For many people cleaning plumbing clogs is not something the want to get involved with but if you have worked with basic plumbing before this is a job that you can perform on your own and save yourself a large amount of money.
Normally when pipes clog in your home it will happen in the trap area. This is a piece of pipe that is U shaped and the easiest place to see one is under your sink. There are two reasons for a trap and the first is to hold a small amount of water to seal off gasses that come from your sewer. As long as there is water in the Trap gas won’t travel beyond it. Another reason is to catch objects and allow you to service your plumbing before it gets to the main plumbing waste line. Unfortunately there are times when your main line will clog and in this How To we will look at how to best diagnose and fix the problem.
The first thing to know before you get started is that there is a possibility to damage your pipe or the waste line outside your home if you are not careful. If the pipe in your home is PVC Plastic pipe then even a damaged pipe can be easily replaced. The pipe outside your home however is buried relatively deep under the ground. If you use a tool and damage it you might end up with a back ho in your yard digging to get the damaged pipe out. Damage does not normally occur from normal cleaning and is almost always a result of cracked or bad pipe or one has been invaded by tree roots.
When the main waste pipe in your home is clogged all of your drains will react at the same time. This is a primary way to diagnose if the problem is in the fixture’s trap or if it is in the main waste pipe.
Not all problems with draining are a result of clogs in the waste line. There are also vent lines that allow air to flow in your plumbing that can get clogged. You will see these vent lines on your roof. A bird nest or other obstruction can block the vent pipe and reduce the ability of your system to drain.
If you do have a main waste line clog then it is likely that removing the main clog will still leave materials in your system. For instance if your line clogs outside your home due to baby wipes being flushed then it is likely that there are still some remaining in the home. Running a large amount of water such as filling your tub and running your faucets might remove the material however you may also want to snake your internal lines so your system doesn’t clog up soon after the main obstruction was removed.
Roots outside your home can grow through pipe walls by cracking it or in small gaps in joint lines where pipes are connected. PVC has less of this issue for joint line problems but it will crack and allow root growth. If you have roots in your pipes they can be removed and the system can be used without replacing the pipe but if there is physical damage you will need to replace the pipe or you will have problems like sink holes. A sink hole won’t always occur but it is a possibility. If you do have root problems or physical damage to the pipes this is normally the situation where you could break the pipe to the point it needs to be replaced while using cleaning equipment so it is a good time to be careful.
Finding the location of a Main Waste Line Clog
Every plumbing system will have a number of places where you can detach, inspect and remove clogs. The first thing you want to do is make sure that your appliance traps are free. I have had situations where both the sink and the bath tub drains clogged at the same time and the first thing you think is the problem is deeper but often it is within the first 10 inches.
Once you have decided there is a main line clog you need to find your clean out caps and remove them. Normally there will be one or two placed along the pipe that leads to the exit pipe on the wall of your home. Sometimes these pipes are all underground or in your slab so you will need to make sure to find them before you have a problem so that when you do you won’t be hunting for them. In addition to the interior clean out ports there normally one or two clean outs on the exterior of your home leading to either your septic system or the county sewer line in the road.
All pipe runs down hill and this is important to keep in your mind while performing work.
If the clog in your system is at the main trap where your waste line exits your home then the outside pipe clean out will be free and empty of water. If the problem is outside your home then the entire line will be filled with water. This is probably the best way to find out where the clog is because the pipe will be full of water behind the clog however you have to be careful opening clean outs inside your home or you could get a flood. If you can easily remove the cap then do so very slowly and if water starts to seep out before you have it off then just close it and move to the next clean out.
Removing the Clog in your Main Wast Pipe
Once you have found the location you will need to use a large power snake to remove the clog. They are available for rent in most areas and you can expect to pay about $50 for a half day. Transporting it will be an issue so you need to have access to a pickup truck or a trailer or at minimum a hatchback with easy access. They are heavy and will require a long electrical cord that is heavy gauge. Make sure you can plug it in before you rent it and expect to need help getting it into your basement if needed.
Unfortunately you will need to start on the wet side of the clog to remove it. If the water is still draining then allow it to reduce in level before you begin. A small amount of water in the pipe is fine but you do not want to remove a clean out cap and have it flood your basement.
The type of fixture you use on the end will depend on the clog. Normally you will have a few options and you should be trained in the product’s use before you leave the store.
Allow the snake to work its way into the pipe on its own. When you get to seams in the pipe you may need to give it a bit of help but often you won’t. When you hit resistance work your way through it slowly and then remove the snake to remove the material off the fixture end. You may see many roots, baby wipes, plastic bags or whatever might be in there but you should diagnose what is going on by removing the snake when you have worked through obstructions.
When you have removed the blockage you should flush the system by running your water for a short time.
Performing this job on your own is not that difficult but it will require renting tools and having the ability to put them into place. This is probably one of the heaviest plumber’s tools out there and you should expect to need help.
Plastic tarp is suggested both on your rugs if you need to bring the unit through your home and in the area you are working.
Remember that if you are opening an access port there may be a large amount of dirty water that you don’t want flooding your basement. There also may be chemicals in the water if you tried to remove the clog with a drain cleaner. Allow the water to drain slowly on its own, if it will, before you begin.
Always be safe when working and in this case wear gloves and old clothes.