How to Unclog a Main Sewer Line

The first thing you have to do is find the best place to gain access to the clogged sewer line. This varies in different types of construction but the most desired location is always an outside cleanout. Other locations may be a cleanout in the basement, cleanout in a floor, via a pulled toilet, from an opened septic tank back towards the house, or in some areas going down a roof vent. You will also have to look at evidence to determine where the clog is and how to best get access to allow the snake to reach the clog. This is a decision easily reached by a Drain Cleaning Pro but is often difficult for a DIYer.

Once the location of the clog has been determined the next thing to do is select the proper drain snaking equipment to clear the clog from the line and how long it needs to be. There are a variety of machines used and the cable length they need to reach to clear the clog is important. A cable too short may not reach the clog and a cable too long if fed out too far will get tangled and knotted in a septic tank or, city sewer line. In any case the cable should be a minimum of 1/2″ diameter and that would be woefully inadequate if roots are encountered. Equipment selected may be a “sectional” or, a “drum” machine. Rental equipment selection may be very limited usually only provided with minimum sized blades and in questionable condition due to abuse by inexperienced users.

A Sectional Machine has a power-head which is set up near the cleanout and the sections of cable are fed through the machine and added on as needed then after the drain is cleared the cable is backed out and sections are removed as they come out. This would be the top choice if you are going up on a roof to snake through a vent.

Drum Machines have a drum mounted on a hand truck which usually contain between 75 – 150′ of cable coiled inside the drum. The drum spins and the turning cable is fed out of the machine into the line. This would be my choice for almost everywhere except taking on the roof.

Either machine would have a cutter blade fastened on to the end of the cable. This cutter should be large enough to scrape the outside walls of the drain pipe to scrape all deposits from the inside wall of the pipe and cut roots that are coming into the pipe. Special gloves called “ugly gloves” are often used, to hold the cable while feeding it in and out of the pipe. These ugly gloves are rubber gloves coated with hard plastic grit that allows the cable to turn in the gloved hands without sticking to the rubber yet allow you to grip the turning cable to push and pull it in the line.

The turning cable is like a giant spring that has a tremendous amount of torque applied to it by the machine and you must hold it in your hands to guide it into the line. If you fail to control the torque of the spring it can turn into a pretzel instantly, and yes it may severely injure you. This is very likely to occur when you hit a strong root and the cable stops turning. You need to know just how much to let it build and be ready to snap the cable back and free for just a moment to allow it to unwind and plunge it back into the root while it is spinning fast. If the rental machine cable is in bad shape where it has been kinked previously it will easily wind up into a pretzel once again when under pressure.

Okay, are you really getting what I’m saying here? Drain cleaning is serious business and it takes about a full year before a drain cleaner gets really good at what he does. The skills needed involve diagnosis to determine the best way to approach the clogged line, skills to safely and effectively operate the equipment, and the ability to detect problems with the line that require repair…

A DIYer seldom has the knowledge and skills required to do a good job and if they avoid the possibility of serious injury at best they may punch a small hole through a clog as rental equipment is seldom provided with maximum blade sizes. Most often the DIYer tries unsuccessfully for a day or two then gives up and takes the best option. Your best option is to first call in a drain cleaning pro. Call a plumber and your drain can be clear within a couple of hours from when the call is placed.

Posted in How To Plumbing Tips, Sewer & Drain Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,
50 comments on “How to Unclog a Main Sewer Line
  1. Drayon lowe says:

    Hi I have a back up in my kitchen sink use a snake still no good

  2. Ed says:

    We are on a septic system. We bought the house 4 years ago and always had slow drain in both bathtubs. The kitchen drain / washing machine / clean out (coming out of a brick wall under the kitchen sink) is on the West side of the house, while the baths are on the East side. About 2 months ago we noted that some water on the floor after flushing the guest bath toilet. I thought maybe it was a bad wax ring, so I bought one to replace. We stopped using that toilet, until I had time to do repairs. Friday night, the toilet in the master bath didn’t flush and nearly overflowed. (We do not put paper down the toilets, plus use Rid-X on a 4 to 6 weeks basis) After a container of some liquid setting for 8 hours in the guess tub, and then flushing with hot water – the toilet in the guest flushed great and the tub drain ran good. No so for the master bath – still clogged. It was backing up in the guess toilet which was removed. I took up the old toilet from the guest and going to install a new one. But I will call a plumber on Monday (which is another headache trying to figure out which company to trust) because I could spend many days and many $$s on trying to clear the main sewer line myself. This will be a great lesson for me to watch and hope to find out where the septic tank is (different people say different spots!) Am I correct in thinking if they snake the cleanout by the kitchen through the house to the bath that – that is the way? I have never had problems like this – the house is brick with cement floors, I am used to wood floors that the plumbing is against outside walls. I guess I am looking for different scenarios, because I don’t understand all the things that could be wrong. I am a very good handy man but pipes in cement have me concerned. I don’t want to feel like I know nothing (but maybe the truth) on the issue. Thoughts please, thank you.(Tyler, Texas area)

    • Redwood says:

      Hi Ed,
      When was your septic tank last serviced? Is your home a 1 story home? If not are all the problems on the lowest floor?
      Hard to say what’s going on without being there or, more information. 4 years is within the time when a septic tank should be serviced but that depends on the system size and the number of people using it. If there is any possibility that the problem is a septic tank requiring servicing I’d have that done, many septic service companies will also take care of line problems to the tank.

  3. kevin says:

    I purchased a 2 story home, 19yrs old, home had sat for about 6 months prior to purchase, home EXTREMELY well maintained. In the floor of basement I have a floor drain in laundry area. Upon moving in a very short time later water came up thru floor drain and toilet at floor screws.

    I used a drum style snake to clear main line, and considered it fixed. A month later, the same thing happened again, this time I rented a larger drum style snake with 3″ cutting blade, my pipes are 4″, I cleared the clog, and a month later, the exact same again, this time I removed the manhole cover to concrete septic tank, plumbed with PVC sch 40. I took a metal rod, barely got it into the inlet, over the baffle and the river gushed, unblocking the stoppage.

