How to unclog the main sewer line Yourself with a snake: with and without cleanout

The main sewer line connects all of your drains into one big one. This drain then pushes the water into the city sewer system. It can be required to split bathroom and kitchen water from toilet water. Some homes might have 2 main sewer lines for this reason. If one of them gets blocked, it can be really annoying as water won’t drain well anymore. For example, all your toilets can be blocked. Let’s get this fixed.


If only one toilet is clogged in your house (and no sinks), the main sewer line is probably not the problem and you can unclog the toilet with the following guide.

Inspecting the drains

The first step is always to check the drains of each sink and shower. If everything is blocked, chances are that the main sewer line needs to get unclogged. If you have a septic tank and your toilets are backing up, it is possible that it is full and needs to be emptied.

A camera can be used to find the cause of the problem. It is essential that you get one that is waterproof and has lights so that you can see what is going on. Being able to zoom and record is also great. It can help to give a first impression of what is going on.

The length of the camera and resolution are also important as these make sure that you can find the problem. Getting the right camera takes some research as you need to take the battery life into consideration as well. I have shared the camera that I use above. It’s not perfect but good enough for the job.

Main sewer lines can bend and twist so you should try to map how the lines run. This can be done with a camera.

Plumbers have more advanced cameras but these cost a lot more. This also allows the plumber to map out where the drains run as the camera can send a signal to a detector above the ground. If further repairs are needed, this signal can be used to find the exact spot.

Tools to unclog the drains with a snake: The Best cleaner

There are 2 main ways to unblock a sewer line: using water pressure and using an auger (or snake). Some plumbers swear by water pressure as they believe that augers can break too easily. Other plumbers use augers as they argue that the water can flow back and set a bathroom underwater if you are not careful. Having both systems can be too expensive.

Common things that block the sewer line are: soap residues, wet wipes, towels, tree roots, and broken drains. It is also possible that the drainpipes are too small and need to be upsized. This is no easy task as it can involve digging them up to fix them. Specialized companies have to do this and it can be quite expensive.

A water jet can solve a lot of problems already. Even big tree roots can get destroyed by this. Let’s take a look at a demonstration. It is important that you don’t tangle the system. If you have a septic system, you should also be more careful.

You can try to use a highpressure washer with the following attachment. It might not be powerful enough though as tree roots can be strong. Be careful as this can get stuck in your pipes if you don’t use it correctly. Wear safety goggles and other safety equipment when you use this. Also, check that it fits the size of your drains.

Each attachment has another function so be sure to use the right one. The heads are pushed forwards by themselves so you don’t have to push it too hard. It is important to know that there can be some backsplash. Using a piece of fabric over the hole can make sure that you don’t get wet. Given that you need access to water, it can’t be used everywhere.

A drain snake can be used as well. These can be turned manually or with a screwdriver. Make sure that you get one that is long enough. This can work for hair and soft clogs. Be careful when you use this for harder clogs such as tree roots though and check the manual of the manufacturer. You can often rent more powerful models if the clog is really deep in your system. Most plumbers prefer to use hydro jetting as this can deal with a lot of types of clogs and is less prone to get stuck in the drain.

How to unclog main sewer line with a cleanout:

Cleanouts are openings that are installed where the plumbing drain turns. They have a plastic or metal cap that can be removed. Once you open these, you can get access to a drain. You have to be careful when you open these as you can get a water shower (if it is a storm drain) or an even nastier shower (if it is a toilet drain). This is why you need to have a special tool to open it up so that people don’t get a nasty surprise.

Cleanouts are generally installed on kitchen drains, nearby toilets, and on the main sewer line. In commercial buildings, they are installed at every junction. Cutting a drain open is a lot of work and a cleanout can save you a lot of time. Most modern plumbing systems have a lot of cleanouts. They are easy to install but cost more than a straight piece of drain.

Cleanouts make it easier to unclog a drain. If you are lucky, there is a cleanout opening in your drain. This can often be turned open (it might require quite some force). Then it is possible to enter the jetter or auger via this opening. Be sure to push it in the right direction so that it goes away from the house. A cleanout is great as it removes the need to work inside or nearby expensive vanities.

Cleanouts also allow plumbers to run a camera in your drains. This makes it easier to see what is going wrong and inspect the system. In most instances, tree roots are blocking your drains or there is a blockage causing problems.

It is possible that it is hard to open a cleanout after a few years. Let’s take a look at what you can do in this situation below.

How to unclog main sewer line without a cleanout: through the toilet

Now that we have the tools, we still have to find out how to use them. In some instances, you will have to remove the P-trap under the sink. It might also be necessary to remove the toilet or drill a hole in the lower part of the toilet.

This depends on where the clog is situated and the structure of your system. You can use a camera to get a better idea of this and this allows you to find the best option. Removing the toilet can be a lot of work as you have to install a new wax ring. For this reason, it is often preferred to use another opening but this is not always possible. You will need a long snake to go from the toilet to the main.

You can also drill an opening in the drain. This is not recommended as you might get showered with dirty water. It can be a great moment to install a cleanout opening though. Sometimes an old cleanout can be broken open with a hammer. You can glue a piece of PVC to temporarily close the hole that you have drilled in the drain.

It might be needed to dig up the drain. There are special tools to locate an underground drain. These allow you to find where the drain is running and dig in the right place.

A cable that sends a signal is pushed into the drain. A finder tool that detects this signal is used above the ground. Rigid is known for these tools (see below).

Dirt and soap can also build up in your cleanout openings so you can use a tool to scoop it out. In some instances, this will already fix the problem. A lot of houses have a cleanout in the garden but it might be buried under soil or covered by plants or a tree. A cleanout should always be visible so don’t cover it with dirt after you are done.

How to test the drains once you have unclogged them

Once you have unclogged the main, it is essential that you test it. This is done by flushing some toilet paper and seeing from the cleanout opening if it passes through. You might need the help of someone to do this as running back and forth will take too much time. You can film it with your smartphone though. Once you have confirmed that this is working, you can clean up.

The advantage of a water jet is that you can use that to clean the area around the cleanout. This makes everything look cleaner afterward. You then close up the cleanout and you are done. Try to avoid doing the activity that caused the clog to avoid further issues. This can include avoiding using wet wipes or changing the location of a tree.

To conclude, we can state that getting a clog out of the main is often quite straightforward if you have the right tools. Make sure that you know what you are doing as it is possible to damage a system. Calling a plumber might be a great idea if you are stuck.