DIY Drain Cleaning – Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Blocked Drains
Drains can get clogged over time due to debris, silt, and other minerals that harden and accumulate inside the pipes. This buildup can slow the flow of water and even lead to water damage, causing inconvenience and costly repairs.
To avoid these situations, the drains must be always free of clogs, and the best way to accomplish this is to make sure that they get cleaned on a regular basis.
How are drains cleaned?
Depending on how thorough you want the drain cleaning to be, how bad the clog is, and how much money you’re willing to spend, there are many approaches on how drains can be cleaned.
- Chemical drain cleaning – this sounds straight forward enough. You pick a bottle of chemical drain cleaner from your local grocery store, pour it down the drain, and you’re done. However, this method is often insufficient. The purpose of the cleaning is to eat through the clog to allow water to pass, but oftentimes chemicals flush down too quickly to fully remove the entire blockage. So, you will have your drain flushing again, but you’ll be facing clogging issues sooner than you’d want as the retained clogs will continue to trap residue and solid items. Also, there’s the issue of environmental contamination. Most chemical drain products contains harsh elements that are harmful to the environment.
- Plunger – this is a common tool for unclogging sink, tubs, and toilet drains. However, this only works for clogs located on the trap area of the drain line. It doesn’t do anything for deeper clogging or for debris buildups on pipe walls.
- Drain stick – is a flexible rod inserted into the drain of sinks, tubs, and showers to remove hair buildup. It works on P-straps clog but isn’t long enough to reach clogs deeper in the pipes. This is not a thorough cleaning solution as this mostly remove hair clogs and other bigger clumps inside the pipe but leave a lot of residue behind.
- Plumber’s snake or hand auger – this is a long , rod-like device that works just like a fishing pole. It is lowered into the problematic drain to snatch and pull the clog out. But most plumber’s snake, usually 25 – 50 feet in length, are not quite long enough to reach clogs located deeper in the drain line. Also, like drain stickes, plumber snakes only snatch up big clogs and leave wall residue and buildups behind.
- Hydrojetting – is a drain cleaning method that uses high-pressure water jet to cut through blockages such us paper and hair clumps, tree roots, grease, silt, and other solid buildups anywhere in the drain line.
How does hydrojet drain cleaning works?
- First step is to unblock the drain through hydrojetting. Using a petrol motor, a high-pressure water (up to 5000 PSI) is pumped through a hose and into the drain line. The tip of the hose has an attachment to allow it to shoot a stream of water into the pipes to clear the path ahead. Different attachments can be fitted into the tip of the hose depending on the size of pipe and type of suspected blockage being addressed.
- Once the drain is unblocked, the drain line is inspected with the use of digital camera equipment. If there’s a fault in the pipe, a radio frequency locator is used to identify the exact location of the problem. The entire inspection can be recorded in high definition so it can be conveniently viewed and reviewed any time.
- If after hydrojetting, tree roots still regrow aggressively, the pipes can be treated with a herbicidal foam which kills the intrusive roots but leave the tree or shrub itself unharmed. The foam guarantees that the tree roots will not regrow within 12 months.
- Sometimes the blockage or damage is so severe that the only option left is to repair the pipes. Using the radio frequency locator, the damaged area can be determined, dug up, and repaired with minimal mess.
How much does drain cleaning cost?
The cost will vary depending on the following factors:
- How severe the obstruction or clog is: size and type of clog, and whether it’s located near the drain entrance or deeper in the drain line. All these will determine the type of cleaning approach to be used. Example, unclogging a tree root growth in the middle of the main sewer line will definitely cost more than a hair clog issue on the P-traps.
- The amount of time spent in cleaning the drain line.
- Where you are located: local rates on urban areas may be steeper than rates on rural areas.
- The time of service calls: some companies have different rates for cleaning services done on weekends or holidays. There may also be additional charges for emergency calls.
- Whether the unclogging process require further repair of broken or damaged pipes.
- A video camera inspections may also incur you additional charges.
Signs of a blocked drain
While most homeowners wait until they see the “sink full of water” sign, drain clogs can actually be addressed much earlier. Identifying the early signs of a clogged drain will save you from the hassle of overseeing a costly repair. Here are some early indications of a clogged drain pipe:
- Slow drainage – this is one of the earliest signs of a debris buildup or a blockage in the drain pipes. Pay attention to how fast the water drains in your sink or tub. If it drains slower than normal, then it’ll get clogged soon unless you have it cleaned.