    I then took garden hose with pressure nozzle and ran it from outside clean out to tank. during the feeding of the hose it felt like pushing it thru mud, but it went. As I flushed a toilet on lower floor I heard the water running, and the hose would push much easier, toilet water stopped hose felt like mud again. the water level in tank is just below the inlet as well as the outlet. I am lost now, please help, thanks in advance.

    • Redwood says:

      Hi Kevin,
      I would recommend cleaning the line with a full size 4″ blade before I consider the line to be properly cleaned, a 3″ blade would only punch a hole through the clog or any grease in the line. With an inadequate cleaning problems frequently return to bite you.

      When you opened the tank and ran the line in reverse clearing the line very close to the inlet that is an indicator of where your problem is located. Problems in the inlet area of the tank are quite common and typically are things like:

      • A paper mat or, raft in the inlet baffle area, where solid waste lands on top of the raft piling up until the pipe coming in is blocked.
      • If there is a tee installed on the inlet line, there may be something wrong with it where paper catches and builds up causing a clog.
      • If there is a tee installed on the inlet line, grease coming down the line congeals instantly upon hitting the cooler water in the tank building up and causing a clog.
      • There is a problem with flow through the tank or, into the leaching fields where heavy usage of water causes the water level in the tank to rise flooding the line. This will cause a build up in the pipe near the tank eventually causing a clog.

      Depending on what you find, the solution may be as simple as an adjustment of habits, having the septic tank pumped or, major repairs being needed. Without hearing more information from you it is impossible to tell what you face. I would take a good look at the inlet area to see what is happening then report back with your findings.

      I wouldn’t worry about the garden hose feeling like it was pushing through mud. The hoses we use with our jetters use back facing jets to propel the nozzle and hose through the line. When you were putting the garden hose through the line it was no doubt acting like an accordion and was hitting against the pipe causing resistance to being pushed through the line. When we run our inspection camera through a line we frequently have the same difficulty and we use running water and toilet flushes to help get the camera out through the line. Your experience was quite normal and is not an indicator of problems in the line.

      Hope this helps,
      I look forward to hearing from you with your findings,

  4. Jane says:

    I have a main sewer clog. Paid a plumber $675.00 for 3 hours. He snaked it and power washed it. He told me I have roots and that I need a new pipe w/o putting a camera in the line which will cost between $5,000 to $20,000. I can NOT afford that. I am trying a root rot product. Also, after reading Sadie’s problem I have called the city and requested them to check the street line. I am desparate for help.

    • Redwood says:

      Hi Jane,
      There seems to be an effort by many companies to get more line replacement work by saying that, “only a leaking line will have roots in the line and therefore the line should be replaced.” While this may be true in theory to say that, “any line that has roots should be replaced” has some limitations in the practical aspect especially where your money and budget come into play. There are a good many lines that have roots in them which will provide good service for years to come, and there are also many that are already pretty well failed and total failure is imminent. Quite often an experienced drain cleaner will have a pretty good idea that there are problems with a line by what they feel when cabling the line, but almost all will agree that a camera inspection is necessary to make an accurate diagnosis that a line replacement is absolutely necessary. Anything else IMHO is probably an attempt to play upon their hype, and your fears, to add to their bottom line.

      I would think that obtaining a video camera inspection of the line would be a prudent course of action for you to take at this point. You can read about camera inspections at “Sewer Line Requires Repair or, Replacement?” and “Beware of the Roto Rooter Free Sewer Camera Inspection” here on 411Plumb. I would suggest reading both of those pages before calling for an inspection.

      While the camera inspection will no doubt show small toothpicks remaining from the roots cut, coming in at joints, as it is quite difficult to completely remove them, you shouldn’t see any large masses of roots that come close to completely blocking the pipe remaining. The things that would concern me would be any areas where the pipe has broken and dark areas indicating dirt are visible, areas where the joints of the pipe have separated beyond the hub of the pipe where either dirt or a severe misalignment which can only happen with a broken hub or separation of the pipe out of the hub has occurred. Additional concerns would be areas where the pipe has sagged and is holding water, or pipe that has cracks indicating collapse is imminent.

      The camera inspection is really what you see is what you’ve got and when I perform them I tell the people that the pipe should look like one of those water fun rides through a tube at the water park, nice and smooth without any rough edges that would hurt you. Truthfully I let them find the problem, There is no doubt they will see it, I may have to look at the problem and tell them what they are seeing, but they see it first and know it is a problem. The camera will tell you if a line replacement or a spot repair is absolutely needed at this point.

      If the camera inspection does not reveal the imminent need for a line replacement or spot repair I highly recommend using Root-X on the line and once per year followup applications to kill any roots that intrude into the line. I would recommend waiting for 6-8 weeks before the first application to ensure maximum effectiveness of the product. Root-X can be applied immediately after the line is cleared but shortly afterwards a sap plug will form over the end of the cut root which will reduce the effectiveness of the absorption into the root. After 6-8 weeks the root will again effectively absorb the product. The plumber doing the camera inspection will probably have access to a supply of Root-X and it may be available for purchase on-line. You can read more about Root-X in “The Drain Cleaner Found Roots In Your Sewer Line” here on 411Plumb.

      If the camera operator will give you a digital file which you can send to me e-mail or, upload to You Tube, PhotoBucket, or some other video hosting website I’d be happy to review the video for you. Send me a message via the contact form here on 411Plumb if you wish to establish e-mail contact to send the video file.

      I hope this helps,

  5. Scott says:

    Hi. Our main home sewer line is backed up and overflowing at the cleanout. A plumber came out and ran the cable into it (roto-rootering) but hit no blockage, no resistance at all. That’s 100 feet of cable, enough to reach the street. The sewer line is still backed up; no change at all. What could be the problem?

