How to Clear a Main Sewer Line Clog Yourself?

Unclogging a main sewer line can be a messy and costly task, but with the right tools and techniques, you can do it yourself. Below, we teach you how to tackle a clogged sewer line using a variety of methods and reveal when you should play it safe by calling in a professional plumber.

How to Unblock Clogged Sewer Lines Yourself

bathtub with dirty water backup from sewer line clog
Clogged sewers are no laughing business and can be costly if not dealt with quickly.

A clogged sewer line can cause major inconvenience and disruption to daily routines, but with the right tools and knowledge, it can be an easy fix that doesn’t require the help of a plumbing professional. 

This article provides a comprehensive guide on how to unclog a main sewer line using various methods, from using a snake or a garden hose to using a homemade or store-bought drain cleaner. 

We will also go over some of the safety precautions you should take, the potential causes of a clog in your main sewer line, and offer tips that will help prevent it from happening again in the future.

Ready to learn how to clear a main sewer line clog? Let’s do it!

DIY Sewer Line Clog: Key Takeaways

  • Yes, it is possible to unclog your sewer line yourself, but not always advisable.
  • The best way to tackle a clog in your sewer systems is to use a drain snake, but other methods can also work.
  • Cleaning clogs in your plumbing system can be dirty and dangerous, so practice caution and call a professional if you feel out of your depth.
  • There are many signs that you may have a clog in your main line, such as slow or backed-up drains, gurgling noises, or funky smells.
  • Prevention is better than cure. To prevent clogs, avoid throwing grease, food scraps, or sanitary pads down your kitchen sink or toilet.

4 Methods for Unclogging a Clogged Sewer Line

The following four methods should be able to remove a main sewer line blockage. However, if these fail, then the issue might be tree roots clogging the drain line, sagging sewer lines, or broken pipes. We always recommend speaking with a professional if the clog proves to be particularly stubborn.

Cleaning the Sewer Lines With a Plumbing Snake

The most surefire way of cleaning out your clogged sewer drain is to use a plumbing snake. Plumbing snakes, also known as drain snakes, are long, flexible augers designed specifically for drain cleaning. 

homeowner running sewer snake into sewer main
Hiring a sewer snake from your local hardware store is the best way to tackle the problem yourself.

Here is a step-by-step guide on how to clear your sewer pipes with a snake:

  1. Either buy or rent a drain snake.
  2. Locate the sewer line cleanout access point, which is usually a round or square access cap on the main sewer lines.
  3. Remove the cleanout access cap with a pipe wrench. Do so slowly and hold it in place for a few seconds before removing it completely – this will hopefully allow the water pressure to equalize somewhat and prevent any sudden sewage water splashing everywhere.
  4. Remove the cap and stand back. If everything is backed up, you’ll get a lot of waste water flow desperate to escape the cleanout opening.
  5. Once the blocked sewer line has drained, slowly insert the drain snake and begin to feed it into the pipe.
  6. Keep feeding the auger in until you hit the main drain clog (you’ll notice it when you feel resistance).
  7. Break up the sewer clog with the auger.
  8. Once you’ve broken it up, keep going all the way down the sewer pipe as you might be dealing with multiple sewer clogs. Keep the auger running for a time after you’ve cleared the last clog to remove as much debris as possible.
  9. Once you’re finished clearing the clogged sewer pipe, keep the snake in there and grab a garden hose and flush out the system with water. This will help remove any leftover gunk and test if the clog is fully gone.
  10. Retract the snake and hose it down.
  11. Replace the sewer cleanout cap, being careful not to over-tighten it as this can break the cap or the pipe.

Hopefully, you should now have clog-free drain pipes leading to the municipal sewer system!

Cleaning the Clogged Drain Lines With a Garden Hose

hosing down a drain
In some cases, you can clear a clog with a garden hose and sewer jet nozzle

While not quite as effective as an auger, a garden hose can also be used to unclog a main sewer line in some cases. Here is how it’s done:

  • As before, locate the cleanout access point, which is usually a round or square access cap on the sewer line.
  • Remove the access cap, taking care not to get splashed with sewage.
  • Attach a sewer jetting nozzle to your garden hose and connect it to the outside spigot.
  • Turn on the water and insert the garden hose into the line as far as it will go.
  • Turn the water on to full pressure and allow it to run for several minutes.
  • Check the drain for signs of improvement, and if necessary, repeat the process until the clog has been cleared.

Using Baking Soda and Vinegar

how to clean drain with baking soda and vinegar - featimg
Baking soda and vinegar is a natural homemade solution to blocked pipes.

A time-honored cleaning tradition, the chemical reactions of baking soda and vinegar can dissolve gunk and the fizzing action can help dislodge material. Here is how to do it:

  • Mix one cup of baking soda with one cup of white vinegar in a bowl.
  • Pour the mixture down the sewer cleanout opening and leave it to sit for an hour.
  • Run hot water down the drain for several minutes to flush out the mixture.
  • Repeat the process if necessary until the sewer blockage has been cleared.

