Drain cleaners that are safe for septic systems

Updated July 19, 2017

Inside your septic system is an "army" of millions of good bacteria eating waste in the water that comes from your kitchen and bathroom drains. If you use harsh chemicals to break up clogs in your plumbing, those chemicals attack this good bacteria and kill it, causing your septic system to break down. You can keep your drains open by using cleaners with ingredients that work with this army instead of attacking it. Safe drain cleaners include natural homemade remedies, enzymes or microbe cleaners or a plunger or snake.

Homemade remedies

The Drains and Plumbing website recommends several homemade remedies that you may try for clearing a blocked drain. In the kitchen, attack a grease clog with a kettle of boiling water when you first notice a slow drain. Flush a slow shower drain with 307 g (1 cup) of baking soda mixed with 237 ml (1 cup) of hot water. For more difficult clogs, use 153 g (1/2 cup) of baking soda followed by 118 ml (1/2 cup) of plain or white cider vinegar. Cover the drain, leave it for several hours and then flush it with hot water.


Enzyme drain products can prevent clogs before they happen. The enzymes attack biofilm build-up comprised of hair, soap and oil that clog kitchen and bathroom drains. Enzymes must be used on a regular basis according to manufacturer's instructions. However, enzymes break down clogs at the source, but they lose power as they move through the drain.


Microbes are bacteria that are activated by water and actually eat the clog. These microbes are actually good for the septic system. Some microbes stay in the drain, sticking to the sides of the drain pipe and eating the hair, soap and oils as these enter the drain. This prevents biofilm build-up, the cause of most clogs. Microbes also turn solidified kitchen grease into a liquid that flushes down the drain. Microbes will die only if there is nothing to eat. The only way to kill microbes is with boiling water. Microbes are not effective for cleaning drains clogged with rubber or plastic materials.

Plungers or snakes

According to the Drains and Plumbing website, "every household should have a plunger, and it's advisable to have one for each toilet in the house as well as one used only for sinks." The suctioning power of the plunger can often break up a clog. Home remedies sometimes are more effective when used in combination with a plunger. Grease can sometimes harden and set like concrete. For this type of clog, as with rubber, leather or plastic, you will need to use a snake. If only one pipe is clogged, you can buy or rent a snake. It's best to get professional advice before using a snake.

Cite this Article A tool to create a citation to reference this article Cite this Article

About the Author

Based in Florence, Oregon, Brenda Duffey has been editing and writing educational articles since 1967. Her work has appeared in various online publications. Duffey's cross-country trip lesson plan appears in "Powerful Teaching," published in 2003. Duffey holds a Bachelor of Arts and Master of Social Work from the University of Louisville.