    • Redwood says:

      Hi Scott,
      It could be a number of problems, did the plumber propose additional services to use to attempt to clear the line?
      Is so what did he propose?

      Among the possibilities are:

      • The line is longer than you believe it to be and it runs in an unanticipated direction.
      • The plumber used an insufficiently sized cutter and did not adequately scrape the pipe to clean it.
      • The city line is clogged and you are seeing the effects of that. If you are on a dead end it will only effect you.
      • There may be a soft clog that the cutter passes through and the clog seals up behind the cutter.

      The soft clog is the most likely cause, and cold be caused by either a leaking line which allows the water to leak out of the line without carrying the solids out of the pipe forming them into a pack which clogs the pipe or, a belly in the pipe which is a sag and hold water in the pipe which becomes muddy over time and clogs.

      The best remedy to clear the line of the clog in both of these cases is high pressure water jetting which uses a special nozzle which can propel itself down the pipe acting as a pressure washer to clean the pipe. After getting the pipe cleaned I would recommend a camera inspection to see what is wrong with the pipe.

      Sometimes a leaking pipe will become problematic when low water consumption toilets are installed as replacements for older water wasting toilets and the lower amount of water usage is insufficient to carry the waste out of a marginal line.

      Hope this helps,

  6. Rider says:

    Please help! We live in a mobile home, and two days ago, the toilet (we assumed) clogged after (what we again assumed) our child put too much tissue in the toilet. This has been happening often, and I have told my husband for 5 years I thought the septic was “getting full or something” because it backs up & we have to plunge it once a week or doesn’t seem to flush right (like, not strong), but it was also my first time living on a well, so I assumed maybe it was not great pressure? BUT, since this only happens with the children… Well, I thought that excess tissue DOES seem to be part of the problem, but now we believe now there is something worse.

    There is now what we know is a block in the line that runs under the mobile home going directly to the clean out (under ground about 5-6 feet deep). The pipe has been taken apart and We have run a hand-snake 25 feet long and can pull some tissue back, but its a pretty “tight” clog. I’m now worried something in there has been there for quite a while and its finally blocked up solid, instead of letting things pass like they have been in the past.

    I am currently battling bacterial pneumonia and I’m running a fever, vomiting and really would love to have my plumbing back!

    Does anyone know what would bust through this clog, the CHEAPEST way? I’m going to be using our $70 grocery budget this week for this, as my medications were close to $200 due to my illness. I was told of a machine that you could rent that uses a “chemical that smells really bad” you could rent from Northwest Hardware Store and that it was the ONLY chemical to unclog a pipe behind the counter. This was told to my husband by someone who has the pleasure of unclogging buses, like greyhound, but my worry is that greyhound hasn’t been clogged and pressed tight for 5 years…

    Can anyone help?

    • Redwood says:

      Hi Rider,
      If money is truly an issue, I would never use a drain cleaning chemical to try to unclog a main sewer line or, any drain line for that matter. They don’t work! The only drain cleaning chemical that I have ever seen work is one that is sold by a major drain cleaning company that is sold in stores, the chemical comes with a “10% Off Coupon” for 10% off on a drain cleaning service call, the drain cleaning chemical doesn’t work, but the coupon does.

      In order to fix your problem you first have to find out where the clog is located. If only the toilet is clogged and all of the other drains work properly without water coming up somewhere else in another drain then the toilet is clogged and you should follow the tips I have written in “How To Unclog A Toilet”

      If additional drains are affected then your problem is in the main sewer line or, is a septic tank problem. You will then need to dig up the septic tank inlet baffle cover to see if the problem is in the septic tank or, the main sewer line to the septic tank. There should be an air space in the tank and the line coming into the tank should be above the liquid level of the tank so the waste water pours into the tank. If the line coming into the tank is clear and discharges into the air space of the tank then the main sewer line is clogged and you should probably call a professional to snake the line clean with his machine or, rent a machine to clean the line. If the septic tank is filled to above the line coming into the tank the tank is full and you will need to have the septic tank pumped out. In some cases especially with young children flushing a lot of toilet paper you may have a dense mat of solids built up in the inlet baffle area blocking the inlet to the tank in which case they can be broken up with a shovel allowing a temporary reprieve until you get the tank pumped out. If the problem is in the main sewer line a drain cleaning pro could probably advise you if there are additional problems with the line to the tank which should be repaired.

      Five years is an unusually long time to go without having a septic tank pumped out unless the tank is on a very large home with very few people residing there. In that case the tank would be severely over-sized for the number of occupants in the home and it would be okay to go longer between tank servicing. In your case I would be very surprised if the tank wasn’t drastically under-sized and should be pumped out much more often than the typical four year servicing interval. Your septic tank service company should be able to advise you on the suggested service interval based on your tank size and the number of occupants in your home. I would religiously follow their advice to avoid the additional expense of a septic system failure.

      In a situation such as yours the best way to save money is to correctly diagnose the problem and call the right person to fix your problem first. That way you don’t pay a service call to someone that is not geared up to fix your problem. As for doing the repair yourself to save money that is a “Toss Up” with a reduced chance of success for doing it yourself vs. the drain cleaning pro. If you do call a drain cleaning pro, avoiding companies with “Rooter” in their name will result in lower prices in most cases.

      I hope this advice helps,

  7. Hayden Myers says:

    I was faced with the dreaded main line clog this labor day weekend. The water backed up into my laundry sink in the basement. I made 2 courageous attempts to clear the clog with a typical hand crank snake from my father in law. I was unsuccessful in clearing the drain with this device, but was pretty sure I hit the backup. I had all but a few feet of the 25′ mini snake in there. I pulled out a good bit of stuff including 4 of the infamous baby wipes. The clog wouldn’t give, and the snake kept kinking. After may hours on 2 separate days, I couldn’t take it anymore.

