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How to Clean a Sewer Line

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Your toilet water is bubbling. Your water is backing up in the tub. Your kitchen sink’s drain is making strange noises.

It’s starting to sound like you need to clean your sewer line.

When you’re busy with work, with managing kids, or even just catching up on your favorite TV show, cleaning a sewer blockage isn’t usually something people are excited to make time for. But if you’re experiencing any of the issues above, there’s a good chance that you need to clean out your sewer lateral in your near future—and in most cases this is going to involve scheduling a professional sewer line inspection, too.

In the spirit of “Spring Cleaning,” here’s what you need to know in order to fix a sewage headache.

Why would you need to clean your main sewer line?

Symptoms of a “dirty” or clogged sewer line include:

  • Flooding shower
  • Water drain backups
  • Gurgling sounds coming from the drain

A lot of sewer backups are caused by flushing the wrong things down the toilet or a drain, such as diapers, paper towels, feminine products, bandages, grease, coffee grounds, or too much thick toilet paper.  Remember, even if it makes it through your fixtures, there’s a chance that it gets stuck somewhere down the line.

Since most homeowners don't maintain their sewer lines, you might also begin experiencing symptoms of a dirty or clogged pipe because of natural, raw sewage backup. If left untreated, this can (and often does) lead to significant damage.

Damaged pipes are the most extreme cause of a sewage backup. In these situations, the culprit is usually tree root intrusion, cracks and/or offset joints.

Diagram of pipe damage causes, including tree root intrusion, pipe breakages and offset joints

Can I fix the sewer clog myself?

Technically? Maybe. If the issue is limited to blockages within your fixtures or sink drains, common household solutions for fixing a clogged drain may alleviate your symptoms. Try using a plunger on the toilet or an eco-friendly drain cleaning product like Bio-Clean® for a backed-up kitchen sink.

But what if the issue seems to be in your main sewer line? Should you attempt a do it yourself cleaning repair? Never. You could cause even more damage and there are safety risks. A DIY fix might even be breaking city code requirements in your area. On top of that, even if the symptoms of your sewer backup are alleviated, you’re likely to miss the larger issues that have been growing underground.

You would also serve yourself better in the long run by enlisting help from a sewer cleaning professional now. Unaddressed, drain backups and long-term waste buildup can lead to extensive house damage—and a full sewer line replacement is going to cost a lot more than inspection and maintenance.

There is one step you can take when your plumbing is backing up: Stop using the water. Find the valve at the source of the water issue (the fixture valves behind the toilet or under the sink are usually the most accessible) and shut it down so that you minimize messes and damages. Call a plumber to clear the stoppage and schedule an inspection so you can be sure of the cause and magnitude of your problems.

What would a sewer cleaning professional do to fix my drains?

The first step your sewer maintenance professional should take is to look for drain cleanouts to service the line—this may include performing a camera inspection. At Pipe Spy, we use video technology to get a close look at the underground drains so we can effectively diagnose the issue.

 

 

In some instances, really tough clogs can prevent professionals from getting a good view of your sewer line. Hopefully your pipe needs fall under the “general maintenance” category but if they don’t, our inspectors can advise you of the best options for your particular property. Once it is confirmed the clog is the problem, there are a few techniques plumbing contractors will use to fix the clog: 

  • Power snakes are a common tool for cutting, loosening and pushing material downstream to the main sewer. They use different attachment heads for removing solid obstructions in the pipe, such as roots, food build up, and hair. The power snake’s rotating cable has different blade attachments to ensure the right tool for different types of clogs.
  • Hydrojetters are another tool that employs a high-pressure water technique in order to scour long-term buildup of waste.

Illustration of a hydrojetter attachment on a trenchless sewer line cleaning nozzle

These tools are most effective when used close to the problem area and they make it possible for severely clogged drains to be fully inspected again via camera (after clearing) to look for any structural damage that may have been difficult to see.

Find Help Now

To recap, these are the steps you should follow in order to keep a clean sewer pipe:

  1. Attempt to fix the problem with a plunger or eco-friendly cleaner
  2. Turn off the water source (fixture valves)
  3. Schedule a professional inspection
  4. Schedule an appropriate professional sewer pipe cleaning service

Be sure to pick a plumbing company that is qualified and certified. The team ought to also have a good reputation in your community. You may want to ask a friend for a recommendation or read online reviews. You can read some of the great reviews of our work on our website and on Yelp.

For more information or to schedule a consultation, contact Pipe Spy.