Sewer Cleaning

This post will cover more intensive drain and sewer cleaning methods such how to use specialized plumbing tools to clear clogged drains and sewers.  If you haven't read the post before this one, I recommend that you do so and come back here.  I wouldn't want you to do any extra work than you have to.  Otherwise, you have followed the steps in the first post and you're still dealing with a clog and will have to use some kind of drain and sewer cleaning tool.

drain and sewer cleaning push cable
manual push cable
manual spinning cable
manual spinning cable

Types Of Drain and Sewer Cleaning Equipment


You'll read about each type of drain and sewer cleaning tool starting with the small tools and working your way up to larger ones.  I'll talk about what's called a:

  1. hand snake (power and manual type)
  2. drum machine
  3. sectional cable machine
  4. high pressure water jetter

First, the hand snake is used to clear drains ranging from 1 1/4" to 2" nominal size drain pipe.  Second, the drum machine is capable of snaking any size residential drain- 1 1/4" to 4"- however there's a catch.  It really depends on the size of the snake cable.  Snake cables for drum machines come in a variety of sizes.  The smallest size is 1/4" thick and the largest size is 1/2" thick.  The larger cable sizes of the drum machine will increase the weight of the cables and tool/machine itself.

Sectional Sewer Cleaning Machine


The sectional cable machine is the largest and most powerful of the drain cleaning tools by means of a snake cable.  The cables come in, you guessed it, sections (typically 15 ft. lengths).  You put the sections together by inserting a male end cable into a female end cable.  After connection, be sure to wiggle back and forth to make sure the cables are locked properly.  If not, there's the risk of the cables disconnecting while in the pipe, and as a result of this unfortunate incident, you will probably have to do an excavation to get it back.

These sectional cables are thicker in diameter than sewer machine cables.  That means that they're heavier when connected.  The cable sections can be disconnected. That will allow for easier transport of the equipment as a whole from job to job.  The sectional snake machine cables come in a thickness ranging from 3/4" to 1 1/4".  It can be use in cleaning drains from 3" to 6" in nominal diameter.


Size Matters


Keep in mind these cable diameters for both the drum and sectional tools depends on the actual size of the machine you're using.  The smaller the machine you're using, the smaller the cable that particular tool is going to be spinning for you.  The actual machine pretty much comes in a large and small.  Unfortunately most tool rental business' don't have sectional machines to rent to home owners for drain cleaning purposes.  You should look at the independent businesses if you're really adamant about using a sectional drain cleaning tool.  My personal favorite is the sectional drain cleaner because of the powerful torque rotations in conjunction with a four blade cutter header.



The high pressure water jetter is a whole different animal.  It used to come two sizes-large and larger.  The point is that the high pressure water jetter is bulky and heavy in weight.  Now I hear that there's a tool box sized unit that's small and compact that can clean sink drains.  Unfortunately, just like the sectional drain cleaning tool, most tool rental businesses don't have high pressure water jetters to rent to home owners for drain cleaning purposes.

How To Use Drain and Sewer Cleaning Tools

  1. Wear safety glasses, rubber gloves, and leather work gloves for protection
  2. Pull the trigger if you're using a handheld snake and pull back on the drum.  That will engage the clutch to make the cable turn.  There's a forward and reverse switch.  You may have to start with reverse if going through a bathtub or shower trap, for example.  Then flip the switch to forward.  Try to use forward rotation the majority of the time.
  3. Flip the power switch on if you're using a drum cleaning tool.  Just like the hand snake there's a forward and reverse setting.
  4. If you're using a hand snake-pull back on the drum to engage the clutch and push toward the drain.  Keep about 6" of slack between the end of the hand snake and the drain opening to maintain good drain cleaning skills.
  5. If you're using a drum machine-leave about a foot of slack while pushing the cable.  There is no internal clutch in a drum tool.  Most of the time you won't need one, but if you do there will be a screw to tighten down on to lock the cable, if you really need to get through something tight.
  6. Most importantly never bite your fingernails!



If your drain cable comes up through another drain somewhere else before the clog is free, then you're going to have to put the cable in where the cable popped up from.  It's rare for that to happen, but if you have an older home be cognizant of the possibility.


Remember not to have too much slack between the end of the snake machine and the drain opening when you're spinning the cable, or you may get yourself tangled up.  Above all remember that there's no such thing as owning a home--it owns you.  If you need to call a Pittsburgh Licensed Plumber feel free to call us at 412-897-4210 because we provide exceptional plumbing service to residential homeowners in dealing with your Pittsburgh Plumbing and Drain and Sewer Cleaning needs!