How to Unclog a Sewer Line

Nobody Likes a Clogged Sewer

Have you noticed frequent clogs within your home’s plumbing system? Do your shower, sink, toilet and bath seem to act up and not drain properly all at the same time?

If your answer is a frustrated “‘yes!” then you are likely facing a sewer line clog.

The problem with this kind of clog is if it’s left untreated, sewage builds up within your pipes and the only means of escape are your drains. Which is where the smell comes from. Which is how you know you have a problem, that you need to unclog your sewer line.

Your home’s plumbing is set up like a tree. The main sewage line is the tree’s trunk; each of the branches off the tree is a separate plumbing line. If the clog is just in one branch, that’s the only plumbing line affected.

You might suspect that just a line is clogged if water is draining fine in every place except one location. Try to clear the clog using a plunger and/or pour a vinegar and water solution down the drain. If the water now drains, you’re good to go.

But if multiple appliances sound as if they’re bubbling like a coffee pot, the trunk, or main sewer line, is probably clogged. A plunger at one drain is not going to work to unclog the sewer line.

If your sewer line is fully clogged, get it resolved immediately. The fixtures in your house can cease to function properly, leading to additional expense and hassle. Equally important, sewage backed up into the house is unhealthy.

So how can you fix it?

Let’s look at the steps to follow to unclog a sewer line.

Step 1: Locate the main sewer drain cleanout
Step 2: Collect the necessary tools
Step 3: Open the cleanout cap
Step4: Remove the clog
Step 5: Perform preventative maintenance
Step 6: When all else fails, call a plumber

Step 1: Locate the Main Sewer Drain Cleanout

The sewer cleanout is a vertical standing pipe that goes straight down and connects directly to your home’s main sewer line. It was put in place when the plumbing was installed and is required by law. It is usually located right outside the house in line with the sewer line that connects to the municipal sewer. In some cases, the cleanout is in a basement or crawl space.

Be on the lookout for a plastic or metal cap, with some kind of square fitting. Congratulations, you found the cleanout pipe.

Step 2: Collect the Necessary Tools

You’ll need a professional grade mechanical drain cleaner, also called an auger, also called a snake. This is not a job for an ordinary hand snake. You’ll need a mechanical plumber’s drain auger, which you can rent at any home improvement or tool rental store.

In addition, you’ll need:

Eye protection
Heavy-duty work gloves
Pipe wrench
Water hose

Plug your mechanical drain cleaner into what’s called a Ground Fault Circuit Interpreter (GFCI). This is a specific type of power outlet to avoid dangerous electric shocks. Most outside electrical outlets are GFCI, but check to make sure.

Remember you are working on a line that contains raw sewage. Put your gloves and eye protection on.

Step 3: Open the Cleanout Cap

Use the pipe wrench to loosen the drain cap. Once it is loose, quickly open the cap and step away. Opening the cap relieves pressure in the line, and that pressure can cause sewage to spill out. Wait for the spillage to run off entirely before proceeding (though we suspect you don’t need us to tell you that).

Step 4: Remove the Sewer Line Clog

Professional plumbing augers come in all different kinds of models and operational instructions. Be sure to read and follow the user manual for the tool you have. In general you’ll want to feed the auger cable into the drain until you hit the clog.

Start by putting the tip of the mechanical drain cleaner into the opening. Make sure it is inserted approximately 12 inches into the opening; once you’ve done that, use the garden hose to send water into the drain. (Note: Some mechanical drain cleaners connect directly to a hose for this purpose.)

Expect to notice what feels like a tug on the auger tool. This is normal. Keep pushing the tool further into the main drain line while squeezing more water into it at the same time. When you can’t push any further, you’ve found the clog.

Run the tool until you feel less resistance. You may hear what sounds like a surge of liquid. Not to worry, this is a good thing! It most likely means the clog is starting to clear. You may want to step back a few feet just in case any liquid splashes.

If you start to notice that the auger is no longer moving forward, pull it back a few feet, then push it forward again. This helps it continue to pass through the sewer line. Keep the machine running until the clog is cleared. Spray water down the pipe and observe if the water drains. You know the clog is cleared once the water level in the drain pipe lowers and eventually drains out entirely.

Finally, slowly pull the tool out of the main drain cleanout and put the cap back on. Use the pipe wrench to tighten, Hose off the tool until you remove any and all debris that may stick to it.

Step 5: Perform Preventative Maintenance

To keep your sewer line clean and prevent clogs and the need to ever rent a mechanical drain cleaner, perform monthly drain maintenance. Fill each of your sinks to the top, then drain them each one at a time. The water pressure moves any waste that’s hanging around in your individual pipes (the branches of the tree).

Also, avoid pouring grease down your drains and flushing anything that isn’t intended to go down the toilet (meaning not paper towels, tampons, baby wipes, floss, or household garbage). Grease in particular clings to the sides of pipes, and when combined with thick materials that aren’t intended to flush down the toilet accumulate into a clog.

Step 6: When to Call a Professional Plumber

If you don’t feel handy, you’d probably rather a professional plumber unclog your sewer drain. Benjamin Franklin Plumbing’s Aqua Bright Pipe Rejuvenation system works to remove all dirt and buildup from your pipes. By using hydro jetting, the Aqua Bright Pipe Rejuvenation eliminates the cause of the clog.

However, if you do try the above steps and find you are unable to clear the drain yourself, there’s most likely a larger issue that a pipe cleaning alone can remedy.

Environmental factors and general wear and tear also play a role in the functionality of your sewer and draining systems. Tree roots are a major culprit. It’s not unusual for a growing tree root to break into a sewer line. That’s a clog you can’t remove with an auger. It requires actual sewer repair and replacement.

Traditional sewer repair is labor intensive, and usually results in tearing out your lawn and landscaping to dig out the pipe. As an alternative, Benjamin Franklin Plumbing uses trenchless sewer repair. We reline your existing sewer pipe with a brand new, seamless liner made of flexible material saturated with epoxy. The seamless liner is stronger and lasts longer than the original pipe.

To install the liner wel use a special machine to blow the liner into the existing pipe from one small access point. Once the liner is in, we insert a bladder into the linerand inflate it with air. The air pressure forces the new liner against the interior of the original sewer pipe, sealing all damages and cracks. After the liner cures, we remove the bladder and the process is complete.

If you need professional sewer cleaning or replacement to unclog you sewer, contact Benjamin Franklin Plumbing today and request an appointment!