If you are dealing with particularly fatty clogs, then adding dish soap and boiling water can help remove clogs that are blocking water flow and unclog the main sewer line

Using Chemical Drain Cleaner

chemical drain cleaner
Chemical drain cleaners may be necessary to remove a clog

If the baking soda and vinegar didn’t work, then you may need to go use professional-strength drain cleaners. Here is how to use a chemical cleaner:

  • These are harsh chemicals, so please read and follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully.
  • Pour the chemical drain cleaner down the drain and allow it to sit for the recommended amount of time.
  • Run hot water down the drain for several minutes to flush out the chemical cleaner.

These cleaners can cause damage to your sewer lines, so we recommend using them in moderation and calling a professional if this fails to resolve the problem. Also, we would advise against using them if your property uses a septic system.

Safety Precautions When Tackling a Main Sewer Line Clog

Cleaning out your plumbing system or sewer lines is a dirty and potentially dangerous task, so always take the following precautions.

  • Wear Protective Clothing and Equipment: Wear gloves, eye protection, and protective clothing (we recommend a good pair of boots) to prevent contact with any harmful substances, human waste, or debris.
  • Turn Off Power Sources: If the line is located near electrical outlets, turn off the power!
  • Ventilate the Area: If your cleanout is located inside your home, then try to ventilate by opening windows and doors.
  • Avoid Open Flames: Sewer gasses can be flammable in high concentrations, so avoid any naked flames.
  • Know When to Call a Professional: If the clog is too difficult to remove or you are not comfortable with the task, it’s always best to call a professional plumber. 

Pros & Cons of DIY vs Hiring a Professional Plumber

While in many instances it is feasible to clean your main drain line yourself, it’s not always the best solution. Make sure you know the pros and cons before you make a decision.

Pros of DIY Methods:

  • Cost Savings
  • Sense of Accomplishment

Cons of DIY Methods:

  • Lack of Expertise
  • Risk of Injury
  • Potential Damage to Pipes

Pros of Hiring a Professional Plumber:

  • Expertise and Experience
  • Guaranteed Results
  • Warranty on Work

Cons of Hiring a Professional Plumber:

  • Cost
  • Time for Scheduling and Completion

Warning Signs of a Clogged Main Sewer Line

clogged sink drain backing up water
Slow or backed-up drains are a common sign of a blocked sewer main.

It’s important to be aware of the warning signs of a clogged main sewer line so you can take prompt action. Here are some of the most common warning signs to look out for:

  • Slow Drains: If many of your drains do not drain properly or do so slowly.
  • Gurgling: A gurgling sound coming from your drains can be a sign that air is being forced through a blockage in your sewer line.
  • Water Backup: If you experience water backing up from your toilet, shower, or floor drain.
  • Foul Odor: Stinky sewer smells are a clear cause for concern.
  • Unusually Lush Patches of Grass: If you notice unusually lush patches of grass or swampy areas, this could be a sign that sewage is backing up in your yard (poo is a great fertilizer!).

If you experience any of these warning signs, it’s important to take action as soon as possible.

Common Causes & How to Prevent Future Sewer Line Clogs

causes of sewer line problems graphic

The most common cause of clogs is what we put down our drains, such as grease or oil, hair, soap scum, sanitary products or other items. However, signs of a blocked drain can also be caused by tree roots growing into your pipes or an older main sewer drain needing to be replaced. Sometimes the main public sewer line can get backed up in which case you should contact your municipality.

To proactively prevent clogs from forming, follow these tips:

  • Prevent debris from getting into the drains: Place screens or a drain cover over drains to catch hair, soap scum, and other debris before it can reach pipes.
  • Make drain cleaning a regular chore: This helps to break up grease, oil, and other buildups.
  • Keep trees away from pipes: Plant trees far away from pipes to reduce the risk of roots penetrating the pipes.
  • Avoid flushing foreign objects: Never flush feminine hygiene products, thick paper towels, wipes, or toys down the toilet.

By following these tips, you can reduce the likelihood of clogs forming in your main sewer line and keep your pipes running smoothly.

How to Deal with Main Sewer Line Clogs: Conclusion

Learning how to clear a main sewer line clog can be daunting, and taking the task on is definitely possible with the right tools and precautions. However, it’s also a pretty disgusting and dangerous task, so we advise to proceed with caution. If you feel uncomfortable or the clog is too difficult to remove, it’s best to call a professional to ensure safe and effective cleaning.

The best way to prevent sewer backup is to prevent future clogs, so practice our prevention tips and you’ll hopefully never find yourself in this situation.

If you’ve enjoyed our article, have any questions or would like to make a suggestion, then please use the comments below or share to social media.

About the author

An accomplished plumber with more than 15 years of experience in the industry, David "Fitz" Fitzgerald began as an apprentice and steadily worked his way up to become a fully licensed and certified master plumber.

With extensive training in all aspects of plumbing. David is well-versed in the installation, repair, and maintenance of plumbing systems, including pipes, fixtures, and appliances, and is able to troubleshoot and solve even the most complex plumbing issues.

He loves to share his wealth of knowledge and looks forward to engaging with the community here on No Hassle Plumbing.

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