What goes down your drain? Water? Surely. Soap? One would hope. Hair? I'm not sure hair technically goes down the drain. Not down mine anyway. Rather it likes to get clogged there. Chemicals? Eek! Maybe even money? If you are using chemicals to clear the hair clogged there then yes, you have money going down the drain. Not to mention lots of nasty stuff. Nastier than the hair.
There are two types of typical drain cleaner/unclogger: acid-based and caustic. Acid-based drain cleaner consists of chemicals such as sulphuric acid. Sulphuric acid immediately eats away at any organic material it comes in contact with, like hair. That's great when it's the hair clogging your drain, but not so great when it's the hair on your arm. Clearing clogged drains is a messy job, usually involving standing water. It is far too easy to get splashed by this nasty stuff when pouring! Manufacturers recommended wearing gloves and goggles when working with acid-based drain cleaners.
Caustic drain cleaners are made of sodium hypochlorite (bleach), sodium hydroxide (lye), or potassium hydroxide (caustic potash). Caustic drain cleaners are what you will normally find on store shelves. They cost less to manufacture and are a little safer for the home use. Again, you need to use caution and protect your skin and eyes.
There is some debate over the affects these chemicals have on your pipes, plumbing, septic system, and water supply when entering the ground, but there is no debate over the health hazards of these cleaners. Chemical drain cleaners are among the most hazardous household products available to the public. Dangers include severe eye and skin burns, inflammation of respiratory membranes, corrosive burns to all human tissue, vision loss upon contact with eyes, and death if swallowed. Not exactly the kind of thing you want to be sloshing around in. I don't know about you, but this isn't the kind of thing I even want in my house. It's dangerous to store, dangerous to use, and dangerous to dispose of. If you have to take it to the hazardous waste drop off for proper disposal, do you really want to be pouring it down your drain?
This was a decision I recently had to face. Without warning the drain in our shower stopped draining. My usual standby of baking soda and vinegar followed by boiling water wasn't budging it and the plunger only made it worse so more drastic measures were required. Not wanting to use chemicals, I needed an alternative and found it in the way of a drain auger, commonly referred to as a drain snake.
Basically a drain snake is a long spring-like strand of metal that you shove down your drain, twist a bunch of times hoping to grab the hair or whatever it is obstructing your drain, and pull out to clear the clog. It may or may not come with a housing to coil the cable in. I found this mostly metal one for $17.99 at my local hardware store. They come in different lengths, I recommend getting the longest one you can. Mine was 25 feet, plenty long I thought. I was wrong. You can find 50 foot lengths. Go with that.
It took some finagling to get the snake past the drain. Things went more smoothly if I kept the auger vertical and turning while shoving the cable into the drain. I deployed the snake nearly all 25 feet and pulled up a nice sized hair rat. I'll spare you the pictures. I would like to say that this worked and in a round about way it did. Like I said, 25 feet was not enough. After pulling out the hair rat, the drain still was not draining. I tried several more times to no avail. We went back to the plunger and made things much, much worse. By the end of the night the entire shower was full of black crud floating in standing water. It was utterly disgusting. I called a plumber the next morning and he fixed us right up. I was fearful that the plumber would bring in heavy chemicals to get the job done, but do you know what he used? A drain auger! Much like mine, only bigger, longer, and electric. He said the clog was just beyond the reach of mine, so he added a closer entry point under the sink for future maintenance.
The plumber cost 10 times the amount of the auger, but I was on the right track. I'm not sure what the price of chemical cleaners is since I do not buy them, but it must be between $5.00 to $10.00 dollars. A few times purchasing these and you could have bought yourself a drain auger that you only have to buy once. Hey, if it's good enough for the professionals...