HELP! My sewer line is clogged! - How to Snake a Sewer Line

4:33 PM

My sewer line clean out
There are a million disclaimers on this one folks!  In all honesty, this post should be called “How we snaked ‘Our’ sewer line.”  I can’t exactly tell you how to snake yours.  I’ll tell you what we did and why it worked.  Other than that I’d advise you to call a professional plumber if what worked for us isn’t working for you.

Disclaimer #2 – this is a job that is stinky and disgusting.  Dress accordingly!  There is an excellent chance that you’ll be standing in sewage!  NO BARE FEET (or hands or eyes).  Also, tie back your hair!

Grab your boots sister!  You're going to need them!

Now, with that out of the way I’ll tell you what happened and how we fixed it!

Disclaimer #3 – I’m an information person.  I like ALL the details of a story!  As a result I tend to offer all the details to others.  This story has LOTS of details.  I’ll label each section so that you can skip to the information you want.

The source of our problem
My husband and I have 4 beautiful sons.  Two of them are pretty grown up.  Two of them a young enough to really wreck havoc in the house!  Our “littles” are adventurous young lads who enjoy conducting LOTS of experiments including, but not limited to, flushing things down the toilet.  To solve this problem we bought a so called “clog proof” toilet.   Turns out, there’s no such thing as a clog proof toilet.  The kids’ toilet is clog resistant, but certainly not clog proof (as the boys have proven on many occasions.)

There's NO SUCH THING as a clog proof toilet!

The good news and bad news about “clog resistant” toilets. 
Say your kid flushes say a Lincoln log down the toilet.  The good news is that log may very well pass through the toilet.  The bad news is that the log may get stuck somewhere else down the line.    

That’s what happened at my house this week!  Who knows how long “the littles” have been partaking in their latest flushing experiment.  I never noticed a thing until water appeared in the basement.

The symptoms:
After my shower on Saturday I noticed a puddle of water in the basement.    It wasn’t tons of water.  Just a large-ish puddle.  I cleaned it up and started the dishwasher.  Half an hour later the puddle was back. 

I spent the weekend trying to identify the source of what I thought was a leak.  Sometimes we had puddles after baths, showers.  Sometimes not.

Monday morning I started a load of laundry.  When the wash was finished there was a sizable puddle on the basement floor near the sewer clean out.  I knew immediately that the line was clogged!

Another symptom of a sewer line clog:  If several water fixtures begin to drain slowly or over flow, you may have a sewer clog. 

If one toilet overflows or one sink drains slowly there may be a problem with that fixture.  If two or three fixtures begin to overflow or drain slowly at the same time, you have a bigger problem.

We’ve had enough sewer line (main line) clogs before so I know what to look for.  In our house if a puddle appears near the sewer line clean out after a small volume of water is used (toilet flush, hand washing) then as have a significant clog. If a puddle of water appears only after a large volume of water is used (shower, bath, washing machine use) then we have a relatively minor clog.

What’s causing the clog?
 Truth is there’s really no way to know what caused the clog until it’s fixed.  Just pray that it’s not tree roots.  My method WILL NOT WORK on tree roots.      

The Fix - Option #1:
For the project you will need:

Boots, old or ratty clothes, sewer line snake, possibly a flash light, possibly your entire tool box to remove the sewer cap.

Here's what you're looking for!
Ok, first you have to identify your sewer clean out and remove the cap.  Our house was built in the 50’s and has a house trap.  That means that instead of having a sewer line that goes right out to the street, there is an extra bend in the road.  We removed the cap from the sewer line and house trap.  Our caps are old, but came off without too much trouble.  (They’ve been snaked A LOT) so we didn’t expect them to be too difficult.

House Trap and Sewer Line with caps removed

House Trap

Toilet Snake (Closet Auger)

Once the cap was removed from the house trap a sea of waste water spilled out.  That is to say that anything that was recently flushed in the toilet or washed down the sink was now at (and on) my (booted) feet.  DISGUSTING!!!  After the initial flood of sewage came out of the pipe there was standing water in the pipe. 

