Sewer and Drain Lines Cleaning Tips & Best Practices

How Often Should a Sewer Line Be Cleaned?

Yours sewer line and drain lines are some of those things that are always out of sight and out of mind. Until something bad happens.

That however doesn’t have to be the case. Periodically cleaning your sewer line and drain lines will prevent drainage problems as they can be very expensive and inconveniencing when they happen.

Inside a sewer line

A sewer line should be cleaned at least once in every 2 years. The plumber will first inspect the sewer line using a camera and based on their findings they will choose the best tool to clean the line. That prevents the sewer line from clogging and backing up.

The signs that a sewer line needs to be cleaned include slow drains, sewer/wastewater backups, frequent clogs, gurgling drains, sewage smell outside, pools of water in the yard or even sink holes.

It costs between $200 and $800 to clean a sewer line. The cost depends on the company doing the job, the type of equipment being used, your location and the job difficulty. Expect to pay more if the plumber has to dig a trench or if the job involves sewer line replacement.

Although sewer line cleaning should be left to professional plumbers, you can also do it yourself. Just know that there is a chance you will make the problem worse than it was.

To clean your main sewer line, locate your sewer cleanout and slowly remove the cap. Feed the drain snake down the sewer line until you encounter the clog. Push down the snake passed the clog then pull it out and wipe it clean. Put back the cleanout cap.

Apart from unclogging sewer lines, there is something also called sewer line descaling. You do this even when your sewer line is not backing up and that is why I recommend plumbers for this job.

Sewer line descaling involves the removal of accumulated minerals, corrosions and even roots from the sewer line using special blade attachments on a snake drain or at times chemicals. Prior to that, the plumber will first inspect the sewer line using a camera so as to decide what head attachment to use on the snake.

Sewer line descaling is usually followed by hydro jetting. This forces the broken down debris down and out in to the municipal sewer line.

On average, it costs about $300 to descale a sewer line. Sewer line descaling does not disturb the pipes and is therefore a non-invasive method of cleaning sewer lines since there will be no digging of trenches in the yard

Main Line vs Drain Lines

Often, homeowners don’t really understand the difference between a drain line and a main line. If you are one of them, I will help you understand.

A Main line is a term used to mean the sewer line or sewer lateral. This is the underground pipe connected from your house to the city’s sewer line at the street or to a septic tank. It carries domestic waste from all the fixtures in the house.

On the other hand, a drain line is the drainpipe connected to a specific fixture like a toilet, tub or sink. It carries waste from that specific fixture and drains it to the main house drain line.

The main house drain line is the vertical pipe connected to the sewer line at the bottom and to the plumbing vent at the top.

Most of the things that clog sewer line come from the house, especially the toilets and kitchen sink drains. Some people do not even know that the kitchen sink drain and the toilet drain are connected to the same sewer line.

Cleaning drain lines is usually very easy and it is something I would recommend every homeowner to do on their own from time to time. Clean the drain lines before they even clog.

Tips for Cleaning Drain Lines

The following are some of the best methods of drain cleaning:

1. Baking Soda and Vinegar

Baking soda and vinegar are a fantastic cleaning combination. They are very effective in clearing clogged drains since they react very fast and in the process break down the clog.

If you are dealing with a slow draining or clogged sink, toilet, bathtub or shower drain, a baking soda and vinegar combination will do the trick. In the case of a toilet you will just need to drain the water in the bowl to make sure the mixture is acting directly on the clog.

Pour 1 cup of baking soda in the drain followed by 2 cups of baking soda. Leave the solution to fizzle for about 15 minutes and then dump a gallon of hot water to flush down the gunk.

Do this often even when your drains are not clogged. Apart from preventing/clearing clogs, it leaves your drains smelling fresh.

2. Removing and Clean P-traps

Every fixture in your house has a P-trap. This is the U-shaped bend under your kitchen/bathroom sink and the one on the side of the toilet that helps it to retain water at the bottom of the bowl. Even your washing machine and shower/tub drain have one just that you can see it.

drain-trap

P-traps helps to prevent sewer gases from coming up to the house by acting as a barrier and also traps potential drain clogs

Kitchen and bathroom sinks clog frequently given how often we use them. In most of those instances, the clog is usually in the P-trap.

If you have a slow draining or clogged sink, duck under the kitchen/bathroom sink and place a pan under the P-trap. Disconnect it and clean it then install it back. Run hot water for a few seconds to flush out the small debris still trapped inside.

3. Check the Vent

A plumbing vent is the vertical pipe connected to the main house drain line and which exits through the roof of the house. That is something else that you don’t think about that often.

The function of a plumbing vent is to remove sewer gases from the drainage system and to also bring in air into the system.

You may think that you have a clogged sewer line but the reason your fixtures could be draining slowly is due to a clogged plumbing vent. A clogged vent also results in gurgling drains and a sewer smell in the house.

