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How To Clean A Drain

Oct 25, 2023 | Hydro Jetting

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Persistent, unpleasant odors infiltrating your home can often be traced back to dirty, clogged drains. These issues not only spread foul smells but can also harbor harmful bacteria. To tackle this problem like a pro and maintain clog-free drains, you ought to follow essential drain cleaning steps.

Methods of Drain Cleaning

Clogged pipes pose both safety concerns, manifesting as standing water around drain openings, unsettling gurgling sounds, and the unpleasant aroma of decaying food wafting from sinks. These clogs can stem from various sources, including invasive roots, grease, dirt, and the accumulation of debris like food particles on pipe interiors. The approach to drain cleaning varies based on the plumber’s expertise and the specific issue. Here, we’ll outline proven drain cleaning methods (and steps) commonly employed in both commercial and residential settings

How to Clean by Hydrojet Drain Cleaning

Hydrojetting is a method that involves the use of high-pressure water for the thorough cleaning of drains and sewer lines. The hydro jetting equipment is equipped with a specialized hose designed to release water at an exceptionally high pressure. This pressurized water is potent enough to effectively clear the most stubborn clogs and eliminate any residue adhering to the inner walls of your pipes.

The process commences with a comprehensive inspection of the drain or sewer line, allowing the technician to assess the best approach. Subsequently, high-pressure water is deployed to dislodge debris. The water’s force is robust enough to penetrate even the most resilient blockages.

Following hydro-jetting, it is essential to ensure that the area is thoroughly cleaned. This step is important for preventing any potential future issues. Hydrojetting is a secure and efficient method for cleaning drains and sewer lines, but proper cleanup is equally important to maintain a trouble-free plumbing system.
A summary of the steps involved is as follows:

  • To begin, connect the hydro jetter and your water source. If you’re using a municipal water supply, link it to a high-pressure source like a fire hydrant. Alternatively, if you’re using a pressure washer, simply attach the hose from the pressure washer to the hydro jetter’s inlet.
  • Next, you have to select the appropriate nozzle type for the task. Two primary types are available – the standard nozzle suitable for general cleaning and the rotating nozzle more effective against stubborn blockages.
  • Once you’ve made your nozzle selection, it’s time to initiate the hydro jetter. Start by opening the water supply, and then gently activate the hydro jetter by gradually squeezing the trigger, enabling water to flow through the hose.
  • As you advance down the drain, move the hydro jetter back and forth. The high-pressure water is instrumental in breaking up any blockages or debris that might be obstructing the drain.
  • Keep moving the hydro jetter until the water exiting from the opposite end appears clear. At this juncture, you can deactivate the machine and disconnect the hose.
  • As a final step, run some hot water down the drain to assist in flushing away any remaining debris. In the event a clog persists, you may need to consider repeating the hydrojetting process.

How to Clean by Mechanical Snaking

What is a drain auger or drain snake? It’s a coiled, quarter-inch thick cable with a handle. It goes by various names, including snake cable, toilet auger, auger, plumbing snake, and plumber’s snake, among others. The snake is inserted into the drain to navigate through the clog, either pushing parts of the obstruction further down the pipe or extracting it. The drain auger proves to be a robust tool for unclogging drains, as it can access clogs that are situated deep within the pipe, well beyond the drain stopper.

Where can you obtain this snake tool? One option is to rent it, whether it’s a manual hand-cranked version or an electric auger. Additionally, it’s advisable to have rubber gloves and safety glasses at your disposal when tackling a blocked drain to ensure safety during the process.

