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4 Tips You Need To Know About Drain Cleaning

Drain Cleaning


How Do You Select the Right Equipment for the Job?

Good question. If you use a drain cleaning tool in the wrong application, it won’t clear the drain properly, and you could damage the machine, or worse, injure yourself. Here’s a list of clogged drain problems, and the recommended drain cleaning tools for each.

Sink or laundry drains: A handheld drain cleaner with a 1/4″ or 5/16″ cable is the right tool for this application. The snake has the right flexibility for small drain lines with lots of bends. It is best to remove the trap under the sink first. Be careful there are no chemicals in the drain. The acids in these liquids can destroy your tools quickly. Start with a small cutter like the arrowhead to get the water flowing, then follow up with a U-cutter or side cutter to scrape the pipe walls clean.

Toilets: The best tool for a clogged toilet is a closet auger. Much more reliable than a plunger, the snake is flexible enough to get around the trap, yet strong enough to do the job. You can either dislodge the stoppage or retrieve objects like diapers and children’s toys that are frequently the cause of toilet clogs. Be sure to use a professional grade closet auger that has the durability you require.

Slow draining tubs and showers: The best tool for this is not a snake, but rather a Water Ram. Snakes have a hard time getting through the drum trap under a tub. The Water Ram uses compressed air to create a shock wave that simply follows the path of the water. Think of it as a really powerful plunger. There’s no pressure build-up so it won’t harm pipes.

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Tree roots: For difficult stoppages you should use a larger diameter, heavy-duty cable that has the torque to cut through tree roots. It is best to use a 5/8″ or 3/4″ Flexicore inner core cable for large drum-type machines, or a 1-1/4″ sectional cable with sectional machines. Start with a smaller cutter like the spearhead or 2″ U-Cutter to get the water flowing. Then switch to a larger root cutter like a heavy-duty saw blade or root ripper. Don’t be impatient. Guide the cable slowly back and forth to cut through the stoppage thoroughly. If you go too fast, you risk getting caught and damaging the cable.

Grease clogs: It’s referred to as a self-healing stoppage because when a cable goes through it, the clog closes up again. To really clear a grease clog properly, you should be using a water jet. The high-pressure water cuts the grease off the walls of the pipe and the high-water flow flushes it away. Water Jets make the hose vibrate so it can overcome the friction in the drain and slide more easily around tight bends. The thrust of the nozzle pulls the hose through the soft blockage. As you pull the hose back the high-pressure spray cuts the grease away from the pipe walls and scours them clean.

Ice: If the ice is in a metal water supply line, you can use a pipe thawing machine that puts a low voltage but high current through the metal pipe to safely melt the stoppage. If the stoppage is in a waste line, it’s nearly impossible to cut an ice clog out of a drain line with a snake. But it’s easy to melt an ice clog with a water jet. The jet nozzle has a number of rear jets to pull the hose to the stoppage, and one or more forward jets to melt the ice and break up the stoppage.


Training Employees – What They Need To Know

When training a new employee in the art and science of drain cleaning, always start with safety! For example:

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If you are using a drum style cable machine, always use the power feed and guide tube. This practice physically separates the snake and the user. One of the biggest risks in drain cleaning is having the cable throw a loop or kink between the machine and the drain while the contractor has his hands on the snake. The use of a power feed and guide tube eliminates that risk because no matter how much torque it is under, the cable cannot escape the guide tube and harm the user.

Also, until they receive expert instruction, beginners might think that they should always wear rubber gloves when operating a snake style drain cleaning machine to protect themselves from the health risks of sewage. While it is true that plumbers and drain cleaners should always be aware that they and their equipment are potentially in contact with human waste and take appropriate actions, operating a cable style drain cleaning machine wearing only rubber gloves is not one of them. The problem with rubber gloves is that they can become pinched and caught in the rotating coils of a drain cleaning cable, causing great harm to the operator. We always recommend that operators wear heavy-duty two-ply leather gloves or something similar whenever their hands are anywhere near a drain cleaning machine. Thick leather gloves will not get caught between the coils of a snake or cable and can protect your hands from unexpected kinks or loops that can form in the blink of an eye. If you want to wear rubber gloves to take appropriate sanitary precautions against sewage, then wear them under the leather gloves. This strategy gives you two levels of protection!

In addition, when using a high-pressure water drain cleaning device, stay away from the nozzle when the unit is in operation! The streams of high-pressure water spraying from the nozzle can penetrate the skin, and if that happens, you’re heading for the emergency room! We always recommend that contractors ‘hide the nozzle’ down the line before firing up the device, no matter how large or small the jetter is.

Don’t take chances with streams of high-pressure water!


What Local Regulations, if Any, Do You Need To Be Aware Of?

There are two local regulations that come to mind as impacting the drain cleaning community.

The first are local codes requiring that cleanouts are to be inserted in lateral drains every certain number of feet in order to facilitate drain cleaning and pipe inspection. Where there is an adequate number of cleanouts, drain cleaners find it much easier to clean drains without exceeding the functional and operational limits of their equipment. For example, if a clogged drain has cleanouts inserted every 50 feet, the contractor will have a much easier time isolating and clearing the obstruction than if they had to insert a snake 150 feet from the house to the street in order to reach the clog.

