How to Clean a Sewer Line Blockage


The toilet water is bubbling. Water is backing up in the tub. The kitchen sink drain is making a sucking sound. It’s time to clean your sewer line.

Clearing a sewer blockage isn’t usually something people are excited to talk about. But if you’re experiencing any of the issues above, there’s a good chance you need to clean out your private sewer lateral – and in most cases this is also going to include a professional sewer line inspection.

In the spirit of spring cleaning, here’s what you need to know in order to fix a sewer line blockage.

Why do main sewer lines need to be cleaned?

Symptoms of a “dirty” or clogged sewer line include:

  • Shower basin draining slowly and collecting water
  • Water drain backups 
  • Gurgling sounds coming from drains

Many if not most sewer backups are caused by flushing inappropriate items down the toilet or by placing solid or sticky substances into a drain. Examples include diapers, paper towels, feminine products, bandages, grease, coffee grounds, or too much thick toilet paper. Remember, even if it makes it through your toilet bowl or kitchen sink, there’s a good chance that the item will get stuck somewhere further down the sewer line.

Most homeowners don’t maintain or clean their sewer lines on a regular basis and don’t think about sewer issues until a problem manifests. Even if you’re confident no inappropriate items are the cause of the backup, a dirty or clogged pipe can also be due to natural, raw sewage backup. If left untreated, this and often leads to significant underground pipe damage, which requires a sewer line repair (expensive).

Damaged sewer pipes are the most common cause of extreme sewage backups. In these situations, the culprit is often tree root intrusion, cracks in the pipe material, or offset sealing joints.


Can I fix the sewer clog myself?

Maybe. If the issue is limited to blockages within your fixtures or sink drains, common household solutions for fixing a clogged drain may alleviate your symptoms. Try using a plunger on the toilet or an eco-friendly drain cleaning product like Bio-Clean® for a backed-up kitchen sink.

But what if the issue seems to be in your main sewer line? Should you attempt a do it yourself pipe cleaning repair? Never. You could cause even more damage to your sewer line, and there are safety risks. A DIY fix could even be in violation of municipal city code requirements in many East Bay cities. Furthermore, even if you are able to alleviate the immediate symptoms of your clogged drain, if there’s a more serious problem underground, you’re likely to miss it.   

Instead of attempting to clean an underground sewer line on your own, you will be better off in the long run to hire sewer cleaning professional for help. Unaddressed sewer clogs and long-term waste buildup can lead to extensive home damage – and a full sewer line replacement costs a lot more than inspection and maintenance.

The first step you should do when plumbing is backed up: Stop running the faucet of flushing the toilet. Find the valve at the source of the water issue (fixture valves can  typically be accessed behind the toilet or under the sink) and close the water valves. Call a plumber to clear the stoppage and schedule an inspection so you can be sure you’re treating the right problem.

How does a sewer cleaning professional fix my drains?

The first step your sewer maintenance professional should take is to look for drain cleanouts to service the line – this may include performing a camera inspection. At Pipe Spy, we use video technology to get a close look at the underground drains so we can effectively diagnose any issues.

In some instances, tough clogs can prevent professionals from getting a good view of your sewer line. Hopefully your pipe needs fall under the “general maintenance” category but if they don’t, our inspectors can advise you of the best options for your particular property. Once it is confirmed the clog is the problem, there are a few techniques plumbing contractors can use to clear the clog: 

  • Power snakes are a common tool for cutting, loosening and pushing material downstream to the main sewer. They use different attachment heads for removing solid obstructions in the pipe, such as roots, food build up, and hair. The power snake’s rotating cable has different blade attachments to ensure the right tool for different types of clogs.
  • Hydrojetters are another tool that employs a high-pressure water technique in order to scour long-term buildup of waste.

These tools are most effective when used close to the problem area and they make it possible for severely clogged drains to be fully inspected again via camera (after clearing) to look for any structural damage that may have been difficult to see.

Sewer clog checklist

To recap, these are the steps you should follow in order to address a clogged sewer pipe:

  1. Attempt to fix the problem with a plunger or eco-friendly cleaner
  2. Turn off the water source (fixture valves)
  3. Schedule a professional inspection
  4. Schedule an appropriate professional sewer pipe cleaning service

Be sure to pick a plumbing company that is qualified and certified. The team ought to also have a good reputation in your community. You may want to ask a friend for a recommendation or read online reviews. You can read some of the great reviews of our work on our website and on Yelp.

For more information or to schedule a consultation, contact Pipe Spy.