Clogged sink drains are troublesome enough. If you have PVC pipes, though, clogged drains can quickly turn into a real headache because you can't use chemical drain cleaners to clear them. Here's more information about this issue and a couple of alternative methods you can use to clear your clogged PVC pipes.

PVC vs. Commercial Drain Cleaners

PVC (polyvinyl chloride) is a special type of plastic made using large amounts of chlorine. While pipes made from this material are highly resistant to environmental corrosion and degradation, they can easily be damaged by chemical drain cleaners.

This is because these drain cleaners often contain hardcore chemicals such as lye, bleach, caustic potash, and sulfuric acid. These chemicals—when combined with other elements—generate heat as part of the process of breaking down the clog. Although PVC pipes are pretty sturdy, they're still a form of plastic, and the heat produced by chemical drain cleaners can melt them.

Outside of this particular issue, chemical drain cleaners are caustic and can easily burn skin if not handled correctly. The fumes they emit can also be toxic, which why you can only use them in well-ventilated areas. Lastly, many of these cleaners aren't safe for septic tanks or the environment.

Safe Ways to Clear PVC Drains

Just because you can't use chemical drain cleaners doesn't mean you must suffer with a clogged drain forever. There are a couple of alternatives that can clear drains just as effectively as a chemical product.

One option is to use two simple ingredients you can find right in your pantry. Pour 1/4 cup of baking soda and 1 cup of vinegar down the drain. If the vinegar smell bothers you, you can substitute it for 1 cup of lemon juice. Let the mixture sit for about 30 minutes and then flush the drain with hot water. The water shouldn't be hotter than 140 degrees; water hotter than that might soften or melt the pipes.

If that doesn't work, another option is to snake the drain. You can purchase a drain snake from any home improvement store. If you're in a pinch, however, you can jerry-rig a small one by unraveling a wire hanger. To use this method, remove the sink stopper and feed the snake into the pipe until you begin feeling some resistance, then alternate between gently pushing and jabbing against the clog to break it up and go down. Once it seems the clog has dissipated, follow up with some hot water to get rid of any lingering residue.

If the clog is particularly bad or you don't feel like dealing with the problem, contact a drain cleaning professional to help you resolve the issue.