How to Remove Soap Buildup in Pipes

Last Updated On June 11, 2024

Updated on March 28, 2022



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remove soap buildup in pipes

Do you ever notice white residue in your bathtub, shower drain, kitchen sink drain, or pipes? That white residue is called “soap scum,” and when left unchecked, it can become problematic for your plumbing system.

That’s why it’s important to learn how to remove soap scum buildup in pipes. 

In this PlumbingNav guide, we cover:

  • How does soap scum occur?
  • How to remove soap scum buildup in your pipe?
  • What dissolves soap scum in pipes?

What's In This Guide?

      How Does Soap Scum Occur?

      Soap scum is formed when the regular soap you use mixes with hard water, which contains different minerals such as magnesium and calcium. When these hard water deposits react with the fatty acids that make part of the soaps we all use, they create lime soap which is soap scum, as well as unappealing hard water stains. 

      This scum tends to build up over time and attract the usual suspects: mold and mildew. 

      Not only is this soap scum a nuisance to your drainage (it creates clogs in the pipes), but it’s also a potential health hazard as it plays host to bacteria. While this soap scum can be a problem in your kitchen sink, it is quite at home in the bathroom or shower stall. 

      At this point, you probably think that you have nothing to worry about here since you don’t live in an area with hard water. Unfortunately, soap scum can still occur even in areas where the homes are supplied with soft water, albeit far less likely. 

      Sadly, however, most homes in the country get hard water which means that soap scum buildup is a nationwide problem that almost every home faces. 

      If you aren’t sure whether or not you are being supplied with hard or soft water, some simple telltale signs can help you determine which kind of water your house gets:

      • Your washed drinking glasses have random water spots
      • You find that you need to use more soap to achieve lather

      If you see any of these signs but aren’t convinced, there is a simple test that you can carry out to confirm the kind of water you are getting. You can simply install a water softener that will exchange the water hardening minerals with sodium ions. 

      The process will make your water much softer, and as a result, you will find that you are using less soap, and there is less occurrence of soap scum in your drain pipes.

      Can You Prevent A Soap Scum Drain Clog? 

      Yes, you can prevent soap scum clogs. When it comes to a plumbing issue, you are much better off preventing the issues from occurring in the first place than trying to remedy them after the fact. This applies to the formation of soap scum. 

      There are some tips and tricks that you can use to prevent it from occurring and causing a clogged pipe. One of the best ways to go about it is by installing a water softener, which we have already mentioned. This will make your water softer and minimize the formation of soap scum. 

      Here are other alternative tips and tricks that will help you minimize or even prevent the formation of soap scum in your sinks or bathrooms and help prevent a clogged drain:

      did you know how to remove soap scum from pipes

      Use a Mesh Trap

      A drainage mesh trap, or drain stopper, is one of the simplest solutions to preventing soap scum from building up in your drain pipes. Not only are they affordable, but they are also very easy to use. All you have to do is install one at every drain in your home. 

      They will keep the excess soap from forming within the pipes and catch other random items and debris such as hair and earrings that would otherwise go down the drain and contribute to the clogging. 

      Take Care of Your Drains

      People who’ve never really experienced a blockage in their kitchen or bathroom drainage systems live a kind of charmed life. You will find most of them using these drains as makeshift garbage disposals. 

      The problem with this approach is that things like hair, grease, grooming products, and food can easily combine to create drain blockages. 

      If you add soap scum to the mix, you have drain blockages in waiting. While the mesh trap can help by keeping some of these things out of the drain, the truth is that it can only do so much. It’s up to you to ensure that your drain is taken care of and not used as a garbage disposal. 

      Get regular drain cleaning, especially if you have a drain pipe that is coming to the end of its life expectancy. Clean the drain as part of regular deep cleaning of your bathroom. 

      While these prevention tips are excellent, in some cases, you will find that there is already some soap scum building up in the pipes.

      How To Remove Soap Buildup In Pipes

      Even if you have preventive measures put in place, some soap scum might still get through, and when it comes to soap scum, where there is a little, there will be more. 

      The best approach is to combine the preventive measures with a weekly soap scum removal routine. For a stubborn clogged pipe, you can also use a drain snake. 

      So, how do you remove soap scum from pipes? Here are some tips that can help:

      What Dissolves Soap Scum in Pipes? 3 Tips

      1. Clean with Baking Soda

      It should first be stated that using too much baking powder in your drain line can damage your pipes. As such, this solution should be used with caution. That being said, you can simply take 1 teaspoon of baking powder and mix it with a gallon of water before pouring the mixture down the drain. 

      If that doesn’t do the trick, try mixing 1 teaspoon of baking soda with one quart of water and pour that down the drain. Not only does baking soda do a good job of breaking down soap scum within the pipes, but it also creates a friendlier aroma around the drain. 

      As mentioned, however, if these two attempts don’t get the job done, don’t use any more baking soda. Either the following two alternative tips or wait for the next day to try the baking soda trick again. 

      You also want to avoid the use of harsh chemicals because, over time, they can damage your drain line and affect your plumbing. Do not pour bleach down your drain, as this is not a safe method for dealing with soap scum in pipes.

      2. Use Boiling Water

      Just as it works for grease and food fat, boiling water is just as effective when it comes to melting down soap scum. It’s by far one of the simplest solutions. All you have to do is boil some water (make sure it bubbles over so that it’s extremely hot) and then slowly but steadily pour it into the drain and over the soap scum. 

      Once you are done pouring all of the boiled water down the drain, you can follow it up by running the hot water faucet for some time (maybe a minute or two) to wash off any remaining scum residue. This can also help with any slow drain you may have in the home.

      3. Use Ammonia in the Drain

      While boiling water does a good job of loosening up most soap scum residue, sometimes, it doesn’t get the job done all the way through. In these cases, if the water is still not draining as fast as it usually does, you can use ammonia. This will help clear out any stubborn soap scum residue that might still be causing a stubborn clog in the pipes. 

      You need to be extra careful when using ammonia. Make sure to open up all the windows in the room because ammonia has an incredibly pungent smell. Once you have all your windows open, pour some ammonia down the drain and then run the hot water faucet for a few minutes to get everything washed away. 

      All these solutions should help remove soap and lime buildup in pipes. If it all fails, the next best solution would be to call a professional plumber.

      FAQs On How To Remove Soap Buildup In Pipes

      What causes soap scum in your pipes?

      Hard water causes soap scum when it comes into contact with soap. 

      What dissolves soap scum in pipes?

      Start by using boiling water or vinegar (white vinegar). If that doesn’t work, try using ammonia or a chemical drain cleaner.

      How do you remove soap scum in pipes?

      To remove soap scum, try one of the five options: 

      • Mesh trap
      • Plumbing maintenance
      • Baking soda 
      • Boiling water
      • Ammonia

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      About Plumbing Navigator

      We write about "all things plumbing," helping you navigate common questions, repairs, and the best plumbing products on the market.

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      We write about “all things plumbing,” helping you navigate common questions, repairs, and the best plumbing products on the market.

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