To Perform Drain Snaking
Although operating this device might seem uncomplicated, it’s advisable to consult with the equipment provider regarding its usage. In broad terms, here’s the procedure for using plumbing snakes:

  • Start by inserting the end of the snake, also known as the auger head, into the drain. Then, turn the handle to feed the snake further into the drain.
  • As you crank the handle, you may need to exert some downward pressure to help the snake navigate any bends in the pipe, such as the drain trap (p-trap) and the trap arm between the p-trap and the wall, especially if you’re working under a sink. Once past these bends, the primary resistance should be the clog itself.
  • When the snake reaches the clog, continue to turn the handle. This action can either dislodge the clog or attach the snake to it, allowing you to pull out both the snake and the obstruction simultaneously.
  • After snaking the drain, turn the water on fully for a few minutes. This step is essential to ensure that the clog has been completely removed, and that your tub drain, sink drain, floor drain, or main drain is now unobstructed and functioning properly.

How to Clean With Chemical Drain Cleaners

In certain instances, particularly in kitchen sinks, a blocked drain may be attributed to the accumulation of grease. Dish soap, formulated to combat grease, can prove effective in addressing a clogged drain.

Start by dispensing a few tablespoons of dish soap into the drain and allowing it to remain. If the dish soap manages to reach the blockage, it will initiate the breakdown of the grease and its adhesion to the pipe. After a few minutes, administer the remedy of boiling water by pouring several cups of boiling water down the drain in stages. This may lead to the clearance of the clog or, at the very least, a partial restoration of the drain’s functionality.

A similar technique can be employed to address a clog in a bathroom sink, but with some variations. In this case, you can utilize a mixture of baking soda, lemon, and vinegar in lieu of dish soap. Commence by pouring ½ cup of baking soda down the drain, followed by ½ cup of white vinegar, and finally, one cup of lemon juice. Conclude with the infusion of five or six cups of boiling water, and allow the concoction to sit undisturbed for several hours before verifying its effectiveness.

Cleaning Different Types of Drains

How to Clean a Downspout and Gutters Drain

Unclogging a downspout is generally a straightforward task, but it can also be potentially hazardous, involving activities like climbing ladders and assuming awkward positions. This can pose challenges for anyone, especially those with acrophobia or physical limitations. Unclogging a downspout requires a ladder, an extra set of hands, and the proper tools and safety equipment.

What You’ll Need
Your primary tool for unclogging a downspout is your water hose. It’s essential to have a spray nozzle with adjustable settings to generate maximum water force. Here’s a list of additional items you’ll require to safely clear a downspout blockage:

  • A sturdy extension ladder.
  • Thick suede gloves to prevent cuts.
  • A garden trowel.
  • A hand auger.
  • Protective eyewear.
  • A helper to ensure safety during the process.

Unclogging Your Downspout

  • Start by removing the downspout extension to expose the lower opening. You might need to take out a screw or two to detach the extension from the downspout. This is particularly crucial when the downspout is connected to an underground drain. Attempting to clear a clog below ground level might exacerbate the situation, possibly necessitating excavation. If you’re uncertain, it’s advisable to consult a professional to assess the situation before attempting anything that could lead to further damage.
  • Don your gloves and eye protection, then insert a garden trowel into the downspout to remove any reachable leaves or debris. Use your water hose to rinse the downspout extension, dislodging any remaining debris. Spray water upwards and into the gutter near the upper opening to ensure unobstructed water flow.
  • If the downspout remains clogged, it’s time to investigate further. Have a helper stabilize the ladder as you ascend and they hand you the hose. If you need to reach a height beyond the ladder holder’s reach, attach a cord or rope to the end of the hose and carry it up with you while climbing the ladder. Once you reach your desired height, use the cord or rope to pull the hose up. This ensures that the ladder holder remains focused on keeping the ladder secure.
  • With the hose in position, set it to the most forceful setting, typically a narrow spray, and insert the sprayer into the top opening of the downspout. If water flows out of the bottom, carrying away debris and eventually running clear, your task is completed.
  • While most downspout clogs can be dislodged with adequate water pressure, sometimes additional measures are necessary. As you descend from the roof, come down the ladder rung by rung, gently tapping on the side of the downspout as you go. Then, climb back up and attempt to rinse the downspout again with your garden hose. The gentle tapping may help free a section of the downspout still obstructed by debris.
  • You can also try using a handheld auger. Wearing gloves and eye protection, feed the auger into either the top or bottom downspout opening and turn the drum clockwise. Once the auger has passed through completely, retract the cable. You may need to repeat this process several times to remove a tenacious clog.
  • After the gutter downspout is clean, clear any remaining leaves and debris to ensure unobstructed water flow once it reaches ground level. If you don’t already have them, consider installing splash guards at the base of your downspouts. Splash guards help divert water away from your home’s foundation and ensure the downspouts remain unobstructed. Consult with a professional if you have questions about adding splash guards to your gutters.