    After reading the words of wisdom in this thread, I decided to take the gamble and look for a rental. Getting someone out here on labor day wouldn’t be cheap. Home Depot has a decent selection of drain clearing tools for rent. I think they were all rotating snake like devices, powered by electrical motors. I opted for the baddest model I could find, which ended up being an easy rooter with 100′ of cable. This thing was heavy, but I managed to get it into the trunk of my wagon by myself, up and down stairs, etc. I’m 5’10” 205lbs. Cheeseburgers and beers aside, I’m a pretty solid 190lbs.

    I watched the General Pipe Cleaners Easy Rooter Instructional Video video on YouTube to make sure I didn’t hurt myself and learn how to use this thing. I used the 2″ cutting blade, and fed it in through the main line clean out port in my basement. It didn’t take much to knock the obstruction loose and hear the line clear. I ran the whole spool out through the drain, just to be sure the plug was gone. I would’ve done the same thing with the outside drain clean out, but I couldn’t get the cap off. I didn’t have a 1″ adapter, and a pipe wrench wasn’t cutting it. Looking back, it’s probably a good idea to have your outside clean out cap off before hand. This cost me $58 for a 4 hour rental. It probably took me 1.5hrs to do this, so I guess it went well. It think we have a 4 year old who needs some help with his toilet paper/wipe habits.

    Make no bones about it, this is a stinky and messy job. It’s no fun, but can be done. Be safe. I had one close call with my arm and the drum. Make sure you’re very aware where the pedal is, or turn the unit off when you don’t want it to turn. I accidentally stepped on the pedal while my hands were near the drum, and the unit was in the forward position.

    Good luck,


  8. SANDY says:

    I had 2 plumbers come in from the same company and both were so shady it was absurd, the first one said that he would go through toilet line, but never did. He did go through shower plumbing, charged me 150 dollars and said not to throw toilet paper in the toilet and that if I had any trouble, he would go through toilet line for 424 dollars.

    The next day I was clogged again (did not throw toilet paper in toilet) and he came back saying that instead of going through toilet he would go through main line in front of house, outside. He brought a snake type of machine and said that I had a little roots and some baby wipes and after 20 minutes left charged me 75 dollars and I was unclogged for about a day.

    He sent a guy with a camera, said it was free, the guy could not find a clog in the front and then told me I had some kind of roots in the inside and that they had something they could put through toilet line to dissolve the roots because they were thin. But when I told him to do it, he said that they had to make a hole in the floor and get a person to go through it.

    I then said ” I would rather sell the house than to have you make a hole to find a root” then he got upset and left. I’m still clogged, my husband is renting a machine today to put through toilet and shower line, hope it works.

    • Redwood says:

      Hi Sandy,
      Sorry to hear about your drain troubles and I do hope your husband can take care of it with a rented machine although I don’t usually see or, hear of great results doing that.

      In the event he can’t get the drain unclogged I would definitely not call the same company back again! I wish that I knew someone in your area I could recommend but I don’t.

      The first thing I will say is the company I work for does not charge for trying to clear a clogged drain. We charge for actually doing it and we also give a 6 month guarantee where the line will be snaked for free if it clogs again in that period. I would encourage you to find a similar company that gets the job done and stands behind their work with a guarantee.

      I can’t say for certain where the best place to send the snake in from is, as I am not there to diagnose the problem and see the layout of your home and the drains. But! I will tell you that if a toilet is backing up that one place I would never snake from is the shower drain. If the toilet is backing up you have either a clogged toilet or, a clogged main drain at a minimum and going through the shower to clean a clogged main will not allow the proper sized cable or, blades for cleaning a main to be used.

      The best advice I can give your husband is that a drain line not being used should not have water in it. If the shower is not draining, the toilet is not draining, and any water you run in the sink comes up in the shower or toilet then you have a clogged main. If the drains inside are backed up and there is water in the pipe outside then you need to snake from outside. If the drains inside are backed up, and the pipe outside is dry then the clog is back inside the house and cannot be reached from outside.

      Again I’m not there to see the house and the plumbing but many times in your area with a single story home on a slab foundation plumbers will put the snake down through the roof vent over the bathroom to clean the main line. The other choice is pulling the toilet off the floor and setting the toilet aside while running the snake down through the pipe under the toilet. The pipe under the toilet would be full of water if the main is clogged.

      Good luck I hope your husband is successful, and do tell him to be very careful not to get hurt. If he isn’t successful then please call someone other than the ones you called before.


  9. Shellie says:

    I had a sewer back up which we caught really quick. The water started coming out of the washer pipe where the water goes to the sewer. That was about a 1 month ago, drain cleaner came and said, “Too much toilet paper blocking the line.” I informed him that we used the same TP for the last 15 years and never had a problem. Why now? Last week, I hear the downstairs toilet bubble and then run downstairs (only because this happened last time) to check the sewer line, sure enough, the water is at the top and is not going down. I had the drain cleaner come out again to find nothing and the line clear. I’ve had them come 2 times since the initial cleaning… Backing up on me but not on them. They said to do the camera next time it happens. Any suggestions…… It seems strange that it keeps happening, but when they get here it is clear. my home is 100 years old and every time they run the snake it goes out to the curb at least 50 feet without problem. I do not believe we have an outside trap? They do the cleaning from the sewer line in the basement.

    • Redwood says:

      Hi Shellie,

      Either there is a problem with your line which has not been taken care of or there is a misdiagnosed problem with the city sewer.

      In most cases the city sewer problems result in a whole neighborhood coming up in your basement.

      I would get a camera into the sewer line as soon as possible to see what is going on.
      You should be there to witness the camera inspection. Please read “Sewer Line Requires Repair or, Replacement?” here on this site.


  10. Marko says:

    Help. I have a 1923 house that I just purchased with a 4″ Cast Iron Main Drain. This house sat empty for 2 years. (Old Foreclosure) After 1 week my main drain line backed up. I called a professional (20+ years experience) and he cleared out the drain. When he snaked it; a vent pipe inside the corner of the crawl space (non-accessible) of the home which exits outside through the foundation wall out came a tennis ball and other crap through the vent. (Does this mean the “U-shaped house trap is definitely inside the home in the non-accessible crawl space ?).

