Drain cleaning – A tool for every clog

Drain cleaning – How convenient would it be if every clogged line could be addressed in the same way? Just show up, grab the drain cleaning machine from the truck, drop the end down the line, fire it up, hand over your invoice, and you’re off to the next stop.

And then the alarm on the nightstand goes off and we climb out of bed and get ready for the workday.

In the real world, clogs happen for any number of reasons – rust, sediment buildup and root infiltrations are common, as are accumulations of fat, oil and grease, and don’t forget ice. That’s a stubborn one for sure. And with each different blockage comes a different challenge.

Thankfully, if a clog exists, there’s a cutter, accessory or tool to remove it. The key is ensuring that you’re matching the right cutter or tool to the task at hand. Here’s a look at some of the more common head types for your coil-type machine, and what they are designed to do down the pipe.

Opening lines

The basic arrow head, boring gimlet or auger head will help get water flowing in many situations, much like drilling a starter hole and expanding to a larger bit when drilling holes in board or sheet metal. For drain cleaning, you start with a small cutter head to get the water flowing, and move to a larger cutter head to scrape the walls clean.

These are good for punching a quick hole, or for knocking some types of blockages through smaller diameter pipes, like when dealing with hair clogging a sink drain. Some small lines can have sharp turns, which a cable might have trouble navigating, but there are flexible tools and adapters that can be added to the tool heads to help maneuver through these extra-tight spaces.

Augers can also be used to help get the flow going, and can be useful to explore and break up stoppages, or to return a sample of the blockage to the surface to help determine the right tool for the task.

Getting to the root of the matter

There are several designs of root cutter heads, and each manufacturer will have its own name or design variation that will clean drains that have a root blockage. In general root cutter heads will have one or two blades to cut through anything that is causing the blockage, including leaves and any other small objects.

These tools may have a “C” or “U” shape, or may resemble a saw blade that’s been shaped to a circular dimension, and generally have a serrated edge to the blades to help with heavy-duty cutting. The circular heads are similar to a hole saw, but without the closed cup and mandrel, and they are designed to cut a clear path through tree roots inside a pipe.

Clearing through the fog

One of the most common clogs generated from restaurants and food services 
clients comes as the result of fats, oils and grease, or FOG, as it’s commonly referred to. This type of blockage can be a tough one to deal with if all you are armed with is an auger, since those tools are more suited to starting the water flow, at which point the task is turned over to other tools.

A jetter is the ideal tool to use on grease. If, however, you’re on the jobsite with a cable machine rather than a jetter, there are tools that may work to get the water flowing, but a more thorough cleaning will result from the use of a jetter.

Some manufacturers do have specific grease cutters, in varying sizes, and there are also multipurpose ball cutters that may work on grease, as well as on roots, scale and other debris.

A change of direction

Tight bends and traps can be difficult for some machines to navigate, especially when working in smaller lines. Flexible leader tools can help the cable get around sharp bends, for example when the blockage is more accessible through a trap than through a cleanout. Gimlets and fittings are also available in a down-head design, which are designed to ensure that the tool goes down the waste pipe, and not up 
the stack.

Expanding your horizons


One option that can add a bit of versatility to the tools that you carry, or can help deal with systems that transition from one size of pipe to another, is to investigate expanding cutters. These tools are designed to pass through smaller pipes so that you can reach and clean larger pipes. For example, several companies offer a 4” to 6” expanding cutter. Other expanding cutters have a smaller minimum size and can be passed through 4” P-traps.

Good on the beach, not in a pipe

Sometimes drains will get filled up with sediment, silt and sand. Specialized tools do exist for some drain machines that allow the user to dig through and remove these blockages, but sand in the belly of the line is much better handled by a jetter machine as they are great at blasting the sand and sediment down the line.

Lost a cable? Not a problem

Retrieval tools come in numerous shapes and sizes, for most cable sizes. These can be used to snag small objects that are obstructing water flows, or to grab broken cables 
if you have a mishap while trying to clear the blockage. Various types of augers can also be used to retrieve objects, or to remove loose objects. Check the cable machine manufacturer’s instructions when working with this type of tool.

Match the tool to the task

Larger diameter drains will require larger diameter cable and cleaning attachments, as well as adequate power, while smaller diameter pipes usually require smaller diameter cable and attachments, although they still need enough power to get through blockages. And root cutting applications will require heavy-duty cable to cut through the roots.
If the machine or cable used is too small for the line being cleared, the pipe could be left only partially opened, or the cable could fold back on itself and tangle. If the tools are too big for the task, it might be difficult to guide the large cable through the lines.

Marty Silverman is the vice-president of marketing with General Pipe Cleaners.
He can be reached at [email protected]

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