Need to snake a drain from the outside, but unsure where to start? Plumbing tasks may seem easy in concept until you actually begin. The anxiety of making a problem worse only brings hesitation.
Let’s discuss how to snake a drain from the outside. You might not be a professional plumber, but if the main drain line isn’t clogged too bad you might just avoid an expensive plumbing service.
|What's In This Guide?
What You Need To Know About How To Snake a Drain From Outside
When you notice a clogged drain while showering or using the sink, the problem isn’t always a local one. The best thing to do when first addressing clogged drains is to start with the easiest remedy. This includes using boiling water or a chemical drain cleaner. If that doesn’t work, move on to a plunger.
If you don’t have a sewer camera with a locator, you will need to follow this logical progression since you can’t see where the problem lies. Assuming these previous attempts didn’t work, the problem is further down the drain pipe. You will now have to attempt to unclog the main sewer line.
A very long plumbing snake might be able to access your main line depending on your floor drain access point. However, the best option is to access the clog through a cleanout outdoor drain.
What is the Outside Drain Cleanout?
The sewer cleanout is an accessible drain opening found outdoors that grants you access to the main sewer line when you remove the cap. Cleanouts are specifically designed to grant homeowners additional access to their plumbing system to unclog drains in the main line, making it easier to resolve certain problems.
This is where a plumber will perform a sewer line inspection for rooter drain services, if needed. It’s also how you will snake your drain from the outside.
When you open your cleanout, you can either head toward your house or away from it. If you suspect your blocked sewer drain is clogged toward the home, you will feed the snake in that direction.
This is often the best place to start. If you go as deep as possible and don’t experience any issues, head in the other direction toward the street or septic tank. The problem may be deep in the main sewer line.
Tree roots are sometimes a culprit, and a powered auger will at times be able to handle this. A hand snake will not. In some cases, if they are large enough you’ll need a hydro jetter to resolve it.
You can sometimes kill tree roots with special products, tho. It depends on how much time you have to resolve the problem.
Main Sewer Line Clog: Where is it Hiding?
Do your best to pinpoint the exact location of the clog to increase efficiency and effectiveness with your drain snake. We highly recommend buying or renting a camera. Otherwise, investigate to the best of your ability to determine where the clog is located.
One way to determine if it’s the main line or inside your house is whether there’s water filling up your cleanout hole. If the cleanout hole is filling with water, the problem is likely with your main line. If it’s mostly dry, the problem probably exists inside your home.
You have two options when it comes to drain snakes: a manual drain snake or an electric auger. If using an electric plumbing snake, you will have more power and more reach. When using a snake from outside, the electric plumbing snake is the best bet.
While your plumbing snake can fix most clogs, it may not always be the best solution. If you worry about damaging your pipes or realize you just can’t reach the clog, you may need to call a local drain cleaning service.
How To Snake a Drain From Outside (5 Steps)
Only start this DIY plumbing task after you verify liability for handling the clogged sewer line. If you don’t have a private septic system, the city may cover some or all of the expenses if the issue is located on “their side.”
Unfortunately, most sewer line issues will fall to your side, and become your problem to deal with and pay for. If you have a full backup, contact your insurance company. See this diagram for a better understanding of sewer layout and responsibility.
Watch the following video for detailed instructions on how to snake a drain from outside. This features a powered snake, but the process is the same. We found a video that has baby wipes flushed down the toilet and roots!
Step 1: Locate and Access Cleanout
Find your home’s cleanout drain if you don’t already know where it is.
Open the cap to the cleanout drain and wipe the area with a damp rag as it will likely be covered in gunk.
Step 2: Prepare to Snake
We assume most readers are starting with a regular plumbing snake that is hand or crank-powered. This is able to resolve the average blogged drain, but be prepared to work for it. If you are snaking an outside drain with a power auger, then choose the right blade or tip. You can always “move up.”
Start with a half blade if you have one. Impatient people may want to work at full speed right from the jump, thinking that will save them time, only to learn that it may cause additional damage. Be patient.
Instead of starting with a full blade, prep and test the pipe clog with a half blade.
Attach the blade with corners in mind. The blade should go with the wire’s angle as one continuous piece to make it easy to maneuver sharp turns.
Step 3: Feed Snake Into Cleanout
Feed the snake into the cleanout at the best angle to get through any corners you may encounter before you reach your drain clog.
If you get stuck at a turn, power the auger counterclockwise (the opposite of standard operation) so that the snake can find the right angle without pushing through debris.
After you turn any corners with your plumbing snake, turn the power off and feed the snake until it reaches the blockage.
Step 4: Park on Clogs
Once you reach a “slow spot,” park there and work on it. There may be more than one source of the blocked drain, but you want to thoroughly “chew” through each problem area to fully unclog the main sewer line. Sometimes there will only be one main clog, but the house is old, you might encounter several. (Especially if roots are in play.)
If you stop making progress, remove the snake from the outside and clear debris from the tip. Repeat, while always making not of the distance you are traveling into the house or toward the city’s sewer or septic tank opening.
Step 5: Remove Snake From the Outside Cleanout
Once you resolved the clog, you need to remove the snake out of the drain. Depending on the type of snake you’re using and how deep you are, this may be rather cumbersome or surprisingly simple.
Some possible issues include damaging your pipes if you yank the snake out of the pipe too fast, especially around turns and inside old pipes. Take it slow.
As the snake retracts, you may find debris stuck to it. This probably wasn’t the source of the clog and just additional debris that would have ended up contributing to the blockage.
Be careful not to hurt yourself when retracting the wire, too. The tip can be sharp and be moving at high speeds. Using gloves and caution are highly recommended. See this post on how to recoil a drain snake.
Don’t use excessive force while recoiling it, or you might end up with the bigger problem of getting a broken snake out of the drain pipe.
Tips for How to Use a Drain Snake From Outside
How To Use A Snake To Unclog A Kitchen Drain From Outside
To unclog a kitchen sink drain from outside, enter the drain through the cleanout and feed the wire toward your home.
In most cases, you know the problem is localized to one sink if all other fixtures in the home, such as your bathroom sink and shower drain, work perfectly. If this is the case you might try snaking the kitchen drain from inside, just below the garbage disposal.
Food waste in the garbage disposal or a foreign object that fell down the sink may be the culprit. (And usually is!) Read more about how to unclog a double kitchen sink.
How To Snake A Drain From An Outside Cutoff
To unclog a drain from an outside cutoff, guide the snake away from the house and toward the main line at the city or your septic tank.
Main line clogs will affect all of the drains in your home instead of just one. This clog is much more restrictive than most other clogs.
FAQS For How to Snake a Drain From Outside the House
How to snake a drain from outside
In order to snake a drain from outside, start with the right tool – a long manual or powered drain auger.
Feed the head of the snake and connected cable through the cleanout drain, located outside in the yard until you reach the drain (taking corners into account if applicable).
Once you reach the clog, power the auger or crank the handle, moving back and forth. Start with low power and increase gradually until you resolve the clog.
Retrieve the snake from the drain slowly and carefully.
Can you use a hand auger to snake an outside cleanout drain?
Yes, you can certainly do this but you will need a long cable and lots of energy. If you suspect the clog is deep in your sewer system, you’ll want to buy or rent an electric one. Hand augers often don’t come in extra long sizes and don’t have as much power as electric augers.
Meet Your Plumbing Navigator
About Plumbing Navigator
We’re passionate about all things plumbing, and love sharing tips, “how-to”, and reviewing the latest products to help make your project a success!
Learn More Plumbing Tips
Want to tackle more plumbing projects? Check out these helpful guides!