Author Topic: DIY for clearing old, clogged plumbing pipes? (Read 48078 times)

DoubleDown

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DIY for clearing old, clogged plumbing pipes?
« on: March 27, 2014, 01:41:39 PM »
tl;dr: Any advice on clearing old, heavily blocked plumbing pipes yourself? A drain auger is not helping, plumber says the only answer is to do extreme high pressure power washing of pipe interiors, and it is not a DIY project (even he could not do it, he said they have specially trained personnel for that specialized equipment). I haven't shopped around, he says they charge $800. If there was a way I could (safely) do this myself, great!

Further background:

We live in a house that's about 55 years old, two story + a basement, with cast iron plumbing. Several of the drains were slow moving when we moved in, and when we had our kitchen and bathrooms remodeled, had the opportunity to see the condition of the pipes (even put a camera down one of the main lines). They were about 50% blocked with 55 years worth of accumulated grease, corrosion, etc. The stuff in the pipes is extremely hard, nothing that is easily cleaned out. Both the plumber and our remodeling contractor said they can guarantee we will continue to have blockages.

And they've been right, I've had to have plumbers come more than once to clear the main line in the basement, cutting out the pipe, clearing it with a powered augur, then reattaching the pipe.

I have a wife and 3 daughters, all with long hair. So, we frequently get slow moving drains, and when I put a (hand powered) drain auger through, I've pulled out gobs of hair and gunk, but it barely helps. Plus, my most recent attempt resulted in the drain auger getting stuck about 20' in, and took me about 3 back-breaking hours getting it unstuck, nothing came out, and the drain is still slow-moving. Advice?
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jba302

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Re: DIY for clearing old, clogged plumbing pipes?
« Reply #1 on: March 27, 2014, 02:18:43 PM »
http://wikihow.com/Shave-Your-Head

I feel your pain though, wife + 2 girls all with long hair. So far the solution has been drain traps and drano, but your problem seems like you are well beyond non-serious means. 800 bucks for 50 years of clean moving pipes doesn't seem like such a bad deal though.

Milspecstache

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Re: DIY for clearing old, clogged plumbing pipes?
« Reply #2 on: March 27, 2014, 05:22:53 PM »
How much of the pipe is accessible? You mentioned the basement. How much work to cut out the old and replace? I do agree that $800 doesn't sound too bad for the age of the plumbing. Just not sure what the other options would cost.

phred

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Re: DIY for clearing old, clogged plumbing pipes?
« Reply #3 on: March 27, 2014, 06:37:06 PM »
cast iron plumbing? Really? How about galvanized steel pipe? Anyway, if the stuff in the pipes is extremely hard, it is probably 55 years worth of mineral deposits. I am dubious power washing would remove this. If it was up to me I would bite the bullet and replace the entire run from the bathroom to the soil stack. MMM has given several articles on plumbing with pex

TomTX

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Re: DIY for clearing old, clogged plumbing pipes?
« Reply #4 on: March 27, 2014, 08:44:20 PM »
Hm, nobody uses lye (sodium hydroxide) anymore? Cast iron is darn resistant to it, and it will take care of grease really well by saponifying it (turning it into soap) It will also dissolve hair.

Or your eyeballs. It also HEATS UP in water. You need to be careful using this stuff. Eye protection, gloves, etc. Classic drain cleaners were primarily sodium hydroxide, with some aluminum flakes. Sodium hydroxide for the reactiveness, aluminum flakes to stir up the mix (aluminum in water laden with sodium hydroxide will dissolve and give off gas)

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zataks

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Re: DIY for clearing old, clogged plumbing pipes?
« Reply #5 on: March 27, 2014, 11:52:34 PM »
Hm, nobody uses lye (sodium hydroxide) anymore? Cast iron is darn resistant to it, and it will take care of grease really well by saponifying it (turning it into soap) It will also dissolve hair.


This was essentially my thought too: a chemical treatment of the pipes. The problem is, it depends on the type of fouling he has. The caustic soda will be great if it's biological growth and accumulated human gunk. But it won't remove much/any mineral scaling or tuberculation on the pipe walls. Which, unfortunately, is probably what is causing things like hair to hang up in the plumbing. This would take a strong acid to force into solution. These are 1) hard to get, 2) dangerous to deal with, and 3) your waste water plant does not like you discharging low pH solutions down the drain. The high pH is less of a problem but, as mentioned, NaOH is not safe stuff. I loathe working with it. Then again, I don't like working with low pH chemicals either.

