How To – Cleaning A Main Waste Plumbing Line

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    In your home there are a variety of different sized waste lines which get larger the closer to the exit point of your home. The waste traps under your sink are two inch lines and fixtures like your toilet and bath tub are between two and three inches in diameter but your main waste lines are four to six inches in diameter and are large enough to carry water out of your home from many different fixtures at the same time.

    Sewer waste lines could be made out of clay, iron, plastic, concrete or brick depending on the age of the home. Maintenance of the line from your home to the street is the property owners responsibility

    When you have a clog in your main waste line it is often due to many years of buildup on the sides of the pipe combined with over use of toilet paper from your toilet. The backup means that none of the fixtures in your home are able to operate freely and you either have very slow draining or a complete stoppage.

    Eventually all homes will have this problem due to buildup of material and there is not a lot that you can do to prevent it other then not contributing to the problem by pouring grease from cooking into your kitchen sink and washing temporary clogs free by extra flushing of your toilet after a clog and keeping your vent lines free.

    Cleaning The Clogged Pipe

    Once one of your main waste lines is clogged you can not simply pour drain cleaner down your pipes and clean the clog. To remove the clog and buildup will require mechanical methods. Two types of large pipe cleaners include a water jet method which is not very common but can be used in PVC pipe to reduce the possibility of damaging the pipe and a large auger type snake with special attachments to break up clogs and clean the sides of your pipe.

    Although it is possible for a home owner to rent these tools at most local rental services the process is not clean and without proper training and having performed the work a number of times you are likely to wish you just called a plumber to clean the line for a few hundred dollars.

    If you are brave enough to do the work yourself or if you are cleaning a clog between your home and septic field that may cost you many times what a rental fee is then you should make sure that you get some proper training on the use and selection of heads for your machine.

    Your local rental store may have a video you can watch or at least some instructional material on how your tool works but most of the tools work in a similar method.

    The first thing you will need to check is the electric requirement for the motor. Most electric home size snakes can run on standard 110 volt at 15 amps or less and this is what most circuits in your home should be rated at. If the device requires 20 amps or more then you may need to look for a gasoline operated snake which really should only be used on lines external to your home.

    You should know what type of pipe you are snaking. Plastic PVC pipe that  is commonly used today is more fragile and prone to cracking so you must take care when operating your cleanout equipment.

    Snaking the Pipe

    If possible you want to start the work outside and work towards the street. If you can not gain access to your waste line near the exit of your home then you will need to perform the work in your basement.

    When you work in your basement be prepared for a large amount of waste water to exit from your access cap.  Although water will normally seep through clogs over a few hours you will definitely want to have some 5 gallon buckets and plastic tarps ready.

    Open the access pipe and run a 25 to 50 foot metal reel snake into the pipe to find the clog. You may be able to clear the clog with the reel snake enough to allow flow in the pipe. At that point you can test the system with a garden hose. It is not a good idea to run water in the home or flush toilets because this will fill your waste line with water.

    Once you have found the clog and decide that a normal snake will not remove the clog you can use a electric snake with attachment to try to get past the stoppage.

    Work slowly and in one direction with a 6 to 12 inch push pull motion as you approach the clog.

    Your electric snake should do most of the work for you but you do not want to force it.

    Hard To Remove Clogs

    Tree roots can get within your waste pipe at its connections and can also crack pipe and fill it with roots. This takes many years but when it does happen it usually means to repair the problem you will need to do some digging.

    There are attachments that can cut through tree roots and this may be a temporary solution but if the pipe is damaged and leaks you will need to replace that section of pipe.

    Although you can perform this work on your own it may mean digging a large trench in your yard. This can be difficult to do by hand and will cause delays in the repair of your waste line.

    A professional technician will use a camera mounted fish line to measure the distance to the clog and then use that distance to know how many feet from the home to begin digging. Although you can perform this without a camera you can not tell if the pipe is set off on an angle or if it runs in a straight line.

    Final Note

    Plumbers often quote hugely expensive prices for connecting your home to the street waste lines. You might find the quotes to be as much as a new car depending on how far your house is from the street.

    These costs are because homes normally only need this service once in their normal life and the service line is a requirement not an option.

    Honestly the work required to install a waste line from your home to the street is something that most home owners .. especially ones with teenagers that can do some digging.. can perform on their own.

    If all else fails and you find the cost too much I might suggest that you simply dig your own trench and connect a new line within the bounds of your property. If done by hand you can expect the digging to take a few days but if it is your only option and you do have some flow through the broken waste line it might mean not taking out a second home loan or maxing out your credit cards.

    The materials cost for a new waste line are minimal and available at all home stores.

    If you do decide to do the work yourself you should remember that about 4 workers die every month in the USA from Trench collapses. The


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