    But he hit a point (38 feet)where he could not snake it anymore where he thinks he is hitting the main house trap and he recommends that I find it, clean it out manually, and/or then replace it with regular pipe or I will be calling him back again in a month to 6 months. He thinks there is a bunch of rust or other sediment sitting in the house trap that will cause a problem again. Finding it may mean digging up the driveway or cutting a hole in the foundation on the room above to access the crawl space. ( $$$) There are 2 cleanouts in different locations outside the home that he did not see when he was there but he thinks that may not matter because it will be after the house trap that is hidden under the non-accessible crawl space or outside. What is the best path forward ??:

    1) How can I tell if the House trap is inside the non-accessible crawl space or outside based on the vent pipe inside the home exiting throught the foundation wall outside? No cleanouts for it that I can see. Maybe the plumber is wrong on there is no house trap ?

    2) Don’t bother doing anything and wait and see if it clogs again. Maybe the tennis ball was the only problem or should I be proactive as I am waiting for another disaster backup to occur.

    3) Hire someone and just try snaking it backwards from the cleanouts outside if the cleanout allows. Assuming the cleanout is only in the wrong direction here; not back towards the home.

    4) Video it to verify it there actually is a house trap and to verify it is close to being clogged again and find its location (Can the video camera pass through the main “U-shaped_ house trap ?). Is this a gimmick for a contractor to tell me then the line is a disaster and he has to rip it all out ?

    5) Try High Pressure High Velocity Hydro Jet cleaning. (Does it have enough power to clean out a “U-shaped Mouse Trap” and keep going or is this pretty wimpy. Can it pass through the “U-shaped house trap or will it get stuck or not clean it out enough.
    6) Do the old fashioned way and spend $$$ to just start digging/demo until you find it and get rid of it. $$$

    Sorry this is so long but any help would be appreciated. I am leaning towards video camera then high pressure hydrocleaning. If that does not work; Dig it up.

    Thank you for your help !

    • Redwood says:

      Hi LG,
      A house trap clogging after a home has set empty for a long period of time is not uncommon. Debris will accumulate in the house trap and the liquid in the trap will evaporate through the vent with non-use after a while, with the debris hardening, causing a clog when the drain is used again. The vent exiting the foundation wall is a strong clue to the presence of a house trap and will tie into the line within a couple of feet of the house trap on the inlet side of the trap. In addition the IP Address supplied in the information regarding your comment visible only to me, resolves to a region where house traps are required to be installed by the code in use.

      Debris being thrown into the vent is not uncommon when children see an open vent so a protective cover that allows air flow yet keeps the foreign objects out should be used.

      One of the cleanouts you have found may provide the access needed to clean the house trap if it is in the proper location directly over the trap. The problem is that a drain cleaning snake has a difficult time passing through the house trap from a distance back, so what the drain cleaner encountered at 38′ out may very well have been the house trap especially if the line cleared while he was working that location with his snake. High pressure water jetting may also face problems navigating through the trap from a distance and would be more expensive than snaking.

      Your best option would be to have a plumber look at the cleanouts that you have found and determine if any of them provide access to the house trap for properly cleaning the trap. If one of them does indeed provide access then the plumber should properly clean it for you. If the cleanouts you have found do not provide access, the plumber should use a camera to inspect the line and see the trap. The camera has a secondary function with a locating transmitter that when used with the proper receiver can pinpoint the location of the trap to do whatever is necessary to provide proper access for cleaning.

      I have several good friends who are plumbers and drain cleaners, that service your area. If you would like my recommendations, please use the contact us form on this site and send me your contact information, which I will pass on to them to contact you or, I can E-Mail you contact information for them. Do Not Put Your Personal Information in a Comment Reply visible to the public here.

      I hope this information is helpful to you,

  11. Wesesmae says:

    Well, rented a machine, hired someone to use it, not sure if he was very experienced,but all I could afford at the time. Did unclog the pipe, but couple days later had a overflow in the yard. Snaked it again. So far doing okay, probably have to hire licensed plumber next time. But thanks for the info, been very helpful!

  12. Wesesmae says:

    Thank you for your reply. I wouldn’t have guessed this was grease! Thought grease would be like soft and gooey…lol Shows what I know. And I am going to get someone who knows how to use the machine properly to do the job, not even sure what kind of machine to rent yet, been looking for help on internet. I am female who has for years helped my husband do all kinds of construction work, wish I would have paid more attention when he was doing certain jobs! But now having to deal with alot of problems on my own now, he passed in July. Thanks again!

    • Redwood says:

      Hi Wesesmae,
      Yes grease buildups can be either hard or soft, I would recommend making sure that the cutter blades on the machine will be the full diameter of your main line whatever size it may be. Usually 3 or 4″ in size, smaller blades will only poke a hole through the clog and usually clog again in a short time. There are 2 different types of machines which may be used, a drum machine which stores the cable in a rotating drum should have around a 11/16 – 3/4″ cable or, a sectional where cable is added in sections should have a cable which is 1″ or more in diameter. These machines are very powerful and can be dangerous to an inexperienced user, I highly recommend having someone that knows what they are doing clean the drain.

  13. Wesesmae says:

    Help! I have a clogged main sewer line. Have snaked it, didn’t help, but I did remove from the line some white caked powdwey stuff, not grease or food buildup, looks like wet plaster or drywall??? what could this be? Plan is to rent a auger or jetter tomorrow.

    • Redwood says:

      Hi Wesesmae,
      White caked powdery stuff does sound like grease. Be careful with whatever machines you rent, they can hurt you pretty bad if they aren’t properly used.

  14. tko says:

    Roto-Rooter is trying to sell me their enzyme drain grease cleaner for $49/gallon as part of their rooter service costing $168. Do you advise buying this chemical for the pipes? Thanks for your time in answering.