I generally recommend against chemical cleaning solutions to problems of this nature unless you are experienced with chemical handling and have adequate personal protection (and a buddy nearby!).

phred: cast-iron pipe was not uncommon not that long ago. But yes, I agree, just replace everything with PEX. Depending how much there is to be done, it should not cost the $800 that clearing the CIP would. And OP would get new plumbing! That is, if they can DIY; as MMM says PEX plumbing is simple in the plumbing world but can be tough if you are not at all mechanical/handy.

fixer-upper

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Re: DIY for clearing old, clogged plumbing pipes?
« Reply #6 on: March 28, 2014, 01:40:24 AM »
The ideal thing would be to replace the cast iron with PVC, but how much that would cost depends on how much labor it would take to get to the pipes.

I think what the OP is talking about is a process where they put a rubber balloon with a nozzle on the end of a hose. Once it's pushed into the pipe, the water is turned on, and the balloon expands to seal itself against the pipe. This puts hot water at pressure against the clog.

You can do it yourself with the right tool ($50) and hot water from the tap, but the plumber may have a better tool, hotter water, more pressure, etc.

Milspecstache

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Re: DIY for clearing old, clogged plumbing pipes?
« Reply #7 on: March 28, 2014, 02:08:07 AM »
FYI PEX is only for supply lines which replaces copper.

PVC is the only real choice available for drain lines. It is a much bigger pain in the rear but can be DIY as well.

homehandymum

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Re: DIY for clearing old, clogged plumbing pipes?
« Reply #8 on: March 28, 2014, 02:18:57 AM »
We had to replace our sewerage pipes a couple of years ago and our storm water drainage ones just recently.

They were clay pipes, but similar problem of being so blocked up they were not completely clear-able. And whatever clearing could be done would need to be repeated on a semi-regular basis. (65 year old pipes)

In NZ only plumbers can do plumbing, so there is limited scope for DIY, but the guys said if we wanted to dig our own trenches for the sewerage line then that would save us some cash. It was in our pre-Mustache days so we declined. (doh!)

The stormwater drains needed a mini excavator to dig up and I was happy to pay someone else to do that :)

Long story short, if you decide to go for replacement, but aren't keen on doing the actual plumbing yourself, you can do the ground-work first so you're only paying a plumber for the skillful part of the job.
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zataks

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Re: DIY for clearing old, clogged plumbing pipes?
« Reply #9 on: March 28, 2014, 04:39:44 AM »
Good point, Milspecstache. PEX is not for wastewater/drain water. I kind of ignored/missed the whole drain piping thing. PVC typically isn't real big in sewer piping; ABS is used much more frequently. The process of assembling/installing is practically identical, though.

fixer-upper, what you're talking about sounds like pigging, a means of cleaning pipes by forcing a roughly pipe-sized object through the pipe. It sounds like OP's plumber is talking more about rodding the plumbing (inserting a smallish diameter tube/pipe into the plumbing that allows high pressure (probably at least 1500psi) water to be blasted through. Rodding is pretty common in municipal sewer cleaning settings and I think it's taking over as being more popular that pigging. It works well in scenarios where you have thick walled, buried pipe. If there is a possibility of a thin walled pipe (due to corrosion or physical damage) this could be dangerous.

OP, I recommend calling your municipal wastewater department: whoever you pay your sewer bill to. Ask them their recommendations on this (and, at the same time, you may be able to get them to come out and rod your lateral for no charge. Depends on what size municipality you live in.) Also ask them about any significant concerns or limitations about chemical treatments for your plumbing. Typically your collections/wastewater operations staff are more than happy to help and provide information to the public.

And another concern I just thought of with chemical treatment of your pipes from a DIY stand-point: if you have a lot of linear feet of pipe, to effectively caustic wash it might be very expensive; high-grade caustic soda is not cheap.

EDIT: the 1500psi remark would only be the supply--as soon as it hits atmosphere it's much lower. CIP is not rated for anywhere near 1500psi.
« Last Edit: March 28, 2014, 04:42:00 AM by zataks »

DoubleDown

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Re: DIY for clearing old, clogged plumbing pipes?
« Reply #10 on: March 28, 2014, 11:22:13 AM »
Great advice, thanks all! The high pressure cleaning the plumber was recommending was definitely specialized equipment, at super high pressures. He said that after pipes are cleared this way, they look brand new (inside) -- they're cleaned all the way down to shiny metal. I asked him if I could get this equipment to rent and he said "No, not likely, and even if you could, you should not try to do it yourself because without the training in how to use it, you could do a lot of damage."