Second, many municipalities have instituted statutes requiring that a lateral drain running from a house or building must be inspected whenever the property changes hands. The purpose of this inspection is to find and eliminate leaky pipes. Because there is so much rainwater entering lateral drains through infiltration caused by leaking pipes, our sewage treatment system is being overwhelmed. Every time it rains, our treatment plants see their flows of sewage increase by over 100%, which causes sewage to overflow into our rivers, lakes, and oceans. To combat this problem, many municipalities have enacted laws requiring pipe inspections. These laws can be a steady source of revenue for contractors equipped with the drain cleaning, pipe inspection, and pipe repair equipment necessary to find and repair leaky sewer pipes.


Mistakes To Avoid

Don’t Break Your Stuff!
Let’s face it, drain cleaning is hard enough without having to deal with equipment failures! When a drain cleaning machine breaks on the job it can be dangerous, expensive, and an enormous waste of time.

General has been in business for nearly a century, and we’ve noticed that some contractors suffer far less equipment failures than others. So, what is their secret?

It’s pretty simple really. Contractors who are patient and careful on the job, and who practice preventative maintenance after every job, tend to break their stuff less often. Funny how that happens. In addition, we find that investing in more durable equipment pays off in longevity. Common sense, right? But there is more: Contractors who break their stuff less tend to make better decisions and have better work habits on the job. So, let’s talk about practical things that you can do every day to prolong the life of some of the most common drain cleaning equipment being used in the field.

Caring and Feeding for Your Snake
One of the most common drain cleaning devices is the drum style cable, or snake machine. We’ve met contractors who have used this style of machine every day for a decade and have not broken a cable. What’s their secret? First, they don’t force the cable down the drain; they let the rotation of the snake do the work. They use it like a drill, not a battering ram. Also, after every job, they drain the water out of their drums and then spray or pour Snake Oil or some other sort of lubrication into the drum and rotate it for a minute so that the oil becomes evenly distributed on the cable. What kills cables fastest? Rust, acid, and strong bases. Water is everywhere in a sewer, and your customer probably poured Drano or some other similar substance down the pipes before you got there. All these products can weaken the molecular structure of your cable and make them more likely to break and kink. Always use Snake Oil or some similar lubricant on your cable after a job to preserve and protect.

We have found over the years that people tend to use too large a cutter for the job, and this can lead to lost and broken cutters as well as kinked cables. We recommend starting with a smaller cutter, perhaps a spearhead or arrowhead cutter, or one of General’s Clog Choppers – something that will negotiate the twists and turns of the pipe and at least poke a hole through the obstruction. When you get the water moving again, then go down the drain with a larger cutter, perhaps a U-Cutter or Side Cutter Blade to scrape the sides of the pipe and finish the job. If you think that the obstruction may be due to a root incursion, begin with a saw blade that is considerably smaller than the diameter of the pipe. Again, after you get the water moving, then go back in with a larger saw blade to finish the job. By starting small, you can do a better job, reduce the number of cutters that break, and preserve the life of your cable.

Jetter Hose
Most jetter hoses have a plastic or rubber plastic composite coating. Although this gives them the flexibility to do their job, it makes them susceptible to cuts and abrasion. Take care to keep them away from sharp edges, even before they go down the drain! We have seen many hoses returned to our factory that were cut coming around the corner several feet away from the cleanout or drain. Be aware of your surroundings. Also, be careful not to scrape the hose as you feed it down the pipe. The rough edges on cast iron pipes can be very unforgiving to a jetter hose. General sells a small plastic adjustable sleeve designed to fit into the drain and smooth the way for both jetter hose and camera system pushrods. We recommend using something like this whenever the entry point of the pipe has a rough edge that could possibly cut or make an abrasion.

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Camera System Pushrods
Because of how expensive they can be to repair, learning how to safely use your pipe inspection pushrod can have a huge impact on your bottom line.

There are two main ways that pushrods get damaged. First, they can be cut, scraped or suffer abrasions similar to jetter hose. Although the outside coating on most pushrods is much tougher than a jet hose, we see cuts and slices in our repair shops all the time. These cuts and abrasions can lead to bigger problems that can be quite expensive to repair. To avoid cutting or slicing your pushrod, first always make sure that the operator has eyes on the monitor. Do not push the camera head past any jagged pieces of damaged pipe or sharp obstructions. Keeping your eyes on the monitor will also cut down on damage to camera heads due to smashing them into solid obstructions in the pipe. Do not use your camera system as a drain cleaning tool! Also, remember to use the same adjustable plastic sleeves that we sell for jetters to give your pushrods access into the pipe.

The second major way pushrods can be damaged is by kinking. A kinked pushrod usually requires a re-termination to repair, which can be anywhere from $200 to $500. Kinking is usually the result of forcing a pushrod down the line. We recommend using short fast motions instead of prolonged pressure to bounce pushrods around bends. Keep one hand low, close to where the pushrod is entering the pipe. And most importantly, slow down! Keep your eyes on the monitor, don’t force and slow down. These are the lessons that we hear repeatedly from contractors who never break their equipment!

You might have noticed that there are common threads running through all our suggestions:

  1. Slow down! Your drain cleaning and inspection equipment are money making machines – treat them with respect.
  2. Have situational awareness. Every job and job site are different: look around and adjust accordingly.
  3. Do preventative maintenance immediately after every job!

We understand that ‘time is money’ and every day ends up feeling like a race to bill as much work as possible. But how often do you break a cable? When you do break a cable, what do you do? Do you fix it in the field, or take it back to the shop? How much time and money are really lost by your company because of equipment failures every year?

Think of it this way: How much time and money would it save your company if you only broke half as many cables per year? Half as many jetter hoses? Half as many pushrods? Would the extra time spent on each job pay for itself? Do the math for yourself and see what you find.

Questions? Call the Drain Brains at 800.245.6200 or visit