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How to Clear a Clogged Sewer Line

How to Clear a Clogged Sewer Line

If you are facing a clogged sewer line situation, you need to take some action pronto, before it worsens. In this article, you will find a clear plan of action, that should get the job done.
Omkar Phatak
Using high pressure cleaning methods might damage the pipes permanently, along with their attached fixtures. Make sure that the line can handle heavy pressure before using such techniques.

A clogged sewer is a problem which needs immediate attention as it can lead to a stinker of a situation, if not taken care of in time. The water drained from sinks, toilets, showers, and every other water outlet in your house is ultimately channeled through a sewer line to a cesspool or a bigger sewer. Sometimes, due to the creation of blockages in these lines, by objects which aren't normally supposed to be forced through the drain, they tend to get clogged. Water may start regurgitating from all the drain holes in the house due to such a blockage.

The obstruction can be of various types. Most common is the accumulation of food items, soap residue, toilet paper, or the growth of tree roots inside the sewer. The blockage due to food items can be avoided by the use of a strainer at the drainage outlet and by avoiding the forcing down of non-perishable objects like plastic. Some of the major causes of blockage are cooking oil and coagulated grease.

How to Fix a Clogged Line?
There are many ways of clearing a clogged line. The technique to be chosen, wholly depends on the kind of obstruction that is blocking the line. Unclogging a drain is one of the most fundamental of plumbing jobs. Here are the standard techniques used by plumbers.

Use a Force Ball Plunger
Firstly, the easiest way is to use a force ball plunger to push the obstruction down and clear the line. Pour some hot water down the line and then apply the plunger several times. The pressure this simple tool generates can drain out obstructions quite easily. Keep repeating the plunging action until the obstruction clears out. You can buy one in any retail store for about USD 2 to USD 5.

Use a Chemical Cleaner
If that doesn't do the job, pouring a drain cleaner chemical may work. These are acidic chemicals that can effectively clear out any organic obstruction by dissolving it. These chemicals are generally available in hardware stores. Follow the directions provided by the manufacturer and pour the chemical down the clogged drain. Small organic obstructions are generally cleared this way. It takes about 10 to 15 minutes for these chemicals to take effect, after which, pouring hot water down the drain is recommended. In most cases of mild blockage in bathroom, sink, or shower drains, these cleaners should do the trick for you.

You may use a caustic drain cleaner (that uses lye and caustic potash), an oxidizing one (nitrates, peroxides, and household bleach), or acid cleaners (concentrated sulfuric or hydrochloric acid). Be careful when using acidic cleaners and make sure that you make no skin contact with them. Use protective gloves and eye protection while pouring them into drains. Drano, ZEP, Instant Power, and MrGreen are some of brands that offer a range of cleaning chemicals, ranging in price from USD 5 to USD 50. They work in most cases, when the obstruction is near the draining point.

Using A Snake Tool
If the obstructions are in the form of grown tree roots, they are unlikely to yield easily to simple methods. In case of root growth causing obstruction, you need to use a snake tool (a long steel cable that is wrapped around a spool), which is normally used by plumbers and is available in hardware stores. You can buy a cable auger for USD 10 to USD 25. It comes equipped with a hand crank, which is used to push the cable into the pipe for clearance.

First, you need to locate the clean out plug which can provide access to the drainage line. This is generally located in the basement. Once you locate it, you'll need a wrench to loosen and open it.

Place a bucket below the plug and loosen it slowly. Some waste may leak out, which you can collect in the bucket. Once the leakage has stopped, remove the plug fully and insert the snake tool inside and push it in, as much as you can. Rotate clockwise, as you insert it in and push until it hits an obstruction. Keep pushing and rotating until the obstruction is cleared out. Remove the snake and then seal the plug back in place.

The snake tool, also known as an auger, comes in many varieties and depending on the degree of blockage, you can use one that suits the requirement. Generally, most of the hand augers have a reach up to 25 ft or 8 meters. Use a closet auger, if you need to clean a toilet drain. Heavy-duty drum augers or electric augers are the most powerful plumber weapons to wage war against powerful obstructions like heavily grown tree roots.
Use of a Power Rotor/Rotating Saw or Jet Hydrovac
If none of the above methods work, you may have to use some high power tools, to get the obstruction to clear out. Tools like power rotors and rotating saws, available in hardware stores, can effectively be used to clear out any kind of obstruction.

These need to be inserted in the drain line, like the snake tool and they help in clearing out the obstruction by grinding it out. Another power tool used, in case of extremely clogged lines, is the jet hydrovac, that uses a high vacuum to pressurize any obstructions out of the clogged line. These devices are costly and are generally used by professional cleanup companies. So in case of extreme clogging, it is best to take help of professional plumbers or cleaning companies.

Some of the other options that can be used are sewer jetters (devices that spew out high pressure water to clean the drain by force) and enzymatic drain cleaners (powders that can effectively dissolve blockages with low environmental impact).
Your primary line of attack should be the plunger and the chemical cleaner. If those do not work, it is best to call in a professional plumber to handle the job.

Preventive maintenance in the form of avoiding the pouring of food items (leftovers, grease, and cooking oil), fitting of sewer hole strainers, and regular periodic cleanups will ensure that you do not face a clogged line situation.