How to Clean a Sub-Surface Drain

Commence by identifying the location of the obstruction. This may require some careful examination, but it’s important to note that most clogs tend to occur at junctions or bends, such as transition points or elbows. Therefore, it’s advisable to begin your inspection at these key areas.

Once you’ve pinpointed the problematic area, you have several options at your disposal. Let’s delve into each one individually.

Snaking, also known as rootering or augering, involves the insertion of a metal cable into the drain pipe. The objective is to prod and break up the blockage, allowing water to flow freely once again.

Blow Bag
A blow bag, or drain bladder, utilizes water pressure to clear clogged drains. This device resembles a deflated balloon and is constructed from heavy-duty rubber. The blow bag is connected to a water source and the obstructed drain pipe. When filled with water, it releases a forceful surge of water through the pipe in an attempt to dislodge the blockage. However, caution is necessary when using a blow bag, as excessive pressure can potentially damage pipes, especially older ones with fragile joints.

Hydrojetting is a more modern method of drain cleaning that resembles power-washing the interior of pipes. It involves inserting a high-pressure hose into the drain pipe. The intense water pressure is effective in removing greasy and solid debris while remaining gentle on the pipes.

Picote Milling Machine
In cases of particularly stubborn clogs, such as ingrown tree roots or hardened sediment buildup, a Picote system takes a similar approach to snaking but incorporates specialized attachments at the cable’s end. This enables the Picote machine to break up blockages, brush away debris, and provide comprehensive wall-to-wall cleaning.

Baking Soda & Vinegar Method
A well-known and effective remedy for clearing household drains involves the classic combination of baking soda and vinegar.

Here’s how it works: Pour a generous amount of baking soda into the drain, followed by a substantial quantity of white vinegar. As these substances interact, you’ll hear a vigorous fizzing sound, which is the result of a chemical reaction. This reaction creates numerous bubbles and, ideally, helps unclog the drain. Once the bubbling subsides, simply flush the drain with a large volume of hot water.

Please note that the effectiveness of this method may be somewhat limited when dealing with larger underground drain pipes. However, it’s worth giving it a try, and if it doesn’t work, there are plenty of other options available. We do not recommend using potent chemicals to unclog drains, as they can damage the pipes.

Professional Drain Cleaning
As a last resort, you can always call a professional plumber. Dealing with concealed outdoor drain pipes, like sewer lines or irrigation drains, can be challenging but not insurmountable. If you’re experiencing slow or backed-up drains, it’s advisable not to wait for the issue to worsen. Instead, reach out to a professional.

How to Clean a Sewer Drain

There are several methods for performing sewer line cleaning, but for most homeowners, the safest option involves using a cleaning solution made from baking soda and vinegar. To undertake this process, ensure you have both items on hand, and it’s advisable to wear safety glasses and gloves.

Here are the steps:

  • Begin at the sink or toilet nearest to where the home’s drain system connects to the city’s sewer system. For toilets, turn off the water supply using the wall valve and flush out as much water from the toilet as possible.
  • Pour ½ cup of baking soda into the drain, followed by ¼ cup of vinegar. This will generate substantial foam, but the abrasive nature of baking soda will help break down grease as it flows through the system.
  • Let the drain sit for 15 minutes before flushing it with hot water for two to three minutes.
  • Repeat this process at the next nearest drain.

