Drain cleaners

Poisoning from an ingestion or inhalation of drain cleaner.

Poisonous Ingredient 
Sodium hydroxide

Where Found 

  • Some drain cleaners  
  • Some aquarium products

Note: This list may not be all inclusive.


  • Body as a whole       o Severe pain in the mouth       o Collapse  
  • Inability to breathe due to the throat swelling shut  
  • Severe pain in the throat  
  • Gastrointestinal       o Severe abdominal pain       o Diarrhea       o Vomiting  
  • Rapid drop in blood pressure

Home Treatment 


If the cleaner was swallowed, give water or milk IMMEDIATELY. If the patient is vomiting, keep giving water or milk.

Do Not TRY TO NEUTRALIZE by giving vinegar or lemon juice, as this may cause more severe burning.

Before Calling Emergency 
Determine the following information:

  • The patient’s age, weight, and condition  
  • The name of the product (ingredients and strengths if known)  
  • The time it was swallowed  
  • The amount swallowed

Poison Control, or a local emergency number 

The Poison Control or local emergency telephone representative will instruct you if it is necessary to take the patient to the hospital. The national Poison Control hotline can be reached at 1-800-222-1222.
Take the container with you to the emergency room.

What to expect at the emergency room 
Some or all of the following procedures may be performed:

  • For swallowed poison       o Administration of fluids       o Endoscopy       o Treatment of symptoms  
  • For inhalation       o Administration of supplemental oxygen       o Treatment of symptoms

Expectations (prognosis) 

The probable outcome depends on how much drain cleaner was consumed. Extensive damage to the mouth, throat, and stomach are possible. The ultimate outcome depends on the extent of this damage.

Damage continues to occur in the esophagus and stomach for several weeks after the drain cleaner was swallowed. Death may occur as long as a month after the drain cleaner was swallowed.

Johns Hopkins patient information

Last revised: December 6, 2012
by Simon D. Mitin, M.D.

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All ArmMed Media material is provided for information only and is neither advice nor a substitute for proper medical care. Consult a qualified healthcare professional who understands your particular history for individual concerns.