains for us.
Finally, we looked for something which looked like it would be a bit safer than our other chemical options and settled on Safer Drain Opener by Xion Lab.
With our products in hand, backed by recommendations and reviews, we began to develop a testing model which we thought could simulate the conditions under which they would need to operate in the real world.
How We Tested The Drain Cleaners
Having spent some time arguing about where we were going to find enough clogged drains to deal with… we just made some. Construction of the drains was relatively easy for us, we only needed to put together some piping and a bucket to dump it in.
Deciding on which type of clogs took some more time. We eventually settled on pouring cooking grease down a third of them, clogging some with extensive amounts of hair, and the last third we just packed full of leafs and other organic matter and let sit wet for a couple of weeks in order to simulate toilet clogs.
We did put together two drains made of metal in order to see what the stronger chemical solutions would do to them, primarily the Pure Lye Drain Opener and the Drano Max Gel Clog Remover.
We’d been warned that chemical solutions weren’t the right way to go for metal piping beforehand, but we wanted to see how big of a disaster we could create or if it wasn’t going to cause problems immediately.
Our mock sink assembly, a cheap porcelain sink placed in a studio, was a pretty good replica of what you’ll find in most places. The metal ring around the bottom was something of a concern, but we replaced the metal stem underneath with a plastic one since those are more common these days and we didn’t want part of the sink failing if the chemical cleaners proved to be too strong.
In the interest of the environment we placed the drains in a PTFE mop bin and neutralized the basic and acidic solutions with vinegar and baking soda respectively before disposing of the water. We thought it was a responsible choice… and since we were running seventeen total tests in a reviewer’s property we also didn’t want to damage the under-floor plumbing in a worst case scenario.
It took us two days to get through everything, but our results came out as follows:
- Drano Max Gel Clog Remover was the best of the lot. It turned out to be a slower fix than many of the older Drano products. While it’s not recommended, it did cut through grease although we had to be liberal with the application and don’t recommend it for kitchen sinks.
- Pure Lye Drain Opener worked the fastest of any of the products. It also left some interior corrosion on the metal drain set after only one application and it’s quite dangerous to handle. It cut grease better than any of the others, however, and made short work of the rotted organic matter we stuffed in the others.
- Green Gobbler DISSOLVE–Ate everything. We ended up doing a another round of testing with it to see if their claims it could even eat Q-tips were accurate and it did well. However, in the pipes with complete blockages it did quite poorly.
- The Safer Drain Opener by Xion Lab was great for hair and clogs. It did little against organic matter such as paper however, so it’s a poor choice for toilets. It also managed to work in standing water while being safer to handle than lye.
- Green Gobbler Ultimate Main Drain Opener worked pretty well, but like the other Green Gobbler product we tested it was slower and wasn’t effective for complete blockages. The larger bottle size makes it great for toilets and sink drains however.
A Word on Safety
Most of these products are relatively safe, but both the Drano and the Lye options are best handled with gloves and safety goggles on. While not as nasty as the old sulfuric acid solution that Drano is known for the gel-material is still caustic if you manage to get it on your hands.
The only one which damaged our metal pipes was the lye product. We also noticed that it heated the water as it dissolved, so add it slowly or you also run the risk of warping PVC pipes.
Top 5 Drain Cleaners
|Name||Mechanism of Action||Rating|
|Drano Drain Cleaner Professional Strength||Acidic||5||Check Price|
|Pure Lye Drain Opener||Basic||4.5||Check Price|
|Green Gobbler DISSOLVE||Enzymatic||4.5||Check Price|
|Safer Drain Opener by Xion Lab||Basic||4||Check Price|
|GREEN GOBBLER Ultimate||Enzymatic||4||Check Price|
1. Best Overall Drain Cleaner
Drano Max Gel Clog Remover
Reviewed by: Max Perzon
Drano has always made some of the best drain cleaners in the world, and their newer products are quite a bit safer than the older ones at the expense of some of the power you’d find with the old, high molar sulfuric acid solutions.
This one is safe to use with any kind of piping but it’s really not the recommended solution for toilet clogs.
Where it shines, however, is in areas where there’s an abundance of hair such as the shower and bathroom sink.
It’s not as quick as some of the older products, but it’s a lot safer to handle which is better for the average consumer. We didn’t exactly dip our fingers in it, and we recommend gloves and goggles, but it doesn’t seem to give off any serious fumes.
We noticed that the gel-like consistency made it great for complete clogs, since it will sink to the bottom of the standing water and you can then let it do it’s magic.
It’s not the classic but it’s a lot safer and just as effective in the long run. You may have to wait a few extra minutes for it to work however.
- Great for clogs with hair
- Fairly safe to use
- Safe with metal pipes
- Not really recommended for toilets
2. Best Drain Cleaner for Complete Blockages
Pure Lye Drain Opener
Reviewed by: Max Perzon
Toilet clogs end up being some of the nastiest that you’re likely to come across, which necessitates the usage of harsher chemicals.
This one is comprised of 100% sodium hydroxide, or lye and it’ll make short work of anything organic which is blocking the path of water in your toilet.
