Cutaneous burns caused by sulfuric acid drain cleaner

J Trauma. 1998 Mar;44(3):523-6. doi: 10.1097/00005373-199803000-00019.


Background: Highly concentrated solutions of sulfuric acid are available to unclog drains. We have noted a substantial number of both accidental and intentional cutaneous burns caused by these agents.

Methods: A retrospective review was conducted of children and adults who sustained sulfuric acid burns over a 13-year period ending in May 1996. Reports of injuries related to drain cleaners filed with the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission between 1991 and 1995 were also reviewed.

Results: Twenty-one patients (13 children, 8 adults) sustained cutaneous burns caused by concentrated sulfuric acid solutions. In 8 instances, the burn was accidental, whereas in 13 cases, sulfuric acid was used as a weapon. Median total body surface area burned was 5% (range, 1-25%). Approximately 50% of burns involved the face and neck. Skin grafting was required in 14 patients (66%). It is estimated that nationwide approximately 3,000 injuries per year are related to drain cleaners and that one-third of these involve cutaneous burns.

Conclusion: Highly concentrated sulfuric acid drain cleaner can produce full-thickness cutaneous burns that require skin grafting in the majority of cases. Proper use of these agents and sequestering them from children may reduce accidental contact; however, their abuse as agents of assault remains a source of significant morbidity.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Bandages
  • Burns, Chemical / epidemiology
  • Burns, Chemical / etiology*
  • Burns, Chemical / therapy
  • Child
  • Hospitals, Pediatric
  • Hospitals, University
  • Humans
  • Kentucky
  • Patient Admission / trends*
  • Population Surveillance
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Sanitary Engineering
  • Skin Transplantation
  • Sulfuric Acids / adverse effects*
  • United States / epidemiology


  • Sulfuric Acids
  • sulfuric acid