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How to Use a Roto-Rooter

The famous Roto-Rooter machine was invented to cut through sewer clogs caused by tree roots and other debris then clean the entire length of an underground sewer pipe to get it flowing like new again. The machine was invented in 1933 and was patented by its founder, Samuel Blanc of West Des Moines, Iowa.

In 1935, Blanc built a company around his invention and Roto-Rooter Corporation was born. Today, Roto-Rooter is North America’s largest provider of plumbing and sewer & drain cleaning services. Its famous electric sewer cleaning machine has been improved markedly over the years and the company even introduced smaller versions for clearing smaller household and sink drains. Its machines are not sold to the public and are only licensed for use by genuine Roto-Rooter branches and franchises.

Like any great design, the Roto-Rooter machine inspired many copycat designs, usually of inferior construction and capability. Some tool rental companies rent sewer cleaning machines to homeowners trying to save a few bucks and resolve their own sewer problems. But operating an electric sewer cleaning machine without proper training has proved to be dangerous and sometimes fatal.

Tool rental companies will require you to sign a waiver stating you won’t hold them responsible if you cut off a finger or hand while using their machine. This is because these machines feature a stiff but flexible cable, housed on a reel that is turned by an electric motor. The cable itself has a spring-loaded C-shaped cutting blade bolted to its end. To use the machine effectively, the user inserts the blade and cable into a sewer cleanout access port, then pushes the cable several feet into the sewer pipe before turning on the Roto-Rooter machine. Tough work gloves need to be worn to protect the hands since the user is required to hold onto the cable as he feeds more into the pipe. This video shows a skilled operator using the machine in a transparent pipe.


The electric motor spins the cable and blade like a drill bit. The blade is sharp and sometimes serrated. Being spring-loaded, the blade is designed to rest against the pipe walls so that as it spins, it cuts away roots right down to the pipe walls. The user must proceed cautiously, letting out a little more cable in a gradual process. The dangerous part comes when the blade meets thick roots or a hard obstruction. The cable often shutters as the blade struggles to cut through the clog. If the user is not careful, the blade can get stuck but while the cable continues to spin. This can cause the cable to wrap around itself in a big knot. Or worse, the cable simply builds up torque until the blade finally cuts through the root mass. When this occurs, the cable can will release its torque and if the user isn’t gripping it right, it can get loose and wrap around the user’s finger, hand or arm.

Like any power tool, a Roto-Rooter or other electric sewer cleaning machine can be dangerous for a layman to operate. That’s why we recommend that homeowners leave this often dangerous job to the professionals at Roto-Rooter. Call 800-768-6911 or click here to schedule fast, residential or commercial sewer and drain service 24/7/365.



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