I started with the house trap.  Because it’s a short U, I’d hoped that the clog would be found there and would be easy to fix.  I used my closet auger (toilet snake) to try and clear the clog.  I threaded the auger into the house trap and cranked the handle.  The waste water standing in the pipe remained.  I did, however, notice a Lincoln log and several plastic Easter eggs.  Now I know what caused this clog!

With a gloved hand I removed the toys from the trap and kept snaking.  The toys were gone, but the standing water remained.  It was time for plan B. 

Brass Craft Encased Sewer Rod
Sewer Snake

Next my husband removed the cap from the sewer line and slowly threaded in a 50 foot sewer snake. (I held the flash light).  He pushed the snake into the line as far as it would go.  When he hit an obstruction he worked the line back and forth until he was able to move past the clog.  He worked the line into the pipe until he ran out of line.

Working in a back and forth motion, he slowly pulled the snake back out of the sewer line.  It wasn’t until the snake was all the way out of the line that we noticed that the water level had gone done in the pipes.  There was no standing water in the sewer line or in the house trap.  SUCCESS!

Test your work:
To flush the line we filled the tub with water and let it out.  Water did not back up into the house, so we knew the line was clear.

The Fix - Option #2
This year (2016) we discovered a second option that's been working VERY WELL for us.  This option is less messy and works quickly.  Earlier this year I purchase a Sewer Line Bladder.  Honestly I didn't think it would work.  It worked QUICKLY - thank goodness!

Sewer Bladder
The bladder works by blasting a concentrated stream of water down the sewer line at the clog.  For this method you will need an assistant, rubber gloves, garden hose and the bladder.  These bladders come in several sizes.  Make sure that you get the one that is designed for sewer lines.  Mine cost about $19.00 at Home Depot.

With the bladder SECURELY attached to a garden hose thread the bladder and hose through the sewer clean out, down the sewer line as far as you can.

Click this picture to make it larger
Have one person hold the hose in place.  The second person should turn on the water slowly until it reaches full blast.  Water will fill the bladder and cause it to expand and fit snugly against the sides of the sewer pipe.  Once the bladder is fully expanded it will shoot a concentrated stream of water down the sewer line.  The water will blast the obstruction out of the line.

Turn the water off and allow a few minutes for the water to drain from the bladder so that it shrinks back down to normal size.  Slowly remove the bladder from the line.

In the spirit of full disclosure I was 100% certain that this method would not work.  But I was desperate and $19 was not too much to risk.  This is now my FAVORITE way to unclog the sewer.

Here's a a video to help you out.

The Cause of the Problem:
The head of our sewer snake was tangled with what looked like writing paper.  I’m willing to bet that the boys flushed paper and toys down their toilet.  (They are now grounded!!)


The Clean Up:
We were thrilled to have fixed this problem ourselves, but the clean up was disgusting!  I wish we could have hired someone for that part! 

Disinfect EVERYTHING with water and a little bleach

We used a garden hose and a big industrial broom to remove solid waste (toys, paper, etc) from the floor.  Anything that fell in the sewer water was either disinfected with bleach water or thrown out.  Once the big chunks of garbage and “do-do juice” (my husband’s word – not mine) were gone, I swept the floor again with bleach water.  I added a splash of bleach to a bucket of water.  Then dipped a clean broom into the water and swept the floor.  Finally I disinfected the floor by mopping with bleach water. 

The Cost
Most of the things we needed we already had at home.  Closet auger, brooms and bucket.  We purchased sewer line snake, goggles and gloves from home depot.  Total cost $30

The cost to call Roto Rooter = $250!

What if this method didn’t work?

This method worked for us because it was a pretty simple clog.  If you’ve got something more serious like tree roots you’ll need to evaluate your next steps.  If you have experience or feel comfortable trying – you can rent a heavy duty drain cleaner from Home Depot (or other hardware store).  Ask them which model is best for you.  We’ve cleared tree roots from our sewer line with a rental machine.    The cost of rental was under $100.  The store will require a tool deposit.

When to call in a professional:
If you feel uncomfortable at all – call a professional!  If you can’t find the source of the problem or if you can’t clear the problem – Call a professional!  I’m a DIY girl from the bottom of my heart, but I’m not willing to mess us the plumbing in my house just so I can say I did it myself! 