Starting at the closest drain helps prevent grease from accumulating in the system and causing a clog. It’s important to note that the abrasive cleaning solution can wear down pipes over time, so it’s best to use this method sparingly.

You can also opt for an enzyme-based cleaner for drain cleaning. Each product has its specific application instructions, so be sure to follow the package directions. Generally, homeowners pour these cleaners down the drain and flush, allowing the enzymes to break down waste and grease as they travel through the pipes.

Serious blockages in the main line will likely require a plumber’s expertise. While smaller snakes may be effective for fixtures like sinks, toilets, and showers, main lines necessitate larger, more powerful snakes. Attempting to use these without proper knowledge can lead to accidents. However, if a DIYer is confident that the blockage is near the cleanout and can be cleared with a smaller, handheld snake, they can proceed.

Getting Rid of Odors

Smelly drains can be quite bothersome, but there are a few tricks you can attempt before resorting to professional help. Here are some DIY solutions to address foul drain odors:

Hot Water Flush

This is a simple and effective method, especially if the odor is due to strong-smelling or spoiled food. Here’s how to do it:

  • Pour a few drops of dishwashing liquid and half a gallon of very hot (not boiling) water down the drain.
  • Wait for five minutes, then follow up by pouring cold water down the drain to solidify any remaining fat or grease.
  • Repeat the process once more to ensure any lingering odors are removed.

Hot Vinegar Flush

Vinegar is known for its odor-neutralizing, grease-cutting, and disinfecting properties. You can use it to combat smells and minor clogs as follows:

  • Heat up (but do not boil) four cups of vinegar.
  • Pour half of the heated vinegar down the drain.
  • Run the water for a minute.
  • Pour the remaining vinegar down the drain.
    This process can help eliminate odors and minor clogs.

Baking Soda & Vinegar

If the hot water or hot vinegar flush doesn’t resolve the issue, or if the odor persists, try adding baking soda to the mix:

  • Pour one cup of baking soda into the drain.
  • Follow it with two cups of white vinegar.
  • Allow this combination to fizz and work on breaking up congealed grease in the drain for 10 minutes.
  • Flush it away with hot water.

You can repeat this process if necessary. If your drain is slow, let the mixture sit for 30 minutes instead of 10 before flushing it with hot water.

Preventing New Clogs

Clogged drains can lead to plumbing issues, so it’s wise to focus on prevention rather than dealing with maintenance and costly repairs. Here are three quick and easy tips to help you keep your home’s drains free and clear:

Clean Your Drains Regularly

Regular drain cleaning goes a long way in preventing clogs. Consider the following methods for different areas of your home:

  • In the kitchen, focus on cleaning your garbage disposal. Fill an ice cube tray halfway with vinegar and water, freeze it, and then grind a few vinegar ice cubes in the disposal. You can add salt for a deeper clean to remove grease and dirt.
  • For bathroom drains, use a bent wire or hair-catching brush to clean out debris and prevent clogs. Another effective method is to use table salt and vinegar. Pour one tablespoon (or more, if needed) of salt down the drain, followed by ¼ cup of plain white vinegar. Allow it to sit for at least an hour, then flush the drain with very hot water to clear it.

Be Mindful of What Goes Down the Drain

Avoid putting certain items down the drain that can harm your plumbing, including coffee grounds, grease, and hair. Instead:

  • Pour grease (e.g., bacon grease, oil, butter) into a container for future use or dispose of it in the trash.
  • Dispose of coffee grounds in the trash or use them in your compost.
  • Use screens or drain gates to prevent hair from going down the drain. In case grease ends up down your drain, you can remedy it by boiling a large pot of water, adding at least one tablespoon of liquid dish soap to your drain, and then slowly pouring the boiling water down the drain. Avoid putting these items in your garbage disposal as well.