Most of the stuff blocking our pipes is indeed mineral scaling, with some usual other drain stuff added on for good measure. I'm a little leery of using chemicals that can attack that stuff, because besides the safety/environmental concerns, all the houses in our neighborhood have what I think is called "Orangeburg" pipes for the main sewer line going out to the street. It's some kind of cellulose/compressed cardboard material that is occasionally failing at some of the neighbors' houses now that they're 50-60 years old -- $10,000 to dig up and replace. I'd be concerned that pouring super caustic materials down there might hasten the process??
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phred

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Re: DIY for clearing old, clogged plumbing pipes?
« Reply #11 on: March 28, 2014, 11:55:21 AM »
I believe the reason lye is now hard to find at the store is that it's used in making meth.

Thanks for the info on pex. Anyway, 55 years ago was 1959. The only cast iron fittings I saw back then were for the big vertical soil stack in the basement that went out to the sewer (and also the pipe from the house to the street connection). There was black pipe, but that was also of steel.

On the other hand, if the blockage is corrosion caused by the zinc wearing away, and thus the now bare steel attracting out other metals in the water, then the pipes probably could be power washed. However, with the galvanizing gone, the pipes will just block up again.

Kazak

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Re: DIY for clearing old, clogged plumbing pipes?
« Reply #12 on: March 28, 2014, 12:13:05 PM »
I'm having an almost identical problem and I'm very interested in finding a solution. After trying Drain-o and clearing out all I could reach in the pipe by hand, I did have a plumber come out to jet the pipes, but this had minimal impact.

The proplem first presented itself at the kitchen sink (exterior wall). I thought about just replacing the pipes, but the drainage pipes are within the brick exterior walls, then run down into the foundation. The issue has now sprouted up in the middle of the house at one of the bathrooms.

I'm hoping there may be some solution to this kind of issue without ripping up foundation and replacing the pipes!

Milspecstache

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Re: DIY for clearing old, clogged plumbing pipes?
« Reply #13 on: March 28, 2014, 04:59:15 PM »
Good point, Milspecstache. PEX is not for wastewater/drain water. I kind of ignored/missed the whole drain piping thing. PVC typically isn't real big in sewer piping; ABS is used much more frequently. The process of assembling/installing is practically identical, though.

I'm not a plumber by trade but when I did the waste piping in my new house 3 years ago my local jurisdiction considered ABS to be inferior pipe and wanted PVC only. Even the septic piping in the yard had to be PVC. Are you seeing new construction in ABS?

TomTX

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Re: DIY for clearing old, clogged plumbing pipes?
« Reply #14 on: March 28, 2014, 09:14:18 PM »

This was essentially my thought too: a chemical treatment of the pipes. The problem is, it depends on the type of fouling he has. The caustic soda will be great if it's biological growth and accumulated human gunk. But it won't remove much/any mineral scaling or tuberculation on the pipe walls. Which, unfortunately, is probably what is causing things like hair to hang up in the plumbing. This would take a strong acid to force into solution. These are 1) hard to get, 2) dangerous to deal with, and 3) your waste water plant does not like you discharging low pH solutions down the drain. The high pH is less of a problem but, as mentioned, NaOH is not safe stuff. I loathe working with it. Then again, I don't like working with low pH chemicals either.

Hm. It was pretty easy to get muriatic (hydrochloric) acid at the hardware store when I needed some a few years ago.

Hydrochloric doesn't worry me as long as my eyes are protected - but I'm trained. Things like concentrated sulfuric or any hydrofluoric DO worry me.

Too bad they use lye to make meth. It was moderately hard to find when I wanted to do home-made soap.
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zataks

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Re: DIY for clearing old, clogged plumbing pipes?
« Reply #15 on: March 28, 2014, 11:54:48 PM »
I'm not a plumber by trade either, but have and still do work in related trades/field where exposure to domestic plumbing is common. I don't see the reason for requiring PVC over ABS for drain pipe; they have different strength and pressure ratings but that doesn't really matter unless you're doing force lines. Which would be pretty uncommon for domestic use. PVC is a standard go-to for drinking water/potable water lines but typically not in a consumption-use setting--more often for irrigation.