Other tips!
When/If you need to call in a professional watch what he’s doing.  Let the $200 bucks you spent on his visit be your personal diy class.  Ask questions and gather as much information as you can.  S/He’s there to help you out.   Educate yourself. 

Hopefully your kids will find non-plumbing related ways to entertain themselves.  Until then – Good luck in your plumbing adventures!

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  1. At Roto-Rooter, we understand that many people are do-it-yourselfers so we offer a variety of DIY tips on our website But as you pointed out in your blog, you're "not willing to mess up the plumbing in your house just so you can say you did it yourself." Our message to DIYers is that doing it yourself is great for those who have the skills and the ability to learn as they go. But it's important to know your limits and be safe. This video offers helpful tips and good information about the causes of sewer problems and a range of possible solutions.

  2. Thanks Paul. I happen to think the good people at Roto Rooter are awesome!

    There's a part 2 to this story!

    It will be posted next week. Keep reading!

  3. Good recognition skills to have spotted the symptoms of a possible clog early on! One other symptom of a possible clog is water going back out of a drain or a toilet after you flush it. Sometimes, gurgling sounds can also be heard from the drains. Well, it's a good thing you were able to unclog your drains before things got worse. I think it's time to teach the kids what not to flush down the toilet! Kurt Verdejo @

    1. Yes it is very important that the little ones know what is not supposed to go down the toilet. Last week I caught my cousin trying to stuff his Tonka dump truck down the toilet; fortunately I got it out with the plunger. Something else you can check is making sure your water isn't constantly running, that will limit how well the toilet flushes.

  4. These are truly useful information and smart tips you shared with us. True to what you said, while we can take care of some minor plumbing problems, there are those times when the job will prove to be too much for us. We must call the professionals for proper repair. It might cost you more than doing it on your own, but you might spend more had you worsen the damage by trying to do it on your own. Thank you for imparting your knowledge and wit, by the way!
    James @ Capital Care Plumbing

  5. ok. First off, I just love you. You are hysterical! This is coming from another female DIYer who enlists her poor husband only for the muscle work.
    I have 3 boys and have been there. My boys are older and we are facing another adventure that my limited DIY skills can't fix so the plumber is coming tonight to help and teach...well, he doesn't know that yet! lol! Thanks for writing this!!

    1. My other favorite plumbing tip is this: Make a list of every water/plumbing related issue you can think of. Is there a tiny leak under a sink, does your mom has a wet spot on her ceiling, I'm talking EVERYTHING. Ask your plumber/teacher about them all! Maybe he can help, maybe not, it's worth a try! Good Luck Kelly and Happy Plumbing!

  6. Wow! Good job fixing that clog! It sure is hard work, especially if you have kids in the house who are always trying to flush things in the toilet! Haha. Anyway, it's a good thing that you guys were able to do it yourself and save yourselves hundreds of dollars. Yet, good advice that if the problem isn't exactly that simple, that the best decision is still to call professionals to finish the job once and for all.

    Lovella Cushman

  7. Knowing how to clear a blocked drain is a good thing even if you aren't a plumber, as the day may arrive when you encounter sluggish draining after you wash your dishes or maybe even stagnant dishwater in the sink.

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  8. that's fantastic and so helpful really liked the section on if a minor or major plug how to tell the difference

  9. Informative tips on sewer line repairs.

  10. Thanks.
    When I have had money I hire, when not i DIY ,
    Also there re times like weekends that DIY is the only way.
    I had a broken kitchen faucet and it cost me more than a plumber- however I got an education,

  11. Continue
    A bunch of new tools and fixed a second sink with the knowledge of repairing leaks

  12. Position the drain snake as close as possible to the clean out. This will help so it will not tangle as easily. The less slack you have on the cable the safer you will be.

  13. Mature trees sum up good looks and shade to landscape, but their roots be able comprehensive loss to sewer pipes. Roots grow into the pipes because they are like it there! Sewer pipes contain nutrients, water and oxygen-the necessary weather for trees to grow.

    For more info: tree roots in drain and tree roots in sewer line

  14. Very detailed blog you have! I'm not one to do the whole plumbing thing myself. I'm always afraid of the wasted spilling out on me, kind of like it did to you. Luckily, the plumbing has held up pretty well so far and not much plumbing has been needing fixing.

