The Drain Cleaner’s Tool Chest

Knowing the right tool for the job makes clearing tough blockages easier and more profitable.
The Drain Cleaner’s Tool Chest
Drum-type drain cleaning machines have the advantage of being self-contained, fast and easy to operate.

Interested in Sewer/Drain Cleaning?

Get Sewer/Drain Cleaning articles, news and videos right in your inbox! Sign up now.

Sewer/Drain Cleaning + Get Alerts

Choosing the right tool for the job will clear the line faster. It will also reduce your maintenance expenses caused by using the wrong tool at the wrong time, make your job easier and make you more money.

By taking the time to answer a few questions about the blockage before you start the job, you can easily match the task to the appropriate tool.

But what tools are available, and what should you have on your truck?

Closet Augers

The best tool for clearing a clogged toilet is the closet auger. No other tool in your arsenal will go through the bowl as quickly and easily. The snake is flexible enough to get around tight bends. Consider a telescoping 6-foot closet auger. It has 3 extra feet of cable hidden inside the tube. When you need it, the extra 3 feet telescopes out to clear stoppages beyond the bowl, eliminating time-consuming toilet removal. Urinal augers, specifically designed with the flexibility to get through urinals where other snakes can't, are also available.

Water Ram

The best tool for clearing a clogged or slow-draining tub is a Water Ram. Tubs often drain through drum traps that are very difficult to get through with a cable. The Water Ram uses a burst of compressed air to create a shock wave that follows the path of the water and isn't affected by tight bends and narrow lines. It travels down the line and knocks out the stoppage without harming the pipes. The Water Ram also works well on trailer homes that can be difficult to clear using cables because they have narrow drainlines with tight bends.

Hand-Held Cable Machines

The most popular tool in a plumber’s truck is a hand-held drain cleaner made to handle clogs in small drainlines, like sinks, basins or laundry tubs, 1 1/4 inches to 3 inches in diameter. But the old manual machines have been replaced with newer automatic feeds that get the cable into the line faster, and are easier to handle in cramped quarters under the sink. Stands for older machines or small counter-top models are also available.

Drum-Type Drain Cleaning Machines

Drum-type machines have the advantage of being self-contained, fast and easy to operate. The entire length of cable is contained in one drum and can be transported in a single trip to the job site. Most machines come with large wheels, stair climbers and a truck loading wheel to make getting the machine to and from the job easier.

A variable-speed automatic feed, feeding at a rate of up to 20 feet per minute, can make it easier for the operator to get the cable to the clog quickly. It also helps to retract the cable more easily. Remember, a 100-foot cable can weigh 100 pounds.

Sectional Drain Cleaning Machines

Sectional drain cleaners have the advantage of being lightweight. The cables are carried separately from the machine in sections ranging from 7 1/2 to 15 feet in length. There’s no need to carry the weight of 100 feet of cable when the job only calls for 50 feet.

Once on the job, the cables are fed into the line, one section at a time, and coupled together as needed. The open coil design of the sectional cable helps corkscrew the cable down the line, making it easier to clear longer runs. And if a sectional cable is ever damaged, it can easily be uncoupled and replaced.

Advantages of Drum-Type Machines Advantages of Sectional Machines
Completely self-contained. Lighter weight – machine and cables carried separately.
Cleaner operation with wet cables contained in drum. Sectional cable corkscrews into pipe to more easily clear longer lines.
Easier operation with automatic feed. Damaged cables will not stop a job. Sections can be coupled and uncoupled as needed.

Water Jets

Water jets are ideal for clearing grease, sand, ice and other soft stoppages from drainlines. Water jets use a stream of high-pressure water that hits the stoppage and flushes it away. The thrust of the nozzle drives the hose down the line for wall-to-wall pipe cleaning action.

Portable water jets are not effective for clearing tree roots or retrieving objects from a line, however. Stay with cable machines when the job calls for cutting roots or retrieving debris.

Smaller electric jets typically offer a maximum of 1,500 psi at about 2 gallons per minute. Trying to get more pressure from an electric motor runs the risk of pulling too many amps and popping circuit breakers. If more pressure is needed, it is better to use a gas-powered jet.

A gas-powered jet will provide twice the pressure and twice the flow rate of electric jets. This provides the thrust to pull the hose down long runs, the pressure to break up stubborn stoppages and the water flow to flush them away. Gas jets can clear 2- to 4-inch indoor drainlines by using the portable reels that detach from the machine.

Marty Silverman is the vice president of marketing with General Pipe Cleaners. For more information about drain cleaning equipment, email


Comments on this site are submitted by users and are not endorsed by nor do they reflect the views or opinions of COLE Publishing, Inc. Comments are moderated before being posted.