Drainpipe cleaners

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Drainpipe cleaners are chemicals used to clean drainpipes. Drainpipe cleaner poisoning occurs when someone swallows or breathes in (inhales) a drainpipe cleaner.

This article is for information only. Do NOT use it to treat or manage an actual poison exposure. If you or someone you are with has an exposure, call your local emergency number (such as 911), or your local poison center can be reached directly by calling the national toll-free Poison Help hotline (1-800-222-1222) from anywhere in the United States.

Poisonous Ingredient

Poisoning ingredients include:

  • Hydrochloric acid
  • Lye (sodium hydroxide or caustic soda)
  • Potassium hydroxide
  • Sulfuric acid

Where Found

Ingredients can be found in:

Note: This list may not include all sources of drainpipe cleaners.


Drainpipe cleaner poisoning can cause symptoms in many parts of the body:


  • Breathing difficulty (from breathing in drainpipe cleaner)
  • Throat swelling (may also cause breathing difficulty)


  • Severe change in acid level of blood (pH balance), which leads to damage in all of the body organs


  • Loss of vision
  • Severe pain in the throat
  • Severe pain or burning in the nose, eyes, ears, lips, or tongue




  • Burns
  • Holes (necrosis) in the skin or tissues underneath
  • Irritation

Home Care

Seek medical help right away. Do not make a person throw up unless told to do so by Poison Control or a health care professional.

If the chemical is on the skin or in the eyes, flush with lots of water for at least 15 minutes.

If the chemical was swallowed, immediately give the person water or milk, unless instructed otherwise by a health care provider. Do not give water or milk if the person is having symptoms (such as vomiting, convulsions, or a decreased level of alertness) that make it hard to swallow.

If the person breathed in the poison, immediately move him or her to fresh air.

Before Calling Emergency

Get the following information:

  • Person's age, weight, and condition
  • Name of the product (and ingredients and strength, if known)
  • Time it was swallowed
  • Amount swallowed

Poison Control

Your local poison center can be reached directly by calling the national toll-free Poison Help hotline (1-800-222-1222) from anywhere in the United States. This national hotline number will let you talk to experts in poisoning. They will give you further instructions.

This is a free and confidential service. All local poison control centers in the United States use this national number. You should call if you have any questions about poisoning or poison prevention. It does NOT need to be an emergency. You can call for any reason, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

What to Expect at the Emergency Room

The health care provider will measure and monitor the person's vital signs, including temperature, pulse, breathing rate, and blood pressure. Symptoms will be treated as appropriate. The person may receive:

  • Breathing support, including a tube through the mouth into the lungs, and a breathing machine (ventilator)
  • Bronchoscopy: camera down the throat to see burns in the airways and lungs
  • Chest x-ray
  • EKG (heart tracing)
  • Endoscopy: camera down the throat to see burns in the esophagus and the stomach
  • Fluids by IV
  • Oxygen
  • Pain medication
  • Surgical removal of burned skin (skin debridement)
  • Washing of the skin (irrigation), perhaps every few hours for several days

Outlook (Prognosis)

How well a person does depends on the amount of poison swallowed and how quickly treatment is received. The faster the person gets medical help, the better the chance for recovery.

Swallowing such poisons can have severe effects on many parts of the body. The outcome depends on the extent of this damage.

Damage continues to occur to the esophagus and stomach for several weeks after the poison was swallowed.


Wax PM, Young A. Caustics. In: Marx JA, Hockberger RS, Walls RM, et al, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2014:chap 153.

Version Info

  • Last reviewed on 11/4/2015
  • Jesse Borke, MD, FACEP, FAAEM, Attending Physician at FDR Medical Services/Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital, Buffalo, NY. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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