    Will Jenkins |

  15. Nice blog, thanks for sharing the information. I will come to look for update. Keep up the good work.
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  18. I had a plumber come out and do the snake thing to clear a main sewer line clog about 4 months ago. Things were fine, but last night while running the dishwasher all the toliets started gurgling! What would be causing a blockage that was relieved when snaked but obviously not fully resolved? What should we do differently this time?
    Clean my Septic Tank

    1. If every toilet in the house started gurgling that's a sign that this is a main line problem (as opposed to a 1 fixture problem). At my house this would mean that the boys were flushing things down the toilet again.

      Most plumbers offer some sort of guarantee. My go-to plumber is rotor rooter. They offer a 30 day guarantee. If I were you my first call would be to the plumber who snaked the main line. If this is a reoccuring problem you may have bigger issues. It could be something like tree roots or it could be as minor as user error.

      User error would be something like using flushable wipes (flushable wipes really aren't flushable!) or someone could be putting cooking grease down the kitchen sink.

      If you live alone and know that you're not committing a plumbing sin you might just have wonky or otherwise sensitive pipes. If you live with other people - well - the situation could require more investigation.

      Call your most recent plumber and work from there.

      Good luck Ben Affleck! Say hi to Jen and the kids for me! :-)

  19. This design is incredible! You most certainly know how to keep a reader
    amused. Between your wit and your videos, I was almost moved
    to start my own blog (well, almost...HaHa!) Great job.
    I really loved what you had to say, and more than that, how you presented it.
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  20. Having my sewer line clog is one of my worst fears. Right now our toilet is having some troubles though. I need to read up on this sort of thing so I can be ready for the worst.
    Cynthia |

  21. This is really well articulated and detailed. I had to live in a place with old plumbing. Some days I just had to keep my fingers crossed it would all stay together and work. I didn't have the time to call in a repair guy.

  22. Oh man! You have guts, girl. You know, I was thinking about snaking my pipes myself, but after all the (excellent) detail you gave in this post....maybe I'll be better off calling the sewer pipe pros. Thanks for the heads-up!

    Sue -

  23. Fascinating information I haven’t been experienced such information in quite a long time.

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  25. Clogged drains is almost something to expect when you have 4 younger boys in the house. I'm impressed that you took the job on yourself instead of calling someone. Did you have previous experience in plumbing?

    1. I have no previous experience as a plumber, I have experience as a mom. There's ALWAYS something to fix. :-)

  26. Excellent ! This is a nice post. You know exactly what you're talking about, exactly where other people are coming .Thanks trench-less sewer repair

  27. This sure is a big job! I like how you estimated the total cost at the end, that is very helpful for comparison. If you don't have $250 to drop on a professional, it may be worth it to do it yourself. I once snaked a sewer line with my grandfather and it was an all-day project for use due to our lack of experience. Thanks for breaking it down though, I'll definitely refer to this if I ever need to do it again!

  28. You and your husband and much braver than I am! I don't think I could stomach a job like that! You've gotta love the things 4 year olds flush down the toilet. I am glad it was successful for you.

  29. Thank you so much for the tip about using proper footwear! I can't imagine going in there with shoes and coming out with a ruined pair of sneakers and stinky socks. Gross! When I analyze my sewer line, I am going to use the steps that you mentioned, starting with the source of the problem. It's my brother. I see all of the symptoms after he has left the bathroom!

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  33. Nice helpful post. Thanks for the post

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  37. Wow Kathy, this is great information! Thanks so much for sharing. All my boys and girls are grown up and have little boys and girls of their own. I'll clue them in on your site.

  38. Our whole house was clogged we rented the snake and it seems to be unclog get but when looking into the main sewer line the water is not flowing. The water had been running for 15 minutes with no sign of clogging.

    1. Snake out a little further down the line. You may have moved the clog further down the sewer line.

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  40. Amazing that you got the job done yourself! And it wasn't hard on your wallet, either.