I hadn't considered muriatic--that may be available. It just occurred to me too that Citric acid is common in food applications and because of that may be more easily accessible. Still low pH and great for cleaning mineralization issues but seemingly a bit safer than some of the alternatives.

Likely that cost of $10,000 is mostly labor for the city to come out and dig up the lateral and replace it. When you consider operating costs of a equipment (backhoes/dumptrucks/vaccuum aparatus) and manpower (probably 3-4 man job) and cost of materials (probably cheapest part of this job) $10,000 is pretty understandable. But this is actually relatively easy work provided you understand how to slope things (typical construction of drain lines is 1/4" vertical for 12" lateral) and can handle basic plumbing and shovel work. However, the city is going to be pretty displeased with you connecting to their main without permitting/fees/inspection/them doing the work. The resolution here would be something like digging up 90% of your lateral and replacing it, coupling the new lateral to the last foot or two of old lateral where it attaches to the city's main. Granted that would mean you still have 1-2' of old orangeburg in there but you could always just encase it in concrete and go on your merry way. Of course, run this by someone with knowledge of local codes before performing. =)

phred

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Re: DIY for clearing old, clogged plumbing pipes?
« Reply #16 on: March 29, 2014, 07:21:51 AM »
I looked up Orangeburg pipe. It's basically a mix of tar (bitumen) mixed with sawdust and formed into pipe. Since it has a service life of about fifty years, it is no surprise it may now be failing.

Replacement need not cost $10,000. It is my understanding the homeowner owns the plumbing up to his lot line. Couldn't he hire someone to trench down to and along his outflow run, and then hire a plumber to come in and replace the pipe run? The city or county should oversee the hookup to the sewer, but wouldn't the pipe from the lot line to the sewer be their responsibility?

zataks

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Re: DIY for clearing old, clogged plumbing pipes?
« Reply #17 on: March 29, 2014, 08:00:44 AM »
Couldn't he hire someone to trench down to and along his outflow run, and then hire a plumber to come in and replace the pipe run? The city or county should oversee the hookup to the sewer, but wouldn't the pipe from the lot line to the sewer be their responsibility?

This is where calling the city is good. My knowledge of collections systems is limited in this regard but I think it depends on the jurisdiction as to whether you own up to your cleanout, up to your property line, or up to the connection at the main.

letro

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Re: DIY for clearing old, clogged plumbing pipes?
« Reply #18 on: March 29, 2014, 04:52:50 PM »
Replace the stacks with PVC for the long term solution.

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Re: DIY for clearing old, clogged plumbing pipes?
« Reply #19 on: April 01, 2014, 02:11:07 PM »

I'd caution on any chemical treatment of cast iron pipes. They're just not as corrosion resistant as implied above. No lye. No acid. No liquid plumber.

I, too, had a similar situation. I had to get my pipes pressure cleaned on a regular basis. The problem: the bottom had corroded out of the cast iron pipe. The most likely culprit was either (a) caustic soaps from the dishwasher or (b) previous chemical treatments. This was combined with house settling in a way that the pipe had a bit of a low spot to it.

Long term: I had to both fix the foundation (from massive amounts of water and expansive soils) and replace the cast iron pipe. It was not cheap.

If it's gunk: the pressure clean will fix it. If not, you've got bigger problems. If you get one of those name brand Roto-Rooter type people to clean it, it will likely come with a warranty where they'll re-clean for free for 6 months or a year.

Here's a photo of my drain line... That open slot used to be the bottom.
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Threshkin

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Re: DIY for clearing old, clogged plumbing pipes?
« Reply #20 on: April 01, 2014, 03:32:28 PM »
I believe the reason lye is now hard to find at the store is that it's used in making meth.

Yep, but it is readily available at Ace Hardware. I don't use it for drain cleaning (or meth) but I do use it for making soap.

Lye is nasty stuff though. use caution, wear eye and skin protection and allways, always add lye to water, not water to lye.

Thegoblinchief

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Re: DIY for clearing old, clogged plumbing pipes?
« Reply #21 on: April 04, 2014, 03:10:21 PM »
I had a badly clogged kitchen drain a few months ago. BIL and I cut the drain out and replaced it with PVC all the way to the floor of basement. Took an afternoon and an evening, and a lot of that was multiple trips back and forth to the store.

When we looked at the cross-section of the pipe, it was close to 90% clogged. Yuck.

