Drano, Aluminum, and Water

Household aluminium foil

Household aluminium foil (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sodium hydroxide

Sodium hydroxide (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Drano (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So, an interesting thing was brought to my attention. My brother showed me a warning he got via Email or something.

This warning said to be careful about picking up plastic bottles lying around. If you see an old bottle, and if it has a bit of foil and water in it, leave it. It would be a prank bomb, and if it is shaken even slightly, kaboom. An explosion. Not the type that is made by building up pressure, but an actual reaction explosion, that can take off several fingers, as well as releasing burning hydrogen gas.

Now, my wonderful, compassionate brother was not concerned and sorry for the poor people who got their hands blasted, but rather said “COOL!” and asked me how and why it works (Yes, I’ll make sure he doesn’t try anything 😉 ). So I did a bit of research, and here’s what I came up with.

Okay, first lets get into what Drano is. Drano is a product designed to unclog drains. I’ll put it simply how that works. Drano goes down the drain, and mixes with the water. Now, twi of the main contents of Drano is Sodium Hydroxide, also known as Lye, and little bits of Aluminum. When lye mixes with water, it dissolves, and the energy that is naturally within lye is released in the form of heat. This heat can boil the water, but there is still more reaction going on. Look at this:

2NaOH + 2Al + 2H2  →3H2 + 2NaAlO2                          


Now, Sodium is Na. O is oxygen, Al is aluminum, H is hydrogen. 2H2O is two water molecules, 2NaOH is two lye molecules, and 2Al is 2 aluminum molecules. The water, the lye, and the aluminum all react (+) together, and yield (–>) 2NaAlO2, which is a stable mixture (meaning it won’t react with anything). The reaction of all these is a mild explosion, and basically decimates all the grease, hair, food, etc. in the drain.

More Aluminum would mean a much bigger explosion, which is perfect for a bomb. I’m not sure exactly how these bombs are made, but I’m guessing that it is done so the Aluminum is placed so it separates the water and the Drano, and when the bottle is disturbed, the water and Drano come in contact with the Aluminum present, and they all go boom.


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