Clogged sewer lines are a serious problem in any property. The clog can make it impossible for your plumbing fixtures to function properly until you clear it.

plumbers cleaning out a sewer

You can remove the clog using a plumber’s snake, sewer line auger, or water jet. Whichever means you’ll use, you’ll need to get a sewer unclogging tool into the main sewer line. This is why sewer cleanouts are necessary.

Basically, a sewer line cleanout refers to a threaded cap or plug that fits on the sweep or wye fitting of the main sewer pipe.

It offers an access route for unclogging a sewer line. Some branch drains come with such fittings to make it possible to remove clogs from smaller drain pipes.

Sewer cleanouts are required when the sewer pipe leading to the septic system or municipal sewer pipe is clogged.

Sewer cleanout fittings offer an access point through which the snake or auger is inserted perpendicularly to the flow of the main sewer line.

However, it’s angled to ensure the tool you’re using, like a snake, doesn’t go in the opposite direction of the wastewater.

Why You Need Sewer Cleanouts

If the blockage is within the sewer pipe, it’s probably formed by waste matter. However, it might be as a result of other issues such as poor venting, tree roots, and problems with your septic system.

Most sewer augers are motorized and can unclog most debris. However, it’s not possible to insert the auger through the toilet or a fixture drain. The auger is large and can crack the drainpipe or toilet porcelain. Thus, you need a sewer cleanout.

In most homes, the lateral sewer line is the line that links the home’s sewer line to the home’s septic tank or the main municipal sewer line. The lateral sewer line often comes with multiple cleanouts.

You can find one or even two cleanouts buried somewhere along the lateral line and others outside the home.

In areas that experience extreme cold, you’ll probably find several cleanouts in the crawl space or basement for protection against freezing.

Cleanouts are usually placed strategically for easier access to any section of a sewer line. Cleanouts make it easier to insert a sewer auger and get to the blockage downstream.

If the blockage is located upstream of the cleanout, then you’ll need to get access from another sewer cleanout since an auger wouldn’t go upstream. That’s why most sewer systems come with multiple cleanout fittings.


Useful tips: If the blockage has led to a sewer backup, then you can open the cleanouts one by one to check the one that spills out water. Doing so will assist in pinpointing the blockage.

In case a cleanout spills out water, then the blockage should be somewhere along the downstream of that cleanout. In case there’s no water spilling out, then the blockage should be upstream of that cleanout.


Finding and Opening a Cleanout

Most cleanouts have a diameter similar to the pipe they’re connected, which is typically three or four inches. The cleanouts are typically threaded at the end where a cap is screwed in place while others are covered using a slip type of fitting.

The screw cap typically has a square nut that can be gripped with a wrench. It’ll be necessary to use a wrench since the cap may be stuck for not having been used for a long time.

Some cleanouts may be buried under the ground while others may be attached onto a pipe in the slab floor, basement, or along a certain side of your house. If you can get a blueprint copy of your home, it can help you to find the location of the cleanouts.

If you don’t have the blueprint, then trace the exact path of your lateral sewer line by starting from one side of your home and heading towards the nearby street or septic tank. You might see the caps of the cleanouts popping up somewhere along the ground.

You can access the cleanout by gripping the cap with a wrench and rotate it counterclockwise. This may sound easy but it’s a bit challenging. As such, you might have to try different tricks to turn the cap successfully. Try these tricks:

  • Use a hammer to tap the cleanout cap. Doing so may loosen its threads.
  • Use a steel pipe to extend the handle of the wrench. A longer handle allows for more leverage to turn the cap.
  • Apply heat on the cap. If it’s made of cast iron, then use a propane type of torch to heat it. In case it’s made of plastic, only use your hairdryer to heat it and set it to the highest setting.
  • Apply some penetrating lubricant on the cap. Give it five minutes for it to penetrate the cap threads. Try to turn the cap once again. Add some more lubricant if necessary.

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