A word of caution, however: pure lye is a harsh chemical and you’ll need to apply all proper precautions to use it. If you’re not willing to do that, you may be better off with an enzymatic solution.
Seriously, a granule or two of this stuff will cause chemical burns and if you’re not wearing gloves it would be easy for one of the small pellets to go unnoticed.
It was absolutely the strongest of all of those which we tried however. It was the fastest way to clear drains of virtually any kind of matter, but the safety issues surrounding it can be a bit much for some people.
For those who don’t mind breaking out the gloves and glasses and following proper safety protocols, however, there’s nothing better for busting apart whatever may be clogging your toilet. Just be sure to follow the instructions closely.
One final word of caution: add slowly. Lye produces quite a bit of heat as it dissolves and that can warp pipes and cause fumes which you absolutely do not want to breathe in.
If your toilet is clogged and dying for something to make clear it up quickly and effectively, then a 100% lye product is the best chemical solution.
- Super effective
- Easy to use
- Great for organic matter
- Very dangerous if mishandled
3. Best for Partially Clogged Sink Drains
Green Gobbler DISSOLVE Liquid Hair & Grease Clog Remover
Reviewed by: Max Perzon
Green Gobbler has put together some of the most impressive enzymatic solutions to clogging. These products are greener and easier to utilize when it comes down to it, at the cost of being a little bit slower and not having quite the same clearing power as older products.
This one is designed primarily for bathroom use and is engineered to handle hair and soap scum. It’s an important distinction, and if you have a truly brutal blockage in your toilet you may want to try something harsher but for general sink and tub maintenance it works great.
It was the slowest of all of the options that we tried as well and was completely ineffective on complete blockages. Due to the way enzymatic cleaners work that wasn’t exactly surprising, but considering the raving reviews we saw for it we were hopeful.
If you’ve got a slow tub or sink, then apply Green Gobbler and you’ll be impressed with the results. Give it a pass for complete blockages however.
- Safe and less caustic than traditional products
- Fantastic for tubs and sinks
- Not for complete blockages
4. Best Safety for a Chemical Solution to Drain Cleaning
Safer Drain Opener by Xion Lab
Reviewed by: Max Perzon
First things first: Safer Drain Opener will not dissolve paper blockages. Toilets are right out.
It’ll beat the heck out of anything else that might have found its way into your drain though. Boasting a ridiculously high 13pH it’s also fairly safe to be around due to some trick of proprietary chemistry. Many people have found it to work quite well on tough clogs.
Of course, the definition of a tough clog varies on the person and it’s probably not perfect for handling complete obstructions like harsher products. If you’re just worried about a slowing drain though, it’s a perfect solution for both the kitchen and bathroom since it handles both hair and grease quite readily.
It did break through on complete blockages but it took some time and generous application of the product in order to do so.
Give Safer Drain Opener a shot before you have a serious problem, and you’ll be impressed with the result. It’s not suitable for super heavy clogging however.
- Safe to use
- Impressive power
- Good for hair and grease
- Not suitable for complete obstructions
5. Best for Large Drains
GREEN GOBBLER Ultimate Main Drain Opener
Reviewed by: Max Perzon
Possibly the best non-toxic option on the market, Green Gobbler’s Ultimate Main Drain Opener is formulated to handle just about anything.
When we say it’s an enzymatic cleaner, however, that’s purely conjecture as the company is keeping their blend close to their chest, they mostly just point out that it’s supposed to be environmentally safe.
What we do know is that this is probably the strongest, completely safe cleaner on the market.
It won’t match Drano or pure lye for sheer effectiveness, but it can handle things that it really seems to have no business being able to take care of. We didn’t have any issues with it… until we tried it on a complete blockage.
Looking over the paperwork it looks like this stuff is meant to adhere to the side of the walls and break things down but when we tried it on a drain which was completely blocked it didn’t seem to do… well, anything.
It’s probably best applied to larger drains as soon as you notice any slowdown, rather than being used after things are already clogged.
It’s also designed to handle paper, which makes it a good solution for a clogged toilet as well as sinks and shower drains.
For an eco-friendly, safe, effective solution Green Gobbler’s Ultimate Main Drain Opener is awesome. Give it a shot if you’re uncertain about working with harsh chemicals or if you just want to maintain as green of a home as possible, but don’t wait too long as it’s not effective against complete clogs.
- Safe to use
- Handles pretty much any clog water can still pass
- Has trouble with complete blockages
A Word of Caution About Drain Cleaners
Before we delve into helping you make the decision on which drain cleaner is the best for you, we feel that you’ll need to know a little bit more about the chemicals used for these purposes.
The first thing is this know what your pipes are made of. Many drain cleaners utilize extremely caustic chemicals in order to take care of truly tough stuff like hair, grease, and other things which can gum up the works.
In absolutely no case should you use a strong, caustic chemicals when you have stainless steel, galvanized steel, aluminum, or copper piping. Seriously, don’t do it or you’re going to have a problem on your hands.
In our testing only the pure lye product did any noticeable damage once we cut the pipes open, but we still wouldn’t make a habit of it even with supposedly benign products.