You can climb to the roof and check if the vent is clogged then clear it using a garden hose or even drain snake. Check out this post for more information.

4. Install a Hair Catcher

Most of the times when you have a clogged bathtub or shower drain hair is usually to blame. You see, hair combines with shampoo and oils to form a sticky ball that that completely clogs your drain resulting in a wastewater backup.

Even when the hair manages to flow out of the shower/tub drain line, it will most likely clog the sewer line especially when it combines with other solid wastes from the kitchen sink and toilet drain.

A hair catcher as its name suggest catches the hair before it enters the drain line and therefore prevent it from clogging the lines.

5. Get a Drain Snake

A drain snake is a flexible cable with a hooked head and a cranking handle that is used to clear clogged drains. There is a drain snake specifically made for other drains and then there a toilet auger designed to unclog toilets.

Drain snakes/augers are not exactly easy to use and you can even damage your plumbing if you don’t know what you are doing. Find out how to use a drain snake in this post.

Another tool that you should have and which you should try using before a snake is a plunger. Again, there are plungers designed for unclogging toilets and others for other drains.

A toilet plunger is also known as a flange plunger and looks like a bell. To unclog other drains use the ordinary cup-shaped plungers.

6. Watch what your Flush/Drain

Clogged drains are clogged by that we pour in the drains and flush down the toilet. If you can control what you dump in drains and what you flush in the toilet, you can prevent clogged drains by a big percentage.

Starting in the toilet, if it is not human waste or toilet paper just don’t flush it. Even toilet paper avoid flushing or using too much of it.

Avoiding flushing “flushable wipes”, feminine sanitary products, contraceptives, diapers, dental floss and other solids to keep your toilet drain clog-free.

In the kitchen, do not pour grease down the kitchen sink. The grease will harden and cause nasty clogs in the sewer line and thereafter sewage backups.

If you pout grease down the sink drain accidentally, check out this post to know what to do.

7. Avoid Chemical Drain Cleaners

Chemical drain cleaners are actually effective in breaking down clogs but I don’t recommend them. They are not very friendly to the plumbing system since they generate a lot of heat which weaken metal pipes and deform plastic ones.

Sulfuric acid, muriatic acid and other types of chemicals can also fail to clear clogs and just sit inside the drainage system eating away the plumbing pipes. If it is in a toilet, you may try to plunge it with the chemicals still in the bowl and splash on your hands or face.

Chemical drain cleaners are also very bad for the environment. Folks on a septic system should especially not use them since they will kill all the good microbes in the septic tank.

8. Use Enzyme-Based Drain Cleaners

I would recommend that you use enzyme-based drain cleaners to take care of your drain lines whether they are clogged or not. Not only are they effective in what they are designed to do but they are also eco-friendly ad septic-safe.

Enzyme-based drain cleaners contain beneficial bacteria that releases enzymes that break down organic matter into tiny pieces and in the process clear your drains. They are also very effective in getting rid of smells from drains.

How to Clean the Main Sewer Line

As I have already mentioned, main sewer line cleaning is something that should be left to professionals. Plumbers have the expertise and tools to do the job properly and in accordance with the code.

To start with, the average homeowner does not have a sewer line inspection camera or a motorized drain snake. You will therefore not be aware of the severity of the problems and know which tool to use to do the cleaning.

Unlike a toilet or sink drain, you cannot use chemicals or baking soda and vinegar to clean a sewer line. You would need a lot of chemicals and you wouldn’t even be sure if the chemicals will get to the clog.

What a plumber will do once they come to your house is to first locate the sewer cleanout. This is a 4-inch pipe sticking a few inches from the ground very close to the house.

The sewer cleanout is connected to the sewer line and is therefore used to gain entry to the sewer line. In some houses cleanouts are located inside the house usually inside the basement.

The plumber will remove the sewer cleanout cap and slowly insert the sewer camera down the sewer line. From the monitor on the surface, they can see the depth of the camera and the condition of the pipe.

tree roots inside a sewer line

If there are tree roots or pipe corrosions/scales inside the sewer line, they will be able to see them. He will then retrieve the camera and choose the most appropriate tool to use to clean the sewer line.

The blades will be attached to the front of a motorized drain snake. As the snake rotates, the blades will scrape off the scales or cut the roots.

A hydro jetting unit may then be used to flush the debris down to the public sewer lines. At the end of the job, the plumber will run the camera again to see if the job is done satisfactorily.

In instances where the sewer line is damaged, a trenchless method of sewer line repair will be recommended. This is why I recommend working with professionals.

If you do not have a sewer cleanout, the plumber will have to remove a toilet to access the sewer line or do so from the plumbing vent at the roof of the house. Most plumbers will prefer to pull out a toilet.

It will cost you more if you do not have a sewer cleanout.

And basically that is it about sewer and drain line cleaning. I hope this guide was helpful.

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