Regular Maintenance Vital to Longevity

Plumbers should make regular inspections of drain cleaning machines and cables after each job.
Regular Maintenance Vital to Longevity
A Spartan Tool 1065 drain cleaning machine sits on a job site. Drain cleaning machines should be cleaned and inspected at the end of each day by the contractor.

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If plumbers spent 10 minutes every day inspecting and cleaning drain cleaning machines, they would save time and money in the long term, according to industry experts.

Dave Dunbar of General Pipe Cleaners says most plumbers do not take good care of their tools. “Contractors tend to pull a drain cleaning machine from its hiding place in the back of their truck, ride it hard and put it away wet,” he says. “There it sits, forgotten, forlorn, foul-smelling and corroding until the next time it is needed.”

Dunbar says when the plumber needs the machine again he may find that it’s rusted, stiff or otherwise damaged.

Jason Robey, Spartan Tool territory manager, agrees that clean machines last longer and work more efficiently. “Keeping your machine clean and well-lubricated goes a long way in keeping the machine in tip-top shape,” he says.

“Not only on the outside of the machine, but especially inside of the drum and power feed.”

When it comes to caring for pipe cleaning machines, Dunbar and Robey share these pieces of advice:

Keep it clean

It’s vital to periodically clean out the inside of the drum by filling it with hot water to remove any grease, sediment and sewer water, Robey says. “It’s amazing how much junk can get built up, mostly because it has nowhere else to go,” he says. “Often, homeowners poor acid down the drain and this acid could have a costly affect on your cable by weakening it.”

Use a little oil

After every job, Dunbar recommends contractors squirt a cup of oil into the drum and then step on the foot pedal, allowing the drum to rotate for a minute or two. That action distributes the oil throughout the drum and cable.

“It also prevents rust and will keep your drum from corroding, and indirectly lubricate your power feed,” says Dunbar, adding that using oil on cables will keep them well-lubricated and extend their life.

Check all moving parts

Check and replace, if necessary, the cable clamp and anchor cable on a regular basis, Robey says. “If an operator cleans four to six mainlines a day, then figure every six months you’ll be replacing the clamp and anchor cable,” he says.

Dunbar recommends exposing, cleaning and lubricating all of the moving parts on the machine twice a year. He says adding grease to the bushings and bearings will also help lengthen the machine’s life.

Look at the power feed

Grease and sediment can get in-between the bearings of the power feed, causing friction and the slowing down of cable feeding, Robey says.

Often, the operator will crank down the power feed handle, putting intense pressure on the bearings, which can cause them to crack or break. Once this happens, Robey says it will be difficult to retrieve the cable back into the machine.

“Using a lubricating spray like PB-Blaster or WD-40 will help keep the bearings clean and allow for much smoother operation,” he explains. “During winter, bearings are exposed to cold and wet environments, also causing them to crack. Always keep a secondary set of bearings with you if one does break on a job site.”

Maintain power tools

Checking for any misaligned moving parts or broken parts should also be done regularly since they can affect how the tool operates, Dunbar says. Keeping the tools sharp and clean is also important in keeping machines operating at their best.

Cable care

A good strong cable in the machine can effectively cut through tree roots and grease, Robey says. “Weak cables — think of them being flimsy like a noodle — can flip over inside the drum, or worse, possibly wrap around the
operators’ hands if they over-torque on a tough clog,” he says. “This also pertains to safety, as you never want to force the cable or get in a rush while cabling a homeowner’s or customer’s sewer line.”

If replacing the cable, Robey advises using shorter sections, such as 25 feet or 50 feet, to make up the 100 to 150 feet total. “That always puts the newest cable toward the back of the drum, but replace the anchor cable, especially if it’s limp as a noodle,” he says. “This allows maximum torque power through the cable by having the strongest and stiffest cable push out the entire length of cable whether it be 100 feet or 200 feet.”

Play it safe

Robey says it is always important to keep safety in mind when working with a drain cleaning machine. He says to make sure you have a properly functioning GFI cord and that all electrical components are correctly connected, and no tears are in your power cord.

“All it takes is a little bit of water on an exposed wire to cause a bad day,” Robey says. “Some homes that are more than 40 to 50 years old could have poor wiring, no GFI safety plugs or even a three-way prong outlet. Always use an electrical tester to check your customers’ outlets.”

Dunbar suggests contractors and plumbers follow the practice of those in the tool rental industry if they want their machines to last a long time.

“As soon as the unit comes home to the rental store, the cable is inspected for kinks and breaks, pressure washed and finally sprayed with oil,” Dunbar says.

After that, it’s returned to the rental floor. By taking those steps, Dunbar says the stores are able to increase the longevity of their tools. “Occasionally, we speak to stores that have rented snakes to untrained, nonprofessional users for 10 years before wearing out a cable,” he says. “The bottom line is that routine maintenance pays for itself many times over.”


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