- Odor coming from the pipes – sticky organic substance stick to the walls of the pipes. The buildup hardens, causing bacteria and mildew to thrive. The growth of this organisms causes the pipes to give off a foul and rotten smell.
- Rusting – rust occurs when the iron minerals in water get exposed to humid air or saltwater. Rust buildup can cause other organic matters that pass through the pipes to get trapped. If you notice rusting around a metal drain, it is possible that the inside walls have been rusting as well.
Causes of clogged drains
There are a lot of factors that can cause drain clogging:
- Organic matter and soap residue can accumulate in drain pipes.
- For kitchen pipes, grease buildup is a common culprit. Scraps of foods can also get stuck on the pipes.
- Deposits from hard water – excessive amount of dissolved minerals in water can collect and buildup on pipe walls.
- Hair buildup is commonly seen on bathroom and lavatory pipes. They can wrap around a sink stopper or collect in a bend and trap other materials inside the pipe.
- Clumps of toilet paper can get lodged in a toilet trap.
- Tree roots – root intrusion is one of the most common causes of a blocked drain experienced by people living in wooded, forested areas. Tree roots usually enter the pipes through cracks caused by ground movement, poor installation, poor material used, or by large tree roots putting pressure on the pipes. Earthenware or clay pipes, which is common on the older Brisbane suburb, are hard, brittle and can crack easily, thus allowing roots to enter. This type of pipe also uses rubber gasket as a sealant which degrades over time, allowing tree roots to get through. Many houses built before the 1980s usually have clay pipes.
- Damaged pipes – over time, pipes can collapse or get damaged. The collapsed or damaged section can then block the flow of water in the pipes.
- Sand and silt – these particles can enter through drains and cause a buildup in the pipe.
As soap, grease, mineral deposits, and other materials buildup on the wall of the pipes, drainage slows and it becomes easier for papers, food particles, hair, and other small obstructions to get stuck in the pipes. The most common areas where clogs occur include drain stoppers, p-traps, and in horizontal sections of pipes.
What do I do to avoid getting a blocked drain?
Prevention will always be the best solution. To save yourself from the headache a clogged drain entails, you can follow the following smile preventive measures:
- Don’t pour grease, fats, or oils down your drains. Oils can stick to the wall and congeal, closing the pipe-way like a clogged artery.
- In the tub or shower drain, install a mesh screen that could catch fallen hairs. Manually remove hair buildup on the screen every day. You can actually install the screens in all your drains to help strain the water that goes through the drainage.
- Don’t dispose food scraps and leftovers on your drains. Meat, rice, eggshells, fish-bones should go into garbage bins, not down your drains. These scraps will form clumps with other deposits and then clog the pipes.
- Anything but sewage and toilet paper should be kept out of toilets.
- For tree root issues, you can do the following: avoid building your sewer lines near wooded areas; or clear the areas of trees or shrubs ( if allowed) before building your drain line. For residential lines built near trees, chemical inhibitors can be slow-poured near the pipes to prevent root growth in the area. Metal or wood buried 6 – 12 inches deeper than the drain line can also act as barriers, preventing roots from getting at the pipes.
- Have a plumber inspect and clean your drainpipes on a regular basis.
Most of the time, just removing and cleaning drain stoppers on a regular basis will save you from having a clogged sink.
How do I know if the main sewer is clogged?
If you hear a gurgling sound coming out of your drains, see your toilet water bubbling, or notice water backing up from your shower or tub when you flush, then it’s possible that you have a main sewer line clog.
Broken pipes, debris buildup, and tree roots can all cause drainage issues throughout the water system. Tree and shrubs can go through an old sewer pipe in search of water, clogging the line or causing it to rupture. Solid debris like toilet paper and other hygiene products can get caught on other small buildups already in the pipe and form a much bigger obstruction.
If after using clog remover products and using drain cables/sticks, your sewer is still backed up, then it’s time to call in the professionals to do a camera inspection. You may have a pesky tree root intrusion or a main sewer line issue that can’t be remedied by regular drain cleaning methods. It takes a professional technician to do a thorough job of removing a tree root clog and repairing damage pipes on main sewer lines.