Skip to main content

Sewer and Drain Lines

A pipe snake got stuck in our bathtub drain. We got it out, now the clog is much worse. We tried an air pump plunger, but we can't get a seal on the overflow drain so it keeps going there at the T junction. What should we do?

With drain problems like this, you’ll need to open the access panel and remove the trap, then clean the drain through the branch line. Often times the overflow pipe is too small to clear the branch line properly. Even if you do get through, because the turn through the trap is so tight, the snake often gets stuck.

Can you use trenchless technology on a bellied line? Is it just putting a new line into the same problem? Does it need to be dug up and repaired?

Trenchless technology cannot be used on a bellied line because the sleeve will simply follow the existing pipe and end up with a belly. The line has to be dug up at the belly and repaired with a new section of pipe to correct the belly. There are other techniques for running a new line alongside the existing sewer line with directional boring or with a pneumatic gopher. Both of these technologies, however, might encounter problems with rocks or underground cables if they are in the path of the bore.

I can't remove the clean-out plug. It's probably 50 years old and I don't know if it's ever been opened. Are there any tricks to get it opened?

Plumbers use two methods to remove the clean-out plug. The first is an old-fashioned steel chisel and a ball peen hammer on the face of the clean-out at a 45-degree pointing in the desired turning direction (counter-clockwise). Once there's a little divot in the clean-out, turn the chisel on a sharper angle to provide more turning force. If that doesn't work, chisel right through the surface of the brass plug or cast plug and cut the rest out with a sawzall. Once the center of the clean-out out is removed, a heavy screw driver will pry out the threads.

I have a problem with fruit flies. I heard they may be related to my drains. How do I get rid of them?

Every plumbing fixture has a self-sealing water trap, which stores about two cups of water in a U-shaped bend that sits below the piping and the fixture. When there is no water in the pipe due to cracks or non-use, odors and flies can escape. A venting problem also can prevent the trap from resealing after the water flows down the drain. Pour two gallons of hot water into seldom-used drains and treat all drains with bleach. If the flies come back, there may be something wrong with your trap or a drain line.

I own a small shopping center with two restaurants. I have the lines snaked every three months or so. Should I have the lines jetted and will they be clean longer?

Jetting equipment cleans sewer lines better than snakes. Jetters use varying degrees of water pressure to cut through grease and other debris that build up in drain pipes, especially in restaurants, and draw it back where it can be vacuumed out, providing a more thorough cleaning. Enzyme-type sewer and drain cleaning and maintenance products, such as Roto-Rooter Pipe Shield® or Drain and Grease Trap Treatment, can be automatically injected into the line to help keep grease and food waste from building up in the line. The enzyme eats the grease and turns it into a liquid, which washes away with water, preventing most backups.

Is it possible to plug a pipe which is approximately 30' below ground surface and under water so that the pipe can be inspected?

When investigating sewer problems, there are all kinds of ways to plug a pipe below ground. We have test balls that can be inserted through a clean-out and then blown up to stop the flow of water. This allows the water to be pumped from the pipe and so it can be inspected with a special camera to determine any required corrective action. Most Roto-Rooter locations have equipment necessary to detect and solve underground pipe problems.

My sewer is backed up. I tried clog remover products and we also used a drain cable to clean the main sewer. It took all 100 feet of the cable and the sewer is still backed up. Might the problem be in the city's sewer main? What else can I do?

When you have run a main line cable down your drain and it is still backing up, it is time for a camera inspection. Many times when people rent sewer and drain cleaning equipment, they break through the clog, but don't remove all of the roots. It takes an experienced technician to do a thorough job. The roots simply grow back again or fall back into place because they were just moved aside by the cleaning equipment and not cut out. Pipes need to have all of the roots scraped off of the full interior diameter of the pipe and pushed out to the sewer main. It is possible that the city sewer is backing up but not as likely as what I've described above. In addition, if you have roots in your piping, I would have a professional run a video inspection camera down your line and the two of you can examine the condition of the piping by looking at the video monitor. Many people resist paying the extra money for the camera inspection, but you will learn the exact condition of the piping, any damage caused by roots and how much longer your pipes will last. Just remember the sewer line in your yard is your responsibility, it doesn't belong to the city.

A Roto-Rooter camera inspection will show you if the problem is inside the house or out in the yard. The camera will also measure the distance between clean-outs and even locate missing clean-outs you didn't know were there. With a camera, you can see the vertical riser for a clean-out coming off the pipe and locate it exactly with the radio transmitter on the end of the camera head.

Our bath tub drain is clogged with grout. We have been running hot water and attempting to use snake. It's now draining very slowly. Will this eventually work?

