Extend the Life of Your Drum Machines

Treating your drum machine right lowers repair and replacement costs, extends its life and ensures safe operation

Extend the Life of Your Drum Machines

Drum machines have the added benefit of keeping any mess contained inside, but if they’re not drained and cleaned properly, you will end up with a rusted, corroded snake. (Photography by Alex Garland)

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Every shop teacher preaches the importance of safely using and maintaining tools. Take good care of your tools, and they’ll take good care of you. This advice pertains to every tool in the tool chest. After using a tool, spending a few moments on commonsense cleaning and preventive maintenance can save time in the long run. Contractors can easily extend the life of their equipment by adopting a simple routine of cleaning and oiling.

This is certainly true of drain cleaning units. These units come in contact with sewer water, tree roots, dirt and debris. Without routine maintenance, a drum machine is apt to become a foul-smelling unit with a rusted and acid-corroded snake. Before using it to clear the next drain, a plumber may be left scrambling — spending precious time on an emergency cable replacement.

Bob Baker, owner of Baker Plumbing, Heating and Gasfitting in Calgary, Alberta, says regular maintenance keeps his K-750 RIDGID drum machine working properly.

“Really, in our experience, those machines should last you a decade without breaking a sweat,” he says. “If you treat them bad, they’ll only last you three months.”

Contractors can save money by maintaining their units instead of buying new because the old ones rusted out.

“Here in Canada, one of those drum machines is going to cost you $1,000. If you get into the bigger and more powerful machines, they’ll cost as much as $7,000 to $8,000,” Baker says.

Safety is another compelling reason to keep the machines in good shape.

“If the drum isn’t well-maintained, it can literally fall to pieces at the job site,” Baker says. Drum machines can be dangerous if not operated correctly, and that risk escalates if the machine is damaged.

“It’s basically just a 200-pound spinning disk. If that’s not properly maintained, you open yourself up to all sorts of extra costs and liability that no business owner wants.”

Safe operation extends to electrical cords and plug-ins. Using electricity near water creates additional hazards, so it’s extremely important to be safety conscious, says Marty Silverman, vice president of marketing at General Pipe Cleaners/General Wire Spring.

He encourages contractors to check all power cords and extensions to make certain they are safe from current leakage. Replace any cords that are cut, damaged or frayed. Plug the drum machine into properly grounded outlets, and use a ground checker if you’re in doubt. Be sure the drum machine has a ground-fault circuit interrupter, which automatically shuts off power if a current leakage is detected, protecting the operator from injury.

Silverman says he’s seen some drum machines that are a month old that look much older because they weren’t maintained properly.

“You can extend the life of the product just by taking care of it,” he says.


Linda Hudek, owner of LH Plumbing Services in Fairfield, Ohio, uses a multistep approach to maintain her Speedrooter 92 from General.

“After I clear the drain, I run a lot of hot, soapy water down the drain, and that brings my cables back pretty clean. That’s No. 1,” she says.

The hot water cleans the snake before the snake goes back into the drum. The water also rinses away the corrosive drain cleaning chemicals that customers may have used before she arrived. Customers often try to clear the drains themselves with over-the-counter clog removers. These strong, corrosive chemicals can damage a drum machine.

To prevent the cable from rusting, LH Plumbing Services uses the cable conditioner Snakeoil from General — plus a secret ingredient.

“This is kind of a goofy thing, but I also put essential oils in to make it smell good,” Hudek says. She adds whatever essential oils she has on hand and has found that orange and tea tree oils work well. Hudek puts the Snakeoil and essential oils in a spray bottle, uses the foot pedal to rotate the drum and sprays the cables.

“I definitely want to do that after every use. I don’t douse them. I just do a couple of sprays while the drum is rotating, and that’s it.”  

Squirting Snakeoil into the drum distributes oil throughout the cable and drum. Plus, it indirectly lubricates the power feed.

Oftentimes, the drum will collect sewage and other fluids, which should be drained from the unit before storage.

“There’s a drain port at the bottom to drain the water and anything else that’s in the drum before storing it or putting it back in the trailer,” Hudek says. This simple step makes for a more pleasant experience the next time she uses the drain cleaning unit.

“When I take the cable out when I get to the next job, I have less muck in the drum to worry about.”

Hudek has used her Speedrooter 92 for about five years, and with proper oiling and care, it’s still in good condition.

“I haven’t had to replace my drum cable yet in my machine, so that’s money-saving,” she says.

Baker Plumbing uses a similar protocol as LH Plumbing Services to clean and lubricate the company’s RIDGID drum machines.

“Usually when we clear the obstruction, whatever that may be, we tell our guys to run as much hot water as they can while the snake is still in the drain. As we pull that cable back, it tends to clean itself,” Baker says. Any debris that’s twisted up in the snake is removed by hand.

“At every job, we make sure the cable is clean and dry and the heads on the cables are in good shape and well-intact.”

In addition to maintenance at the job site, periodic maintenance of drum machines is advised.

“For belts and motors, we want to keep the belts tight and fray-free and replace any that need it,” Baker says. “For us, belts generally last about six months or so before we switch them out.”

General recommends drain cleaners expose, clean and lubricate all of the moving parts in their drum machines at least twice a year. The power feed should be taken apart more often, depending on how often the drum is used. All bushings and bearings should be greased. In general, marine grease works well for drum machine maintenance.

These maintenance practices help to preserve the cables, drum, bearings and power cable-feed rollers, thereby extending the life of a drum machine.  


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