    • Redwood says:

      Hi TKO,
      Interesting that you should ask that question. While the chemical does not appear to do any harm, I question whether it does any good either. The product know as Pipe Shield was a product that all Roto Rooter technicians were given a minimum sales quota of 4 gallons per week along with a lot of training that had little fact, and a lot of hype which kind of automatically makes me a skeptic. Then the company expert shows up and starts making claims that I learned were impossible in my freshman year of high school regarding electrical charges in a liquid solution. You can read more at Roto Rooter Pipe Shield Weekly Sales Quota Exposed!

      Make your own choice,
      But I think it is little more than a revenue enhancement product,

  15. netgypsy says:

    I have a terrycloth towel blocking my sewer line between the kitchen sink and the septic tank about 30 feet from the house. I’ve snaked it twice with a power snake and pulled back pieces of the towel, the line was cleared for a while but is blocked again so obviously I snaked through it but most of towel is still in there. I rented the power snake which I initially was showed how to use by a professional and I’m extremely careful with it but obviously I need a different head to either push the towel into the septic tank or pull it back through into the house where the access point is located. I’m using a snake from Home Depot. Is there any attachment I can buy or anything I can flush to dissolve the terry cloth towel as I’m very financially strapped right now. Only the kitchen is blocked. The bathroom drains fine.

    • Redwood says:

      Hi NetGypsy,

      The machine you are using is obviously to small for the job and producing limited results at best.
      I would suggest that it might be time for a pro and stopping throwing good money after bad.


      • netgypsy says:

        Thanks. Would love to call a pro. Guess I’ll just hand dig up the line. Digging’s free but was hoping there was a less physically demanding solution.

  16. Zebstr says:

    I have city sewer; Manchester, New Hamshire. Couple of weeks ago city had some construction work done outside my house involving heavy eqiopment. A week later my sewer started backing I called a handy man who rented a power snack machine (DONGEROUS MACHINE!) from HomeDepot and worked at it for 6 hours and kept hitting a “dead Wall” at about 25′. Next Day I callled Roto Rooter, same story 4 hours and $360 later. City won’t help beaise it supposed to be my line (85′ long), Any ideas?? What might be causing this? whos responsibility this should be?

    • Redwood says:

      Hi Zebstr,

      This is a hard call as to who is responsible with the information you have supplied.
      Has the location of this dead end been determined yet using a locating device?
      Or, If you go 25′ from where they were measuring is it possible to reach the area where they were digging?

      If you can show that the dead end is located where they were in fact digging you may have a case that they broke your pipe. In which case they will probably accept liability and either repair it or, pay to have it repaired. If your broken pipe is not where they were digging the repair would be out of your pocket.

      One exception is sometime the gas company uses a directional boring machine to install gas lines where they bore several holes from a hole in the street up to houses for gas lines and install them without trenching. In many cases they have bored holes through peoples sewer lines breaking them and in several cases sewer cleaners hitting the gas line in a broken sewer line have caused explosions by cutting into the gas pipe while trying to open the sewer line. If this is what happened and it is discovered while digging up the sewer calling the gas company usually has them paying for the repair.

      So as you can see more answers are needed before any liability is determined.


  17. Rose says:

    I am tenant and have been living here for 4 yrs. Never had any problems with the basement being clogged. Never once have the owner told me not to flush toilet paper. 3 months ago, the basement got flooded with all the specimen and urine. They have said that it was the toilet paper that caused the problem. They have said that they cleaned it out. A week ago my basement got flooded again!!!! They said that is my fault for flushing the paper again. That Is my fault for the pipe to get clogged in such short amount of time. My arguement with them, is there has to be a problem with the pipe. I use a septic safe one ply of toilet paper. Is impossible for the paper to cause so much problem. and it never happen before why now? I believe they dont want to pay for the repairing and the cleaning! I am worried about the fumes…. I have 2 girls and one of them have asthma! I need advice…. please help!
    Can toilet paper clog sewer line? And if so shouldnt it go down the pipe after a week. I have not throw any paper down the toilet and still is clogged!

    • Redwood says:

      Hi Rose,
      In most cases toilet paper being flushed should not be a problem.
      The possible exceptions being if there is a problem with the line or, if one of your girls was recently toilet trained.

      With a line having a problem in most cases a proper cleaning and everything is okay again. But in some cases the line may not be cleaned well enough or, the line has a defect in it that went unnoticed during the line cleaning in which case it may back up again. A camera inspection on the line should be done in the event of a suspected line problem to see what is going on.

      With young children frequently when toilet training if they are not closely supervised they can throw an enormous amount of paper down the toilet and often this can be a problem with sewers, house traps, and septic systems.

      I can’t give you a sure answer as to whether or, not you made the problem happen but I suspect not.
      Close to 100% of the homes in the US can have normal amounts of toilet paper flush down the toilet without consequence.

      You need to call the landlord and have them have the line cleaned to open it back up. It will not open itself back up that much is certain Unless you have the young child situation I outlined above, I would place it upon the landlord to prove that a problem with the line does not exist. The duties of the landlord include providing you with a home with a working sanitary sewer system and clean sanitary living conditions. If you notified him a week ago and he hasn’t resolved the problem yet you probably need to start a formal complaint process with whatever agencies oversee rental housing in your area.


      • Rose says:

        Thank you for answering me back fast. I forgot to mention my girls are 8 and 6 yrs old. My 8 yr old is the one with asthma. Last night I had gotten home at 10pm, and I saw one of the friends from the owner cleaning down stairs. He was really tired and sweating, I felt really bad for him, but he showed and told me that he has just finished using a 20 foot long snake and it didnt cleared. I told him that is not the paper at all, but they have brain washed him with it and he says that he picked up the paper and put it in a bag. My 8 yr old used the bathroom and when she flushed the water started to come out of the drain and from the basement bathroom. I know this is not my fault at all. They even bought a Septic treament for it and he poured it down the drain, the whole bottle! That didnt fix the problem!
        I waited for him to leave and I started to take pictures, today Im going to call the Roto Rooter and I want the report, Im thinking of calling more than one plumber just to get the report. As proof that this is not my fault nor the girls! The owners do not want to hear that is their resposibility to fix the problem. They want for me to pay!!!