Hot water will not work to remove grout. Unfortunately, concrete and grout are what we use to make larger sewer lines. Since grout sets up under water, you may have to get a licensed plumber with powerful sewer and drain cleaning technology our to try and clear the line. If the line is plastic, you may be able to break up the grout and push it down to a larger line. But if your pipes are steel, then it may be impossible to get the grout out of the line, unless it is a very thin layer. If it is a lot of grout, it may break loose and go down and clog another line. Sometimes it's necessary to break up floor drains and other lines. Unfortunately there is no easy solution for this drain problem. Try snaking the line after removing the trap for the bath tub. If that doesn't work, a few feet of the line might need to be replaced.

Our kitchen drain has taken longer than usual to drain during the past year. Should we have it cleaned?

Before you have the drain cleaned, try using our Roto-Rooter brand drain maintenance products. These products are designed to remove the usual build-up of soap scum, grease and hair. We also have a product to inhibit root growth in your main sewer line. All of these products are guaranteed and are available through your local Roto-Rooter office.

Our two bathroom sinks drain very slowly and water comes up in the other sink. What could be the problem?

When the drainage from one fixture backs up into another, it means that the two lines are connected on one branch line before it enters the main drain. Water always seeks its own level so it will come up in a lower fixture or another sink at the same level if the branch line connecting the fixtures has a blockage after the connection.

Sink lines get filled up with lint, grease and soap scum from the fixtures. As the water goes down the drain, a film is left on the inside of the piping, eventually building up so thick that they reduce the internal diameter of the drain and slow the water flow. A hand snake is designed to open minor clogs in small traps or branch lines. A hand snake can punch a hole in a clog, but it is often like punching a hole in gelatin. The sludge builds up so thick, when you pull the snake back the sludge just fills back in. Hand snakes are not designed to open piping under the floor, so if the clog is there, you'll need a professional plumber.

Once the line is cleaned you can use an enzyme-type drain cleaner like Roto-Rooter Pipe Shield® to eat away biological material and prevent it from sticking to the inside of the piping, which keeps the line open and flowing. Pipe Shield® is available only through Roto-Rooter.

The sewage is backing up a drain pipe in the house when we do laundry or take a shower and the water barely moves when we flush the toilet. How do we remedy this problem?

Once you get to a point where the water is backing up in multiple fixtures it means either the main sewer line from the house to the city sewer or septic tank has a blockage. Once these lines get filled, a small hand snake is ineffective. The same with chemical clog removers. You're way past that point. Right now you are at the stage where you need a professional to solve your sewer problems.

The water line from the street to my house is 111 feet of 3/4" pipe that is about 45 years old. I think it is corroded and partially restricting the water. Can this be cleaned or does it need to be replaced?

Over time, galvanized pipes fill up with calcium and minerals, and there is no code-approved way to clear the line. Calcium and minerals are leeched out of the water and bond to the inside of galvanized pipe, it forms a rock-like substance. These minerals begin to choke off the inside of the pipe and slow the water down. As water slows down, more calcium is removed from the water. Eventually the inside diameter is reduced so much that water does not flow freely. The best solution to this drain problem is to replace the line with High Density Polyethylene (HDPE) pipe, which will provide better pressure and will not accumulate calcium and minerals.

We have water backup problems from the sewage line in our basement when there is heavy rain. What is the best way to prevent it from happening again in the future? Does it work all the time?

If the water is coming in from the outside and it is coming in from the city sewer line or the septic system, you can install a backwater valve on the line inside the house or just outside of the house. A backwater valve has a flapper that only allows the water to travel out of the house, but shuts down when it tries to reverse.

If the problem is occurring because you have water coming in from the outside alongside the foundation from the rain itself, then you need to waterproof your foundation. This often requires installing a sump basin and drain tile around the foundation to collect the water and pump it outside to a low area where it can run away from the home. In addition, you should raise the landscaping around the foundation so the water runs away from the house and not towards the house. You may also want to install rain gutters to collect the water and run it to a lower spot in the yard.

If the water is coming in from any other source you will have to determine the cause and then repair it to prevent infiltration.

What drain cleaning product could I use to get my drains flowing better?

We recommend an enzyme-type drain cleaner, such as Roto-Rooter Pipe Shield®. The natural enzymes eat the grease and hair and keep the pipe from filling with sludge. Used as directed, these products turn the sludge into a liquid that will flow out of the pipes into the main sewer. Pipe Shield's exclusive formula uses natural bacteria to breakdown deposits, so it's safe for the environment. When used as directed each month, build-up can be prevented for up to 30 days. Pipe Shield® is available only from Roto-Rooter locations.