Luckily, outside of a few pipes behind drywall, plumbing in my 1948 house is pretty easily accessible. I am not bothering with augers anymore. If a drain seizes up, I'm ripping it out and updating. All of my pipes are galvanized steel, though the main sewer pipe is cast iron.
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edwinimartin

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Re: DIY for clearing old, clogged plumbing pipes?
« Reply #22 on: May 18, 2016, 03:38:15 AM »
Mixing baking soda and vinegar is a great way for unclogging drains. They usually create a bubbling when mixed so you should be careful when you are pouring it down the drain. Salt and baking soda may also work. Mix cup of table salt, cup of baking soda and pour it down the drain.Leave it for 10-20 minutes, followed with boiling water.It will then produce a chemical reaction that will dissolve the blockage. Always make sure that the overflow drain at the top of the sink is stopped up.This will push the water into the drain and clog instead of escaping through the overflow drain. If it's a greasy clog then pour dish soap into the drain followed by boiling water. There are several diy methods for unclogging drains.You can just refer this article if you want to know more(http://brothersplumbing.ca/blog/unclog-drain/6-ways-unclog-drain/).

Nate R

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Re: DIY for clearing old, clogged plumbing pipes?
« Reply #23 on: May 18, 2016, 08:41:43 AM »
I've had similar issues in a house, 1930 plumbing. The water-jetting totally worked in my case, and was well worth the money, much better than just rodding. They camera'd before, during and after, so I could see the difference. I think I paid about $600, but that was 8+ years ago.

So, in your case, are ALL the drain pipes clogging up like this, or is it mostly the main line?
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srob

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Re: DIY for clearing old, clogged plumbing pipes?
« Reply #24 on: May 18, 2016, 10:01:58 AM »
What did you figure out doubledown? I had a leak in some old cast iron drain pipe. The plumber cut the section out and replaced it with pvc. I was shocked at how narrow the interior channel of the pipe had become--it was layers of rust that were blocking the whole section, bringing the internal diameter down from 3" to less than 1" throughout the length of the removed pipe. It makes me worried that all of the drain pipe in the house is like that.

DangleStash

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Re: DIY for clearing old, clogged plumbing pipes?
« Reply #25 on: May 19, 2016, 06:08:31 AM »
Someone mentioned it earlier, but use one of these:

http://homedepot.com/p/Medium-Drain-Bladder-BC00332/100586170

Effectively "pressure washes" clogs down the pipe. You hook it on to the end of the hose, stick it down the drain a bit, and it forces water down. Your pipes may be too clogged for this, but never hurts to try. Maybe run a bunch of hot water down the drain first to try and loosen/moisten, then do this.

If it doesn't work, return it or save for maintaining your cleared out plumbing.
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Spork

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Re: DIY for clearing old, clogged plumbing pipes?
« Reply #26 on: May 20, 2016, 07:40:51 AM »
Someone mentioned it earlier, but use one of these:

http://homedepot.com/p/Medium-Drain-Bladder-BC00332/100586170

Effectively "pressure washes" clogs down the pipe. You hook it on to the end of the hose, stick it down the drain a bit, and it forces water down. Your pipes may be too clogged for this, but never hurts to try. Maybe run a bunch of hot water down the drain first to try and loosen/moisten, then do this.

If it doesn't work, return it or save for maintaining your cleared out plumbing.

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Many years ago a sink in the bathroom was clogged. I took one of these and got on the roof. I fed it down until I thought I felt the clog then had wifey turn on the hose. She went in the house and came out screaming. I was way above the clog and ABOVE where the vent T's into the drain. Putrid water was hitting the clog, stopping and running out the sink at breakneck speed.
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Goldielocks

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Re: DIY for clearing old, clogged plumbing pipes?
« Reply #27 on: May 28, 2016, 09:09:32 PM »
Here is a good overview of your options. Nothing cheap.

I have seen the pipe bursting method and the pipe lining (and hydrjet) methods used. The pipe bursting is best solution, as the lining will reduce the diameter of your pipe and the material needs to be cleaned out.

Pipe bursting will replace your Orangeberg pipe problem too. It is used where the pipe is actually failing or collapsed, and nice selling feature for later on... Both lining and bursting are valid replacement techniques to rehabilitate pipe, and have been used for decades by municipalities...

http://dontdig.com/plumbing/collapsed-sewer-pipe