Use Hot Water as a Preventative Measure

Running hot water down your drains after using the kitchen sink is a simple yet effective preventative measure. It helps clear out any remaining food debris and makes future cleanings easier. However, when dealing with a garbage disposal, use cold water because it keeps grease and oils in a solid state, making it easier to dispose of them when you turn on the disposal. You can use hot water after running the disposal.

Knowing When It Is Time to Call the Pros

As a DIY enthusiast, it’s crucial to recognize when it’s time to call in professional drain cleaners to ensure that you don’t inadvertently worsen plumbing issues or neglect potential hazards. One clear sign that professional help is needed is when you encounter recurring clogs. If you find that clogs in the same drain persistently return despite your DIY efforts, it’s an indicator that there may be an underlying issue that requires the expertise of professionals. Continuing to address the same problem with DIY solutions can lead to frustration and potentially more significant plumbing problems.

Slow drainage throughout your home is another compelling reason to seek professional assistance. When multiple drains, such as sinks, showers, and toilets, are draining slowly, it may suggest a more extensive blockage in your main sewer line. This kind of issue typically necessitates professional cleaning and inspection to address the root cause.

Moreover, if you have multiple drains clogging simultaneously or if both toilets and sinks are affected, it’s a signal that the problem may be more extensive than isolated clogs. Attempting to address such widespread issues through DIY methods may not yield effective results. Gurgling or bubbling sounds coming from your drains could also be a red flag. These noises might indicate problems within your plumbing system, such as a blockage or ventilation issues, which often require professional assessment and resolution.

In cases where DIY drain cleaning efforts have not delivered the desired results or have only provided temporary relief, it’s wise to seek the assistance of professional drain cleaners. They have the experience, tools, and knowledge to diagnose and address plumbing issues comprehensively, ensuring the safety and functionality of your drainage system. Additionally, if you suspect problems in your sewer line, such as tree root intrusion or damage, these are typically complex issues best left to professional plumbers with specialized equipment.

Frequently Asked Questions


Can I use chemical drain cleaners to clean my drain?

Using chemical drain cleaners to clear clogs is a common approach. However, exercise caution when using them. Prioritize safety by wearing protective gear, follow instructions meticulously, and avoid mixing different types of cleaners. Be also mindful of the environmental impact and use them sparingly. Older plumbing systems may be sensitive to these chemicals, so consult a plumber if you have an aged system. For more stubborn clogs, or for complex blockages, it’s often safer and more effective to contact a professional plumber who can provide targeted solutions.

Keep in mind that chemical cleaners work best for minor clogs, and their effectiveness may be limited for stubborn blockages. If you’re using them preventively, consider alternative methods like regular maintenance and drain screens to minimize clogs and reduce reliance on chemical solutions.


How do I clean drains that are hard to access or deep within the plumbing system?

Cleaning drains that are challenging to access or located deep within the plumbing system can be a complex task. A drain snake, a long, flexible tool, can help dislodge clogs in hard-to-reach areas. Hydro-jetting, a high-pressure water cleaning method, is effective but ideally requires professional assistance. Chemical drain cleaners may work for deep clogs, but should be used with caution. For complex issues, consider professional plumbers who have the expertise, equipment, and knowledge to address deep blockages. Camera inspections can pinpoint blockage sources, and preventive measures like regular maintenance and drain screens can help avoid deep clogs.

In cases of particularly challenging clogs or blockages deep within the plumbing system, professional plumbers are often the safest and most effective solution. Their experience and tools can diagnose and address these issues comprehensively. If you’re uncertain about how to handle the situation, consulting with a professional is advisable to prevent further plumbing problems.


How often should I clean my drains?

The frequency of drain cleaning can depend on various factors, but as a general rule, scheduling an annual drain cleaning is a good practice even if you don’t notice any immediate plumbing issues. This regular maintenance helps prevent hidden clogs from building up deep within your sewer lines, which may not become evident until a significant problem arises. By proactively cleaning your drains at least once a year, you can keep your plumbing system in optimal condition and reduce the risk of unexpected and potentially costly plumbing emergencies.

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