        • Redwood says:

          Hi Rose,

          The companies that have Rooter in their name tend to be among the highest priced drain cleaners. I would suggest a smaller local company that doesn’t pass on the cost of a 2-page color yellow page ad in every phone book known to man.

          Your landlord hasn’t used any effective means to clean the line yet and needs to get off his duff. As it stands now you do not have the use of your drains at all and anything that goes down the drain will come up in the basement. Your landlord doesn’t have any problem collecting the rent on time and you shouldn’t have any problem getting the plumbing fixed on time.


  18. Elizabeth says:

    I am dealing with a clogged sewer and an unscrupulous plumber – My sewage backed up and overflowed in my house this past weekend. I called the contractor who has recently finished repairing my damages from Hurricane Ike because I thought it might be something wrong with how things were hooked up. My contractor, as a favor, had a plumber come out to check it out.
    The plumber was at my house for under an hour – at least 1/2 of which he spent inside talking to me as though I were a five year idiot (I’m an attorney, so not too dumb, and am quite a bit older than 5!) and telling me how honest and good he was.
    After about 20 minutes (he and one assistant), he showed me a section of pipe outside that he had disconnected and had “run 80 feet” and found no blockage. There was no cleanout on my property so he called the city to install one. The city did come out over the weekend and, after much persuasion and the plumber speaking to supervisors, did dig to find the connection. At midnight, the city workers told me they had checked the city line and found no blockage. They would have to return to place a cleanout.
    The plumber had left the section of pipe disconnected so that it would not overflow into my house again. He advised me to avoid using dishwasher, clothes washer, etc. and to minimize toilet flushing because it would all drain out onto my backyard patio. He told me to call him when the city was done so he could reconnect it.
    He came back yesterday and was very upset because the city had said there was no blockage. He asked me where’s the blockage, then?? Then, he denied saying there was no blockage on my side. He also denied telling me to minimize use of the water systems. When I turned the blockage question back to him and reminded him that he had told me the day before that there was no blockage on my side, he turned psycho. He started screaming in my face that I wasn’t to “talk to him like that, woman!” and “don’t you ever question me, woman!”

    I have since talked to other plumbers, as well as filed a complaint with the state plumbing board, and doubt this guy ever really checked my line.
    He did not go through any toilet line and certainly did not go to my roof vent (My home is a very tall, Victorian that requires extra-extra tall ladders and safety equipment because of the steep roof pitch). Also, since he was actually “working” only 30 minutes or less, I just doubt that he could have done any work on it.

    I liked the replies to other posts on here and would just like your opinion. Could this guy have actually done any cleaning out of my line under these circumstances?

    • Redwood says:

      Hi Elizabeth,

      I’m sorry to hear that you and your plumber have failed to click.
      Unfortunately both of our professions seem to catch more than their fair share of jokes regarding honesty and ethics.
      I’m sure that you too have had moments where you were talking to a client and they had doubts about what you were telling them. This can lead to some very frustrating moments that can get tense. Not being there to see what went on I’d like to think that I would have handled it differently and been able to work with you. It certainly sounds like he doesn’t have the skills to deal with customers on a regular basis.

      I believe since you used a plumber recommended by a building contractor that you may have gotten a plumber that specializes in new construction and remodeling. What you needed was a service or, repair plumber that also does drain cleaning. There is a big difference! The new construction and remodeling plumber generally has very little interaction with the customer and the work they do is pretty much design and installation. The service/repair plumber typically has interaction with the customer in every job where he is expected to diagnose a problem, propose and sell a solution to the customer and do the work required with a satisfactory resolution. Your plumber may have been an excellent new construction and remodeling plumber but when faced with your problem and dealing with you was a fish out of water.

      It is hard for me to say what he did and if he had correctly diagnosed your problem. I will say that the amount of time he spent to correctly rod 80′ of line sounds like he did not spend a lot of time working on it but I have correctly diagnosed city line blockages without spending a lot of time on them too. It can be as simple a seeing water rise in the pipe and knowing the water in the house is not being used, that water is coming from somewhere else. I also have seen clogged city lines suddenly break free and clear on their own from the pressure build up pushing against the clog.

      It is also possible for your line to have a problem where there is a clog that a snake can pass through multiple times without clearing the clog. These can be very frustrating especially when you are not used to snaking drain lines. I once worked on a line where I knew where the clog was in a 15′ section of pipe between 2 clean outs and I snaked that section countless times for over 3-hours before the clog finally cleared.

      It is also possible to misdiagnose when a clog is located and snake the line til the cows come home without the clog clearing because the snake is being used in the wrong place and is not even touching the clog.

      I would like to tell you that many times it is not necessary to pull a toilet to snake a line and if other access is available that can reach the clog I would use it before using a toilet for access. I also have never had to snake the line from a roof vent and I would not dream of doing so on a tall high pitched roof. I also understand that many times particularly in the south on homes with low shallow pitch roofs and slab foundation it is common to snake lines through a vent but in your situation with a tall steep roof I’m afraid most plumbers would insist on installing an outside clean out. Here we certainly do.

      My recommendation to you is to find a service/repair plumber who regularly does drain cleaning that you can have a trusting relationship with and go from there to solve your problem. A plumber that normally handles this nature of work will have the proper tools to take care of your problem and provide an accurate diagnosis including a camera which can pass through the line allowing you to see and locate where problems exist. Unfortunately a new construction and remodeling plumber that is taking care of a customer for a builder may be well intentioned but inexperienced and ill equipped to handle your problem. With today’s economy and a construction slowdown we are seeing a lot of construction plumbers branching out into service to survive and may of them are having a tough time and have gained a new found respect for the service plumber. You are probably seeing similar things happening in your field as well with lawyers facing a slow down in their area of expertise taking work outside of their usual scope of work. I do hope that that is what you have had happen in this case and the plumber you had is not a bad apple. But finding another plumber is probably best for you in this case.

