Do you worry about the condition of your sewer line? A problem with your sewer line can lead to serious problems, so a preemptive plan can eliminate unnecessary trouble. Give yourself some peace of mind by performing semi-regular sewer line cleaning.
Let’s discuss the different methods available so you’re in the know when you call for professional help.
In this PlumbingNav guide, we will cover:
- Sewer line cleaning 101: the facts
- How sewer line cleaning is done: main methods
- Main sewer line cleaning FAQs
|What's In This Guide?
Sewer Line Cleaning 101: The Facts
What is a Main Sewer Line?
Your sewer line removes waste water after it travels from the various fixtures in your home, including sinks, showers, tubs and toilets. It then flows out toward the city treatment center or your septic tank.
The sewer line consists of a drain line and eventually a sewer lateral that connects your home to the city’s sewer line (unless you have a private septic tank).
Sewer lines usually consist of one of the following materials:
- Ductile iron
While iron, clay, and concrete are strong, they aren’t’ adequately flexible. In most cases, you will find that old sewer lines get replaced with plastic material. However, since many of the old sewer pipe materials last for up to 75 years, you may still have old pipes in your sewer system.
Why Does a Sewer Line Get Clogged and Need Cleaning?
The biggest culprit behind a clogged drain in your sewer line is the trapped grease and cooking oil you pour down your drain after cooking. The hot liquid solidifies once it cools down, increasing in size. The material is also extremely sticky and hard to deal with.
Your sewer line gets clogged when grease and oil stick to the inside of your pipes and gather other materials. This can include things such as food waste, hair from shaving and showering, soap scum, toothpaste, and other debris. The materials continue to build up until it creates a complete blockage.
Of course, grease isn’t the only reason sewer line cleaning is required. Hair will inevitably build up all on its own. You can prevent excess hair reaching your sewer line by using a shower drain cover or strainer. But hair isn’t the only thing that causes a problem.
All of these things will eventually find themselves in your main sewer line. When you experience a complete blockage, it can send sewage back into your home or result in damage to the pipes due to increased pressure. Your homeowner’s insurance policy doesn’t always cover plumbing issues like sewage backups. (It’s a good idea to ask about a rider before the worst occurs.)
Beyond the frustration of a slow drain, damage can occur to the pipes when a clog forces more pressure on the sewage system than normal. This puts additional strain on the pipe material. PVC pipes typically last a long time, but they are softer materials that can succumb to too much pressure. Connections can experience the most damage due to high-pressure levels placed on joints and sealants.
Metal pipes eventually develop corrosion thanks to excessive amounts of standing water in the pipes, especially if there is a sewer belly in the sewer line. Corrosion refers to the process of the metal material turning into rust, deteriorating the material and causing it to produce leaks.
Finally, when wastewater has nowhere else to go, it may end up retreating back into your home, causing unsanitary and damaging conditions.
This, of course, is why getting sewer cleaning done properly is so important. Let’s get into how it works.
How Sewer Line Cleaning is Done: Main Methods
You have numerous options when it comes to cleaning your sewer line. Performing the right steps in the right order can ensure that your sewer line gets the best results.
First, Start Do a Main Sewer Line Inspection
Start by performing a sewer line inspection to get an idea of the condition of your pipes. An inspection usually involves sending a sewer camera into your pipe to get a visual of the inside of your pipes. Most people call a rooter service for this, but you can do it yourself.
Want to perform your own inspection instead of hiring a professional? Read our review of the best sewer camera with locator.
Chemical Sewer Line Drain Cleaner
Not all cleaners are alike. While milder or homemade drain cleaning products can work well to unclog a sink drain, shower drain, bathtub, or blocked toilet, you’ll need something made for the main line.
The chemicals used for these clogs are the strongest main line drain opener products that eat at the material creating the clog, yet don’t damage the pipes. There are times this will work just fine for sewer line cleaning in order to restore proper function without special equipment.
Some of the chemicals in drain cleaners can include:
- Hydrochloric acid
- Sodium hypochlorite
- Sodium nitrate
- Sulfuric acid
There are safer and even more “natural” options as well. However, you want to limit the number of times you use chemical cleaners, as they can cause your pipes to deteriorate more quickly. Follow the instructions on the packaging. You don’t want to leave certain products like liquid plumber in too long.
Also, while discussing let’s mention this important point. Don’t pour bleach down your drain. You might see it listed as an ingredient, however, it’s diluted to proper amounts and a safer bet.
If you’ve tried this 3 or 4 times and still have an issue you’ll need to “move up” to the next best option, which we discuss below.
Sewer Line Cleaning with Plumbing Snakes
There are two main types of plumbing snakes: manual snakes and powered augers. As the name suggests, a manual snake requires the user to manually operate the snake. Powered snakes, on the other hand, use electricity to rotate the end of the auger. See this write-up on the best electric drain snake augers to buy.
When looking for the best plumbing snake for your job, consider the diameter of the cable, the length of the cable, and the speed measured in rotations per minute (RPM).
A snake or auger feeds into your plumbing system to reach the clog. Once the head of the snake comes into contact with the clog, you will go ahead and turn the handle or power the auger to make the end turn, breaking up the clog.
You can use a snake from an access point inside your home or snake a drain from outside through a sewage cleanout. It’s best to start from the closest point to your sewer line clog. This will limit the number of times you have to turn corners with your plumbing snake.
Sewer Line Cleaning for Tree Root Removal
When tree roots want water, they venture out in search of it. If your pipes are the nearest source of water, your tree roots may infiltrate the pipe and break it, causing a serious leak.
Minor tree root intrusions can sometimes be dealt with by using the best tree root killer for sewer lines. This is always worth a try because it’s inexpensive. However, if they have had time to mature and develop, you’ll need specialized equipment and know-how.
Hydro Jetting Sewer Line Cleaning
The most common form of sewer cleaning and drain clearing done by a professional is called hydrojetting. Hydrojetting involves sending water through your pipes using special “jetters” at high pressure levels. The water and pressure combined work together through special heads to literally cut through and get rid of tree roots and other sewer line clogs. In the end, it will force all material out of your sewer pipes.
Watch this Sewer Cleaning Video Below:
You can see how this is the only realistic solution to some sewer line issues.
Sewer Line Cleaning Service Near Me
There are plenty of ways to clear sewer line clogs that you can attempt by yourself using a specially designed drain or root product or a snake. However, as you can see in the video there are some situations that require more help.
When the DIY methods above don’t provide the results you expected, you may need to request a professional drain cleaning service by a licensed plumber. Look at reviews that specifically mention the type of clogs you think you’re dealing with. While every plumber can unclog a drain, finding experienced sewer line cleaning is a specialty worth requiring.
Special Note: Septic tank issues are different from main line issues. See this post about the best septic tank system treatment products on the market.
Main Sewer Line Cleaning FAQ’s
How do I clean out my main sewer line?
To clean out your main sewer line, start with a liquid drain cleaner made for the main line. You can use a root killer if you suspect this is your issue. Afterward, you can use a drain snake before calling a plumber for hydro jetting.
How often should you clean out your main sewer line?
You should clean your sewer line approximately every three years, but an inspection will reveal when it’s truly needed. However, you may want to increase the frequency if the sewer pipes get heavy use or they have reached a certain age. You can use routine enzyme drain cleaners to prolong the need for professional sewer line cleaning, and use mesh drain strainers to limit excess hair and other debris.
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