Do It Yourself Home Repair: How To Use An Electric Drain Cleaner

Using an electric drain cleaner to unclog a stubborn drain is not as difficult as you might think.

We all know that regular drain cleaning should be part of every homeowner's maintenance schedule. In reality, however, drains do not usually attract our attention until they start backing up. At that point, we panic and, in most cases, call a plumber to clean out our drain. But many common clog drain problems in the home can be easily remedied by using an electric drain cleaner, saving big money in the long run.

An electric drain cleaner - or drain "snake" - is a simple piece of equipment, consisting of an electric motor and a reel of cable. Most units feature a safety foot pedal, a forward/reverse switch and an assortment of bits to use in the drain. These machines are available with different diameter cable, which comes in varying lengths, depending on the length of your drainpipe. Equipment rental stores normally have several different types of electric drain cleaners available for rent, or you can look into purchasing your own unit. Having a unit at home certainly helps in preventative maintenance, and this also saves having to rush out to the rental shop when the drain backs up!

Using an electric drain cleaner is a fairly straightforward procedure. The cable is fed through the drain and the rotating motion breaks through the clog, which is then washed away. Occasionally, a collapsed drain wall or other structural problem causes the clog, at which point, professionals must be called in. Normally, though, a snake will do the job. Make sure that the drain cleaner you select has the correct amount of cable to cover the length of your drainpipe to the street or sewer. If necessary, measure. This machine will do you no good at all if you don't have the right length of cable.



NOTE: Always take proper safety precautions when using an electric drain snake. Safety glasses are recommended to prevent any sewage or other discharges from getting in the eyes. You should also wear rubber glove when you handle the returning cable.

Start by locating the main drain, which is preferable, although you can also go through the drain in the toilet. Select the bit that most closely corresponds to the diameter of your drainpipe and fasten it to the end of the cable. Your goal is to get all the way through the clog to the end of the run of the pipe. With the motor OFF, start feeding the cable into the drain opening, pulling a length off the reel. Once you have fed a "starter" length into the drain, make sure the switch is in the "forward" position, and press the foot pedal, turning on the motor. The motor will turn the reel, which will, in turn, feed the cable into the drain. You should not run this tool unattended since there can be problems if the clog is stubborn and the bit can't go through easily.

Once you have fed all the cable through the drain, stop the motor and switch the machine to "reverse." Depress the foot pedal, starting the machine. The reel will change direction and begin to pull the cable out of the drain. Be careful not to pull the cable manually. It is easy for a glove to get caught up in the twisting action of the cable, which could cause injury.

When the entire length of cable is back on the reel, run some water - either through the sink or by flushing the toilet. This will remove residue left from the clogged area. If water is flowing well, your job is done. If not, go through the procedure again using a different bit. Keep repeating this procedure until your drain is no longer clogged.

Practice preventative maintenance and clean your drain once a month. You can use commercial drain cleaners, but be very careful with the contents, especially if you have small children in the house. Pets can also be endangered by ingesting spilled chemicals. A better method is to use baking soda and white vinegar. This is very simple, yet very effective. Sprinkle a cup of baking soda into your drain, and then flush with three cups of boiling water. Allow this to work in the drain for twenty minutes, and then pour a cup of white vinegar down the drain. The vinegar interacts with the baking soda to create a powerful bubbling affect that chews through clogs. This will help keep the drain flowing smoothly, lengthening the time between required cleanings.

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