What Is Pipe Descaling and When Do You Need It?

Leah Lopez Cardenas
Updated July 25, 2022
Man testing water pressure in bathroom sink
Photo: Maridav / Shutterstock.com

Highlights

  • Pipe scale is the buildup of minerals, grease, and rust in pipes, usually in older homes. 

  • Pipe descaling removes the scale buildup to eliminate blockages and clogs. 

  • Severe pipe scale can lead to corrosion and deterioration of water pipes and sewer lines.

  • Have a pro inspect your plumbing to determine which method of pipe descaling is best for your home.

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Descaling your pipes is not usually something to worry about unless you live in an older home. However, if your pipes show signs of corrosion, hiring a local sewer cleaning company to descale your pipes can help you avoid drain clogs and keep your plumbing running smoothly for years to come. Learn more about how pipe descaling can help you save on the cost of replacing your existing pipes.

What Is Pipe Scale?

Scale in pipes is the buildup of hard water deposits, minerals, grease, and rust inside pipes. This buildup can lead to slow water flow, clogs, and corrosion in your plumbing system. If you notice your water flow is moving slowly when you turn on a faucet, or you see water leaking out of pipes between joints, you may need to get your water pipes descaled to remove any blockages.

How Does Pipe Descaling Work?

A pipe descaler improves your water quality by removing the accumulated minerals, grease, and rust in your plumbing to prevent costly clogs and corrosion over time. There are three main ways to descale pipes: hydro jetting, chemical descaling, and electronic descaling (explained in detail below). 

Your local plumber can inspect your pipes and recommend a specific method depending on the amount of scale. Keeping your pipes in working order with descaling can help prevent future replacements and costly repairs.

Why Does Scale Need to Be Removed From Pipes?

In residential use, cast-iron pipes should last 50 to 75 years. Some factors can speed up deterioration, but typical cast-iron sewers should reach this age before replacement. Washing grease down the drain is the number one cause of cast-iron degradation. 

Acidic soil, detergents, drain chemicals, and mineral buildup can also decrease your pipes' longevity. Without descaling, these materials can ruin your plumbing and require replacing, and installing a new sewer line is costly.

Descaling your sewer line and water pipes can improve your plumbing issues while increasing the longevity of your system. 

What Types of Pipes Benefit from Descaling?

Cast-iron pipe is the most common type of piping that needs descaling, but it can also happen with other materials like copper or concrete pipes. The main types of pipes used in newer homes include PVC, PEX pipes, copper, and galvanized steel.

If you’re facing a possible replacement, look for a contractor who can descale the pipes with equipment specially designed for the task. Clearing a blockage costs around $300 to $600 on average, which is less costly than the cost of sewer line replacement, which can rack up to $50 to $250 per square foot.

3 Methods for Descaling Pipes

It’s possible to remove the corrosion deposits within a cast-iron drainpipe. Specialized descaling equipment can scrape the corrosion off the pipe’s inner walls so it can flush down the sewer.

There are several different ways to descale pipes, including hydro jetting, chemical descaling, and electronic descaling.

Hydro Jetting

Hydro jetting uses high-pressure water to clean off buildup and debris from the surface of your pipes. With the right nozzles and cleaning tool (head) on the end of the hose, this equipment can remove scale.

But simply using high-pressure water will, more often than not, fail to remove the bulk of the deposits, so be sure to talk with the plumber you hire about the different options for getting your problem taken care of properly.

Chemical Descaling

This method of descaling pipes removes rust and mineral deposits with chemicals. It’s safest to have a plumber do this for you, as handling chemicals is dangerous for the average homeowner. Chemical descaling also works best when the pipes don’t have much of a blockage.

Electronic Descaling

An electronic descaler can keep your pipes and appliances working better for longer by generating a magnetic field or low-voltage current that charges the mineral particles through the pipe surface. This keeps them from settling and building up on your pipes.

You can purchase an electronic descaler for about $200 on average at a hardware store, and it’s relatively easy to install yourself. Otherwise, a plumber can help you out with the installation.

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