Plumbing: Drain-Cleaning Strategies

  June 4, 2012

I'm Dan Hounsell, editor of Maintenance Solutions magazine. Today's topic is, drain-cleaning strategies.

Keeping plumbing systems flowing is essential for safe, smooth operations in institutional and commercial facilities. Essential for success in achieving this goal are drain-cleaning strategies that involve the right equipment for the job.

For light drain cleaning, such as sinks clogged with hair, a technician can aim a flashlight down the drain to see if inserting a wire hook will remove the hair. But for sinks, toilets, and small floor drains with traps blocked by solid objects, mechanical cleaning is the first line of defense.

The technician's first step is to check if the trap is in good condition. If not, the technician should place a bucket under the trap, disassemble it, and replace it with a new trap, taking care not to damage the tailpipe from the sink to the trap or the drainpipe extension in the lateral. If the trap is in good condition but blocked, the most appropriate tools are manual plungers, snakes, and air rams.

Managers also can specify a range of power drain cleaners sized for three categories of drains: sink lines, floor and secondary drains, and laterals and mains. Considerable overlap exists among pipe diameters, so depending on the range of diameters in a drain system, one tool might cover everything.

The options for drain-cleaning equipment include sectional machines — with separate coils of 10- or 15-foot cables — and drum machines with longer cables for long lines. Augers, cutters, and chain-knocker accessories attach to the end of cable, which is fed into the drain first. Depending on configuration, technicians can use these attachments for initial clearing, exploratory inspection, and removing heavy blockages. Technicians also can use the same cable sequentially to do all three tasks on the same job.

Besides drain-cleaning equipment, managers can specify video cameras with monitors and recorders, as well as 325 feet of cable to inspect 2- to 12-inch drain lines and locate blockages.


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