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Drain Cleaning: Finding Right Tools for the Job
January 16, 2017 - Plumbing & Restrooms
By Marty Silverman
If maintenance and engineering managers use a drain cleaning tool in the wrong application, the machine may not clear the drain properly, the machine could get damaged, or the operator could get injured. Here’s a list of clogged drain problems that could occur in institutional and commercial facilities, and the recommended drain cleaning tools for each.
Sink or laundry drains: A hand held drain cleaner with a 1/4” or 5/16” cable is the right tool for this application. The snake has the right flexibility for small drain lines with lots of bends. It is best to remove the trap under the sink first. Be careful there are no chemicals in the drain. The acids in these liquids can destroy your tools quickly. Start with a small cutter like the arrow head to get the water flowing, then follow up with a U-cutter or side cutter to scrape the pipe walls clean.
Toilets: The best tool for a clogged toilet is a closet auger. Much more reliable than a plunger, the snake is flexible enough to get around the trap, yet strong enough to do the job. You can either dislodge the stoppage, or retrieve objects like diapers and children’s toys that are frequently the cause of toilet clogs. Be sure to use a professional grade closet auger that has the durability you require.
Slow draining tubs and showers: The best tool for this is not a snake, but rather a Water Ram. Snakes have a hard time getting through the drum trap under a tub. The Water Ram uses compressed air to create a shock wave that simply follows the path of the water. Think of it as a really powerful plunger. There’s no pressure build-up so it won’t harm pipes.
Tree roots: For difficult stoppages you should use a larger diameter heavy duty cable that has the torque to cut through tree roots. It is best to use a 5/8” or 3/4” Flexicore inner core cable for large drum-type machines, or a 1-1/4” sectional cable with sectional machines. Start with a smaller cutter like the spear head or 2” U-Cutter to get the water flowing. Then switch to a larger root cutter like a heavy duty saw blade or root ripper. Don’t be impatient. Guide the cable slowly back and forth to cut through the stoppage thoroughly. If you go too fast, you risk getting caught and damaging the cable.
Grease clogs: It’s referred to as a self-healing stoppage because when a cable goes through it, the clog closes up again. To really clear a grease clog properly, you should be using a water jet. The high pressure water cuts the grease off the walls of the pipe and the high water flow flushes it away. Water Jets make the hose vibrate so it can overcome the friction in the drain and slide more easily around tight bends. The thrust of the nozzle pulls the hose through the soft blockage. As you pull the hose back the high pressure spray cuts the grease away from the pipe walls and scours them clean.
Ice: If the ice is in a metal water supply line, you can use a pipe thawing machine that puts a low voltage but high current through the metal pipe to safely melt the stoppage. If the stoppage is in a waste line, it’s nearly impossible to cut an ice clog out of a drain line with a snake. But it’s easy to melt an ice clog with a water jet. The jet nozzle has a number of rear jets to pull the hose to the stoppage, and one or more forward jets to melt the ice and break up the stoppage.
Now that we've talked about which is the right machine to use for each application, the next question is what is the right cutter to use. Everyone has their favorite cutter, just as everyone has their favorite fishing lore.
Clearing sinks and tubs: Small diameter drains require smaller, more flexible cutters to negotiate the tight bends and traps in the line. A boring gimlet or an arrow head are good starting tools for small lines. If you are having problems getting around a tight bend you can switch to a down head boring gimlet or flexible arrow head. You can also adapt any cutter to become a down head by using a down head fitting between the connector and cutter.
Retrieving loose objects: Sometimes you have to be a hero and recover a lost ring, or get a child's toy, or a diaper out of a drain. A retrieving tool (a cone shaped spring) is designed for just that. Once the open end of the springs hooks on to the object, stop the rotation of your machine and pull the cable out manually so you don't lose your prized catch.
Cutting tree roots: Even though you'll be tempted to go in with a big root cutter first, it's better to start with a smaller cutter like the spear head or 2” U-Cutter to get the water flowing first. Then switch to a larger root cutter like a heavy duty saw blade, root ripper, or ClogChopper. Don’t be impatient. Guide the cable slowly back and forth to cut through the stoppage thoroughly. If you go too fast, you risk getting caught and damaging the cable.
Clearing grease and ice clogs: The best tool for these stoppages is a water jet, not a drain snake.
To download a free Tool Selection Guide, visit www.drainbrain.com. To ask questions, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Marty Silverman is the VP of Marketing at General Pipe Cleaners.