      I hope this helps you out,

  19. Max says:

    Good morning,

    I was a little taken aback by the stuff mentioned about most DIY’ers giving up on clearing out a main line clog. I was faced with a main line clog through 2 bends in the line over 135′ . The clog was way down at ~104′ and was composed of a very dense root pack, scale, and backup residue upstream. I spent 4 hours reaming it all out with a series of attachments from a spud to a fill diameter grinder, cutter. Sewer runs like it was 1903 again.

    You can get this tool, the Electric Eel 2 hp sewer snake with 175′ of line for 52.36 (4 hours) or 74.36 (8 hours) at The Home Depot Tool Rental Center. major toll rental companies have similar equipment.

    So please give us DIY’ers some more credit. Add on a few bucks for a new clean-up plug and a hammer and cold chisel to get the old one out.

    In this economy not everyone has 200-300 dollars to have a decent plumber come out and play.

    • Redwood says:

      Hi Max,

      While I’m truly glad that you succeeded in cleaning your sewer line without suffering any injury I stand by my original statement that DIY’ers would do well to call in a professional. I’m not sure which machine you used the 2-hp and 175-feet with, it does not add up to any machine in Electric Eels present product line, even the sectional machines are 1/2 – 1HP but do come with enough sections to add up to 175′. These are definite professional grade equipment and I can’t conceive them being rented.

      The Home Depot here rents a 1/3-hp open drum machine with 100′ of 5/8″ cable and a 2 1/2″ cutter blade, which is far from adequate and IMHO downright undersized and dangerous. I’ve seen enough customers that have tried for days to do what a pro can do in a couple of hours at great risk to themselves. The risks are quite real I assure you see below.

      Worker killed after clothing got entangled in sewer equipment

      Contractor dead after sweatshirt gets caught in power rodder

      The danger is very rear as you can see and the person involved was experienced using the equipment and not just a person trying to save a couple of hundred bucks. You have to consider the true cost of the work whether your family is better of spending a couple of hundred bucks or, not having you around.

      I’ll stand by my original advice,

  20. Sadie says:

    I had Rotto Rooter come out the other day because I have I believe what is a clogged main line. When I run my washer maching, shower, dishwasher, sink, my downstairs bathroom toliet over flows. So he took the toliet off, and use a power snake with 96 ft on it, and was unable to pull anything back, he then went under into the crawl space, and ran another 96ft, and was unable to pull anything back. After that he showed concern that it seems to be on the cities side of the plumbing, after that he used a water jetter and still the water came back up…640.00 dollars later I am still unable to run water consitantly without the toliet over flowing and flooding my downstairs. Do you think this is on the ciyt side or do you think that there is anything else in my home that could be causing this problem…Thanks

    • Redwood says:

      Hi Sadie,
      I’m sorry to hear that Roto Rooter managed to run up a $640.00 tab without getting you any results.
      I would call Roto Rooter and ask to speak to a manager asking about their guarantee and why you have paid $640 yet still can’t have a working drain.

      I would also call your city sewer department and ask them to check their sewer line to make sure that it is functioning okay.

      If it is I would expect Roto Rooter to come back and get your line flowing without charge. This stuff really bugs me!
      I charge for results when I do work!

      • Sadie says:

        Yes I was a little confused when they left without it working, but left me a bill:) He kept saying it had to be the city, he did call someone who worked at the city and they told him it wasnt them, because if it was them then everyone on this street would be having problems, and they arent. Roto Rooter did say they would come back out Monday morning and go in with a camera to see what is causing the back up, and if they found something they would waive the 200.00 dollar charge for the camera, and if they didnt find anything they would work out a deal with me. Should the camera have been used first? If Rooter says its not my pipes and the city says its not their pipes….then how do I get my problem fixed? In Rooters defense, it was New Years day when they came out, so I knew it was going to be a little more in pricing, but he was only here for 3 hours. Should I be concerned that I got hosed with the price? Thanks

        • Redwood says:

          The sewer camera will not see anything in a clogged line. the water is too dirty to see anything. The only function it would have is to locate where the head of the camera is. Personally I’d close the pocket book and not give them another dime unless they come out with the camera and really discover something extraordinary like your house is on a septic tank and not hooked up to the sewer system like you think. If the line is hooked up to the city sewer they either have not cleaned it all the way to the sewer like they claimed or, they passed through the clog without opening it up which is pretty tough if they used a jetter properly. If they try to get any deeper into your pocket I’d really want a second opinion from another company. I’m really suspect about what they have done. Last I knew they got paid for results.

          • Doug Leonard says:

            I would say that the sewer line is running flat and that is why they do not want you to flush toilet paper down the line. The drain cleaning tech should let you know this just by looking (if you get a good tech.) Landlord would have known this and that is why he said no paper. Check with him and ask him if the line is flat.

            • Redwood says:

              Hi Doug,

              In some cases the drain cleaning tech can see a flat pitched line but, in others it takes a a camera inspection to know.

              In any case she hasn’t had a real drain cleaning tech visit yet just the landlords buddy with a 25′ snake. Hardly professional grade equipment or, experience. Gotta love those slumlords, they want the rent but won’t do adequate repairs.


  21. Joseph says:

    Heck yea. Its a lot of money for that equipment for sure!!!

    • Redwood says:

      You can figure on a good snake for a main line with cables and everything to probably be about $2500-$3000,
      A camera complete with locator $8-9,000.
      A trailer jetter $35,000-$40,000
      Thats part of the business overhead….


    No doubt, drain cleaning is a task that takes some time to properly acquire the skill, otherwise you’ll spend money on broken cables, damaged equipment and unopened drains. I’ve used both of the machines pictured extensively and they both have their opportuntiies to effectively clear a drain.

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