Another thing to keep in mind is that acids and bases generate an exothermic reaction when they dissolve in water.
Simply put it gets hot. Add the chemicals slowly in order to avoid melting any kind of plastic piping. You can add a significant amount, as it’s not the raised or lowered pH which is going to cause problems for PVC but instead the heat generated by it dissolving too quickly.
And please, please, please make sure you use protective equipment. A single granule of sodium hydroxide or a drop of sulfuric acid hitting the skin can be painful.
Use heavy duty gloves, eye protection, and preferably an apron when using these chemicals.
For acids you’ll also want to make sure you have a window open, since they’ll fume right out of the bottle. We actually found that lye causes fumes if added too quickly as well, so it’s probably good practice to open the window either way.
Don’t be scared, but make sure you protect yourself and don’t cause further problems.
Fortunately, we’ve tried to recommend only products which will be safer than the pure chemicals used in the past, but do your research before using any drain cleaner and don’t take anyone’s word at face value that it’s completely safe.
Types of Clogs
Different types of clogs take a different approach to handling things. Drain cleaners primarily come in acidic and basic varieties, and each is better suited for certain types of clogs.
For the most part, however, any clog will be made of clumps of organic materials. Whether that’s paper products, grease, or hair is largely going to depend on the location of the clog. Sinks in the bathroom, for instance, are unlikely to be clogged by grease while those in the sink can take a beating if you’re not careful about disposal.
Depending on where you’re having a problem you should be able to pretty easily discern what your problem is and make short work of it.
Kitchen sink clogs will generally be composed of grease and food particles. They’re particularly nasty and it generally doesn’t end well. Do not use a caustic drain cleaner if you have a metal or granite sink. Trust us, you’re going to want to invest in a snake if boiling water can’t clear it out.
Grease is best cleaned up with alkaline solutions, but kitchen sinks are often made of materials which aren’t going to be able to handle things. Double check if you’re in doubt and go with a slower enzymatic solution if that’s the case.
Bathroom sinks and showers generally have trouble with hair clogging them. In this case, you’re usually best off with an acidic solution. Keep in mind that these tend to work more quickly, and if you have a significant amount of metal in the stem of the pipe it’s better to go with a solid, basic formulation to ensure it’s in the plastic piping before the water gets flowing.
Toilets have a larger drain, and you might be out of luck if you’re already completely clogged. Chemical drain cleaners are best to apply in cases where flushing has become slow, rather than completely stopped.
Due to their larger drains, most often you’re dealing with an obstruction caused by flushing something the toilet couldn’t handle. This includes sanitary pads, napkins, and other things which really aren’t made to go down the toilet.
Most often, acidic cleaners are used for toilet obstructions.
In all cases, you’re not looking at a real solution if the initial problem is actually a clogged grate or stopper. Check on these before you rely on harsh chemicals in order to make sure that you can’t solve the issue quickly and easily.
Enzymatic drain cleaners are new to the market and much safer. They rely on using enzymes to clear up proteins and other organic junk, and are usually geared towards handling paper or hair types of clogs. They’re safe to use in almost every setting and are a good option for metal piping, but they’re harder to find and aren’t as quick as harsh chemicals.
They’re also rather slow and due to the way they break things down they seem to be relatively ineffectual on complete blockages. At least none of the ones which we attempted to use would clear a packed down drain.
Using a Drain Cleaner
Once you have your cleaner, get ahold of your glasses and gloves and it’s time to get to work. If you haven’t already, double check the plumbing to ensure it’s not made of metal and remove anything which will obstruct the flow of water.
You may want to get a funnel in cases where you have a significant metal piece around the drain, this is more important for liquid cleaners than when you’re working with a basic solution which will generally come in a pelletized form. Either way, better safe than sorry.
Open the windows and doors and make sure the room is ventilated, particularly if you’re working with a liquid drain cleaner.
Seriously, the fumes from an acidic solution can be nasty and the interaction with a significant clog will cause hydrogen to come back up the piping. It might be best not to smoke in the room as well, since hydrogen gas is quite flammable.
Time how long it takes for the clog to break and flush the system with water for twice as long as it took to break through the obstruction.
For enzymatic cleaners we found that running hot water will speed up the replication of normal metabolism which occurs when using them.
Keep in mind, we’re only emphasizing the risks to keep you safe. Most people will be able to use a drain cleaner without any problems, but we’d hate for anyone to get hurt while following incomplete advice.
Now that your drain is freed, you’re ready to go.
Timing Your Drain Cleaning
The best thing to do is to have a drain cleaner on hand and then take care of the drain as soon as you notice it’s starting to slow down.
We got that advice from the plumbers we interviewed early in our selection process and it seems to hold true since less product and much safer products can be used to handle things when they’re in their early stages.
While drain cleaners aren’t enough to handle all clogs, they’re a fraction of the price of a snake and the plumber that comes with it. If you’ve got complete blockage going on then we recommend that you pick up Drano Max Gel Clog Remover, it’s the best around for the majority of tasks where you’ll have to take care of those gnarly clogs.