How to Unclog an Outside Main Drainpipe Cleanout Using an Auger
Be Your Own Plumber
How to Clear the Mother of All Bathroom Plumbing Clogs
When an Old Power Auger Is Your Only Hope . . .
While deciding what plumbing project to set up next, the plumbing gods decided to let us have a real-life, absurd plumbing incident first hand! A 1950s property we were at had a sudden back up in both bathrooms and shower, and it was NOT pretty. We started off by trying to plunge, then liquid drain cleaner—we even tried waiting out what was apparently the mother of all bathroom plumbing clogs—but to no avail. The clog was more than pressure, chemicals, and time could manage.
Then, a sudden moment of clarity struck. We knew it was time to break out the big guns—the power auger (a big electric power snake that is as old as the house we were standing in) and have a go at that outside cleanout drain. As luck would have it, we had a camera on hand (though in truth, I rarely go anywhere without one). This is what we did to unclog the outside cleanout drain using an old power auger, step by miserable step.
Unclogging the Main Drainpipe: It's Power Auger Time!
When Nothing Is Moving but Your Adrenaline
Sometimes drains back up due to a blockage in one of the drainpipes rather than at the sink, toilet, or shower fixtures. And this is exactly what we were encountering at this 1950s house we were at. Both bathrooms would not flush properly, flushing them caused the water to rise up to the brim and threaten to flood the floor. The shower and bath's would not drain effectively and after attempting all other plumbing "how to's" we decided our only chance at fixing this problem was to auger the drain. Outside of the house we found the cleanout drain plug. Depending on where you are having the problem will determine which cleanout drain you will use. Some are located in the basement, and some in the attic. The drain plug at this property was right outside the Northwest wall of the master bathroom. The steps we took to unclog the pipe are as follows:
Overview of Steps
- Locate and clean around the outside of the cleanout plug to keep leaves and dirt from falling into it. Remove the plug
- Place the root cutting head of the auger in the cleanout access and turn on auger's power
- Feed the auger cable into the drain until resistance can be felt as it meets and begins to cut at roots. Slowly feed more cable so the cutting head can cut steadily. Once the head breaks through the root clog, run water from a garden hose into the cleanout to help wash away the cuttings; at the same time, work the auger over the area again.
- When the auger hits a hard, impassable object, you are probably at the main sewer. Back out slowly.
- Before you clean the cable and return the machine (if you use a rental), test the drain by replacing the cleanout plug and flushing the toilets several times.
Step 1: Clear Cleanout Plug of Debris
Brush the dirt and leaves away from the opening of the cleanout plug and twist the plug off. You may need to start loosening it with a wrench, then finish removing it by hand.
Step 2: Auger Root Cutter
Place the root cutter blade of the auger into the drain and turn on the power. Be certain that the end is far enough in the drain so it won't pop out and become dangerous once the power is turned on.
Step 3: Feed Auger Cable Into Drain
Feed the auger cable into the drain until you feel resistance at the root clog. Slow down the feed and allow the cutting blade to do its work. By pulling the auger cable back and forth you can cut away at different areas of the clog. Once you feel the blade has cut through the roots, place a running hose into the drain to wash away the cut bits and root debris cuttings. With the hose still in the drain, rework the area with the augers root cutting blade to clear as much of the root system as possible.
Step 4: Backing Out the Auger Cable
As you feed the auger through the main drainpipe, you may come to point where it feels as if you have ran upon a hard impassable spot. This is most likely the main sewer. When you get to this point (generally 50 to 60 feet from the front of the house) stop feeding the cable and slowly back the auger out of the drain.
Carefully Back the Auger Cable Out to See the Root System on the Blade
When Toilet Overflow Problems Pop Up, It's Time to Get the Auger Ready!
Step 5: Test the Toilets
Before cleaning and putting all of the equipment away, replace the cleanout plug and test all of the toilets in the house by flushing them several times. If everything works according to plan, and no more back ups occur, feel free to clean and put things away. If you rented your auger, be sure to follow the return instructions for cleaning and maintenance so you won't get charged extra. You are all Done!
After the Clog Is Fixed
Once we had the roots cleared from the pipes, all systems were "a Go" again. It may seem like a lot of work to clear roots from your pipes from an outside cleanout drain, but it was really simple and it took less than 30 minutes. We saved ourselves the cost of an expensive plumber service and the headache of water damages due to flooding. it was not the easiest, cleanest, or most fun-filled project I have done, but it was very rewarding and ultimately the cheapest "big" plumbing problem I have had to date with any property. The total cost of repairs, $0.00! Now that's worth sharing!
Note: If you do not have or cannot borrow a power auger, you can rent one far cheaper than having a plumber come to do the job. Check with your local home center or plumbing supply house for power auger rental pricing.
What Does a Power Auger Do in the Drainpipe?
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2011 India Arnold