How to Clean Plumbing Pipes

Jeffrey Anderson | Improvement Center Columnist | December 13, 2011

Just about everyone has heard a story about a family with backed up drain pipes while relatives were in town for a visit over the holidays. You have probably also heard about how expensive emergency plumbing repair can be. There's a good chance that at some point you're going to experience problems with your home's drain lines, but the story doesn't have to end with an expensive visit by your local plumbing contractor.

Cleaning your home's drain lines

A lot of items go down your home's drain pipes. It's not unusual to have an occasional blockage. In many cases the clog is at a small local drain such as the pipes that serve your sinks, toilets, and tubs, but on occasion the main drain line for your home can become closed up. The method that works best for cleaning the pipes depends on where the blockage occur. In general, however, it's best to start small and work up to the major drain cleaning tools at your disposal.

If only one drain location is slow or not moving at all, it can be an indication that the problem is only with that fixture. However, if all of your drain pipes are backed up, there's a good chance your main sewer line is the culprit. Here are a few methods for cleaning your pipes:

  1. Drain clog solutions--Most grocery stores and similar retailers sell common drain cleaning solutions that can easily be poured down your troubled pipes. These are good choices for small local drain issues such as those in your tub or kitchen sink. Hardware and home improvement stores often carry more powerful solutions that may help with tougher clogs
  2. Hand augers--These are small plumbing snakes that work with a twisting motion. They're available in several sizes with smaller units being ideal for sink drain pipes and larger units sized for toilet problems
  3. Plumbing snakes--This is a flat piece of metal with a shaped end that's used for larger drain problems. Snakes come coiled in various lengths and can be used inside the home by removing a toilet and entering the drain from that location. They can also be used at an exterior drain clean-out location and directed back into the home or toward the street for blockages in the main sewer line
  4. Power auger--This tool can provide the ultimate in pipe cleaning power. It's similar to a plumbing snake but has various head attachments and is gas or electric powered

Older homes often have exterior sewer lines made of tile that can be susceptible to damage from tree roots. A power auger with a cutting head can clear the line and regular treatment with a drain solution usually keeps it free of roots in the future.