Ask an Expert – Do Enzyme Treatments Prevent Clogs?

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WHAT GOES DOWN SHOULDN’T COME UP! 

Clogged drains can be inconvenient and expensive to clear.  If you could prevent the build up that leads to clogged drains using enzyme treatments, would you?  Should you? This week’s Ask an Expert question asked us to look at a product that promises to change “the waste particles into water, carbon dioxide and mineral ash which run harmlessly out of your waste system.”

DOES ENZYME A REGUALR TREATMENT PREVENT CLOGGED DRAINS? 

Hi Michelle,

I have seen an article on Bio-Clean (“What is the Best Way to Clean and Prevent Clogged Pipes?”) on a Plumbing website in Ontario.  Bio-Clean is a combination of natural bacteria and enzymes that digest dead organic waste found in blocked pipes.

Can R & B Plumbing comment on the merits of this product?  The write-up is very good.

Also, do you know if this product is available locally?

Signed, 

Is Organic Prevention an Economic Notion

THE SHORT ANSWER IS “NO” 

Dear iOPEN,

Thank-you for your Ask an Expert question about the Bio-Clean product.  Before we answer this question, let’s talk plumbing 101 about how fluid drains through pipes.  When water goes down a vertical pipe it rivers down the sides of the pipe.  When it drains horizontally, it runs along the bottom.  Therefore anything that is poured down your drains, unless it encounters a clog or something else to stop it, will move through the pipes and hopefully (if things are running right), only touch limited parts of the pipe along the way.   

The Bio-Clean website states that it is designed to slowly consume bacteria and other such matter that can build up to create a clog,  in a natural, non-toxic way.  This sounds good, and as you mentioned, it gets some great reviews. So, in response to your question, we did some investigation.

COST BENEFIT ANALYSIS

First, I decided to see just how it would compare to the cost of a plumber cleaning a clogged drain using a mechanical method like a snake or a small auger.    

In our business, we find that it’s not typical to go to the same house every few months, or even year after year for a clogged drain.  This is for two reasons.  Not only are homeowners usually pretty good at fixing all but the most stubborn clogs themselves, but  they also tend to learn from their mistakes and take steps to prevent clogged drains from happening in the first place.  That said, it does happen.  If I had to estimate an average, I’d say once every 5 years (less after those toddlers grow up!)  

So, if you needed a plumber to fix your clog, and it doesn’t involve the main line, let’s say your bill would likely be in the $200 range once every 5 years or so (and to clarify, we will assume you don’t run a hairdressing salon out of your bathroom.) 

In comparison, the Bio-Clean website advises that for best results you use repeated applications 5 days in a row,  repeating every month.  You can buy a 2lb container on Amazon for $60 (free shipping!) which reportedly contains 100 scoops (thanks to  Amazon Customer for that information) According to the bio-clean website for maintenance you use 1 scoop for each sink, tub shower, garbage disposal, etc. in the home.  In my little house with one kitchen and two bathrooms, that would be 45 scoops per month.  In addition to that, it recommends one pound (so half the container) for each 50 feet of drain line.  Add that up, and your investment for general use is about $60 / month or $720 / year! Literally, down the drain. Yikes! 

PRACTICAL CONSIDERATIONS

Even if you don’t use it that much, from a practical side, using this product on your pipes means that you can’t use them again for 8 hours otherwise you’re just rinsing the product away.  Also, the way water naturally runs in pipes means that you have no control over where the product contacts them.  It’s a blind operation in that you can’t see if the product is getting to where it needs to go.  

Most importantly I would assume, is that if you’re using it for a clog, you’d better not be in a hurry as the enzymes take time to ‘eat’ through the clog, and even then, they only consume dead, biodegradable material.  While the majority of the glowing reviewers have used this product on clogs – one happy Amazon user reviewed that it “only took 2 weeks” to clear the clog!  Bio-clean doesn’t recommend their product for unclogging drains due to the time it takes.

If you have some time, and the interest I came across a great consumer review on Amazon that may interest you.  The consumer put Bio-clean in a jar with different organic materials to test it.  

WHAT ARE THEY GOOD FOR?

No doubt that these types of products definitely have their uses.  Enzymes tend to work well in the RV world, septic systems, restaurant grease traps, and possibly, as reported in customer testimonials, applications where mechanical means of drain cleaning cannot be used due to the age or configuration of the pipes.  

A word of caution for West Coast users is this.  Our water contains chlorine.  Chlorinated water, produces acid, which gives it the ability to oxidize and disinfect. The MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) information that is provided with the Bio-clean product states that will be de-activated by acids, caustics or oxidizing agents. So, unfortunately, use with our water might cause it to become ineffective.         

The bottom line is this.  Bio-clean might be better than using chemicals, but other methods of clog prevention are undoubtedly more economical and their results predictable. For that reason, I don’t recommend it.  

For more information on how to prevent clogged drains look for our follow-up article on, you guessed it, How to Prevent Clogged Drains!  

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