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  43. Looking at the pictures of the piping, it looks so complicated, but I'm glad you labeled the parts. I think it is interesting that just a small puddle was the all tell sign that something was wrong. Was finding a plumber to come in and fix the clog hard to find?

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  45. I had a sewer backup on Christmas eve hours before company was to arrive. I called Roto-Rooter who came out with-in 2 hours. I first gloved up and bailed out 20 buckets of sewage so that the technician could see the cleanouts and attended to the problem immediately upon his arrival. He brought the massive power snake in and only opened the house trap on the street side.. He snaked out the main line 58 feet to the city and the water went down. The $600 bill on Christmas eve really added to the sting of the holiday shopping. A few months later at the end of February the same thing happens again. Since I watched what the Roto-Rooter plumber did the last time I figured I would give it a try myself and save $600 dollars. I bail out all the sewage, this time it was only 10 buckets. I get my tools to open up the cleanout to the street. While I am doing this the cleanout to the house comes off and all of the sewage from the house comes pouring out. After removing it I see that it is perfectly clear to the street and backed up is to the house. I put long gloves on and put my hand in the pipe to find out that the U shaped trap is totally clogged up with scale and sediment which the Roto-Rooter plumber never checked while he was here on Christmas eve. I wasn't happy that I spent $600 and he didn't clean out the trap. The fixtures all seem to be draining perfectly now. I will kept my fingers crossed.

  46. Hi Kathy W,

    What a detailed story! You paint quite a picture with your words. As a plumbing contractor, I have to say that the instances of kids messing up the plumbing line are very common. And, many parents are tempted to clean the mess on their own.

    If you are comfortable cleaning the “do-do juice”, you can certainly try your hand at it. As you have the drain snake at your home, it is easier to undertake plumbing adventures on your own.

    But, if the mess is bigger and you think that there is a problem with the drainage line of your home, you must consult a plumber. It is advisable to ask a plumber to unclog the drain because of the following reasons:
    >> Wide experience of cleaning drains
    >> Knowledge of different type of drainage pipes and drainage systems
    >> Easy availability of different types of drain snakes/drain augers.

    P.S. - I hope your kids find non-plumbing related experiments so that you do not have to undertake the messy work of unclogging the drain.

  47. all bathroom is over flowing, 2nd floor toliet goes to first floor and bestment leaks. back up when we use bathroom sink into tub and toliet don't work. but when we use kitchen sink it don't back up? can it be the main clog?

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  50. its quite amazing what small boys can think of to flush , my son was a real achiever, everything from lego to the legendary toilet roll event when he forced a whole pack of toilet rolls down with a toilet brush . My husband was way and we were broke so I decided the best way to tackle it was just to unbolt the wretched toilet from the floor and go in through the back , it took most of a day , but i got there in the end. 20 years down the line its still known as the toilet

    1. I hear you sister! Little boys are a total delight (when they're not destroying your house!)

  51. Roto rooter is such a rip off.they came go my last night 12-2-16.sink is backing up real bad in the kitchen.i have a mess.asian guy came out.started with 500$ then went down to 275.i said leave now.if your price is 500 why go down.your dishonest.all others were 99 to 250.the weird guy had the nerve to come back to my house.putting them on BBB.

  52. Thanks for the tip that if you have several water fixtures begin to get slow all at once, you might have a clogged sewer. You also said that if one toilet overflows, then the problem might just be with that one fixture. I think it's important to choose a plumber that has great communication skills so that you can understand what happened to your plumbing.

  53. I tried this bladder you had success with. I was always unsure about these things, but it worked great for me! A local plummer wanted to change over $800 to come out on a Sunday.

    One thing I did notice is this has a pressure rating, 50 psi I think. Since I don't know it pressure, I'm buying a pressure reducer that is used in campers to limit the water pressure. I read a couple reviews saying the bladder exploded on them and was stuck in the mainline.

    1. Oh wow! Good to know. THanks. I'm glad this worked for you. It's been a TOTAL life (and money) saver for us!

  54. One thing I did notice is this has a pressure rating 50 psi I think. Since I don't know it pressure, I'm buying a pressure reducer wet basementthat is used in campers to limit the water pressure. I read a couple reviews saying the bladder exploded on them and was stuck in the mainline.

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