Sammy likes to flush everything. Toys, coins, beads, food, gallons of milk, bars of soap, toothbrushes, anything he can find. And so he often clogs the toilet.
I really didn’t have a grasp on how the whole plumbing system of my house worked until Sam started causing countless plumbing woes. And out of necessity, because I lacked the funds to hire another plumber, I learned how to do it myself.
If the clog is in your toilet, but the plunger won’t work, you can use a snake. You can buy one at your local hardware store. Don’t buy the cheap one, it will break. (yes, I learned that the hard way) Buy the more expensive one (which will only be about $20 or so)
But sometimes, the snake doesn’t do the trick either. That’s because the clog is past the toilet, it has gone into the main drain line.
Here’s a picture that explains it:
…oh wait.. that’s the wrong picture. Here it is:
Basically, all the drains in your home feed into a main drain line that runs under the house, then underground through the front yard and out to the sewer or septic tank. And they all feed into it at a different place, so in my house for instance it starts in my bathroom, then goes to the kitchen, laundry room, and guest bathroom – the sink, then toilet, then tub. So if there is a clog in the main line, you can pinpoint it by what drains and what doesn’t. If my tub drains but the toilet doesn’t then the clog is between the toilet and the tub. But if the tub won’t drain either, then the clog is past the tub, in the main line somewhere between my bathroom and 75 feet or so into my front yard on the way to the sewer.
And this happens at least twice a year. We hit a point where nothing in the house drains, no toilets, tubs, or sinks, and so of course it is a total disaster situation and we need to remedy it immediately. A typical plumber will charge at least $50 just to show up and knock on your door. And usually ours clogs on weekends, of course, so we would have to pay extra to get a plumber out. Any work on top of that and you are easily looking at hundreds of dollars in plumbing bills. All for that stupid toy that he flushed. The one he begged you to buy, then as soon as he got home he ran to the bathroom and flushed it. Yeah, that one.
So if you are in a similar spot as me, and you just can’t afford another plumber, then you can do it yourself. Yes you can!
You need a power snake. It is like the little toilet snake I mentioned before, but it’s bigger and badder. It is powered and long. They come in different lengths – 50, 75, 100 ft. We usually get the 75ft, it’s about 100 ft from my house to the sewer so it’s a risk that it won’t be long enough, but so far 75 has been enough. 50ft is too short, I think. Usually, in our situation, the clog seems to be about 70 ft or so into our front yard.
You can rent one from Home Depot for about $60.
So Step One: Admit you have a problem and go rent a power snake.
Step Two: Locate your clean out valve. Ours was really hard to find, even the plumber couldn’t find it and he ended up taking our toilet off to do it. You cannot power snake the drain from the toilet, tub, or sink because they have traps and the snake will just break the pipe. So if you can’t find the valve you can take the toilet off and snake it through there – but that’s a big pain. The clean out valve is usually located on the ground, near your house, either on the front or side of the house. If you can’t find it google “how to find my clean out valve” and it will give you some tips, that helped me find mine. Mine is on the outside wall of my house under my bathroom window – which is a really weird place, I found it all by myself
They usually have a round top with a square head and you need a set of big pliers to open it.
Step Three: Set up your work space. You will be here a while, so I suggest you bring a chair.
Step Four: Bring the snake into position, set up the pedal where you can easily reach it with your foot. Make sure there is nothing in the way that may get tangled or snagged. The snake is strong and powerful but you always have control of it with your foot so you can always stop it if you need to. You absolutely must have leather gloves to do this. NO way around it. Home Depot gave them to us when we rented it the other two times but this time they didn’t so make sure you ask for them.
Step Five: You are ready to go. Plug it in, turn the power switch to “Forward”. There are three settings – forward, reverse, and off. Forward sends it in, reverse sends it back and winds it up. It doesn’t do anything until you push the foot pedal.
Ok so when you push the pedal you need to have both hands on the snake as you feed it into the hole. It doesn’t just feed itself, you have to pull it and feed it in. Make sure it doesn’t get stuck or too much slack. If you hit a clog you can’t get past, sit on it for a while and run the snake then back it up. You may pull the clog out this way. If you allow it to get too much slack you run the risk of it recoiling, and you could possibly get your fingers caught in there. Yeah, there’s even a “Watch out you can lose fingers” sticker on it. And that freaked me out too, and the first time I used it, it wasn’t feeding right and I got too much slack and it recoiled – it wasn’t that scary but I can see how it could have totally caught my fingers and been really extreme - but it really isn’t as crazy as it seems. Once you get a feel for it you will be a pro like me. You can always just lift your foot off the pedal and stop it, even if you get a bunch of slack and it gets crazy, just remain calm. You are the master of this machine. Show it who’s boss. It’s like a sewing machine on steroids – a piece of cake.
You may feel it hit an obvious clog, or it may knock it out of the way without you noticing. Sometimes when you reverse it and pull it out you pull the clog out too, other times you never know what clogged it. This time it looked like our clog was just a bunch of paper towels – the snake came out wrapped in wads of them….
And yeah, it’s really me doing this work. Don’t I look like I am having fun?
So there it is. After that you just reverse it out, hose it off, and bring it back to the store. (they’ll charge you if it’s dirty) Check the tub and toilets to make sure they drain well. If they don’t, just snake it again. The snake comes with different attachments, I haven’t needed them yet, but if it doesn’t work the first time try the attachments.
Happy Snaking Everyone!