Drain cleaning: Selecting the right tool
Did you know that even though one tool can be used to clear a sink, bathtub and toilet, the best tool is different in each case?
Did you know that even though one tool can be used to clear a sink, bathtub and toilet, the best tool is different in each case? If you are using the same tool for all three jobs, read on and find out why using the best tool for each job will save you time and money.
Clogged sink or laundry tub
If you are clearing small-diameter drain lines (1 1/4- to 3-inch in diameter) you can use machines that have smaller-diameter cables. Hand-held models that carry 1/4-, 5/16- or 3/8-inch cables are best-suited for this application because small-diameter cables are flexible enough to get around the tight bends.
Most drain-cleaning pros know it’s easier on your cables if you remove the P-trap under the sink rather than wrestle your way past it with a snake.
Clogged or slow-draining bathtub or shower
The best tool for clearing clogged or slow-draining tubs is a hand-portable water ram. Tubs often drain through drum traps that are very difficult to get through with cables. The water ram uses a burst of compressed air to create a shock wave that follows the water’s path — and isn’t affected by tight bends and narrow lines. The shock wave travels down the line and knocks out the stoppage without harming the pipes.
The water ram also works well on trailer homes with narrow drain lines with tight bends that can be difficult to clear with cables. And it requires no electricity to operate.
Clogged toilet or urinal
The best tool for clearing a clogged toilet is a closet auger. No other tool in your arsenal will go through the bowl as quickly and easily. The spring is flexible enough to get through the tight bends in the bowl. Some come with a down head that helps guide the cable around tight bends in older bowls. Most low-flow bowls are easier to get through with a regular spring head.
Consider a telescoping auger. If you’ve ever had to remove a bowl because the stoppage was just beyond it, you’ll know why. The telescoping augers hide an extra 3 feet of cable in the handle. When you need it, just push a button and it slides right out.
The tight bends of a urinal are particularly vexing. Getting a urinal auger just for this purpose will make your life much easier. But remember, the more flexible the snake, the less durable it usually is.
Cutting tree roots
Heavy root stoppages require larger-diameter cables (5/8- or 3/4-inch continuous cables, or 1 1/4-inch sectional cables) that have the torque to cut tree roots and other difficult obstructions.
Consider a machine with a variable-speed automatic feed when working with cables of these sizes. A 100-foot cable can weigh 100 pounds or more. At a feeding rate of 20 feet/minute, an automatic feed makes getting the cable into and out of the line easier and faster.
Machines that carry this size cable often have a capacity of 100 feet or more. If most of your jobs are shorter lengths, you can save money (and your back) by using a smaller 75-foot capacity machine instead.
To retrieve objects, rags, children’s toys, broken cables, etc., cable machines are the best tool to use. Begin by determining the size of your drain line to find the right cable machine for your application. Closet augers work well retrieving diapers from toilets. In other lines, there are a variety of retrieving tools available to attach to the end of the cable for this purpose.
Clearing grease clogs
For restaurants, schools, hospitals and institutions where grease clogs are a constant problem, water jets are the tool to use. Jets are ideal for clearing grease, sand, ice and other soft stoppages from drain lines that cable machines have a hard time clearing. Jets use a stream of high-pressure water that hits the stoppage and flushes it away. The thrust of the nozzle drives the hose down the line and gives you wall-to-wall cleaning action.
Flushing away sand and mud
On construction sites, for instance, water jets remain ideal for clearing sand and mud from drain lines. And in debris-choked lines, cables simply churn fragments without actually removing them. But a water jet’s high-pressure water stream hits the whole stoppage and flushes it away. You get wall-to-wall pipe-clearing action — with virtually no remaining particles or debris.
Removing ice clogs
Likewise, water jets are great for clearing ice-clogged lines. They work well in both plastic and metal pipes. And larger gas-powered jets actually can clear a foot of ice per minute in 4-inch lines. Again, that same high-pressure water stream hits ice and flushes it away. The thrust of the nozzle drives the hose down the line for overall wall-to-wall pipe-cleaning action.
Choosing the right tool for the job will clear the line faster. It also will reduce your maintenance expenses caused by using the wrong tool at the wrong time, make your job easier and make you more money.
What’s new in drain-cleaning technology?
Take a listen ( podcast )
RJ 2.0 Managing Editor Nadia Askar talks with General Pipe Cleaners’ VP of Marketing, Marty Silverman about what’s new in drain cleaning tech.
The drain-cleaning industry has worked to make the job easier as our workforce ages. Instead of the heavy snakes most have grown up with, new lighter, more compact tools have been introduced.
High-pressure water jets have been in use for decades as an alternative to cable machines. Great for clearing grease, sand, ice and other soft blockages, the high-pressure water cuts though stoppages and the high flow flushes lines clean.
But jet machines can be big and bulky. Now, smaller, more compact electric jets have been introduced that weigh less than 25 pounds and still produce 1,500 psi of cleaning power to clear 1 1/2-inch to 3-inch drain lines — yet fit into the size of an ordinary tool box.
These compact-size lightweight tools are easier to carry and take up less room in your truck. Many contractors have switched to these smaller jets as their primary drain-cleaning tool, claiming they can clear clogs in the time it takes to drag big jet machines off their trucks.
The cordless revolution
The industry experimented with cordless drain cleaners decades ago but the batteries at the time didn’t last more than 5 minutes on a charge, so the machines faded from use.
New battery technology has brought a resurgence of cordless drain cleaners to the market. Cordless models are now available for handheld sink machines, small floor machines and even closet augers. Tests show the new batteries last about 35 minutes on a charge for handheld sink machines — long enough, in many cases, to handle one job.
But a key question remains: how will contractors handle a day in the field away from the shop? A supply of spare, fully charged batteries will have to be kept on-hand. Most clogged drains for small machines are inside the building in kitchens and bathrooms close to a power source.
The jury is still out on whether cordless drain cleaners are viable in the field.
An alternative to snakes
The first cordless drain cleaner in the industry needed no power cord or snake. It was a “water ram.”
If you’ve never heard of it, you’re not alone. The compact tool only weighs 10 pounds. It requires no electricity and although it looks futuristically new, it’s been around for more than 50 years.
Rather than a snake, the tool uses a charge of compressed air to clear a clog. And it’s not what you think: the air doesn’t blow up pipes. When the trigger is pulled on the tool, the air hits the standing water like an air hammer. Water doesn’t compress, so the resulting shock wave travels though the water at 4,700 feet/second, bypassing vents and stacks, to pulverize stoppages. Ninety-eight percent of the force hits the clog – with only 2% lost against the walls of pipes.
The tool is particularly effective to clear slow-draining tubs and showers — or when a blockage is at the far end of a long, narrow line or a series of tight bends.
What’s new in video pipe inspection systems?
Take a listen ( podcast )
As with computers and other electronics, technical progress has enhanced the performance of video inspection systems. Equipment has become more compact and less bulky. Monitor weights, for instance, have dropped from 50 pounds in older systems to just 3 pounds in newer ones.
Here’s the latest scoop:
Flash drive and SD cards vs. DVD and hard drives
Recording capabilities have dramatically changed in video inspection systems over the years.
It doesn’t seem that long ago that VCRs were the hot new thing. Now they’re dinosaurs. Inspection systems initially switched to DVD recorders. Then many included computer hard drives. For example, 160 GB of memory can record nearly 300 hours of work — letting you archive jobs after providing DVDs to customers.
But laptop computers proved somewhat bulky and fragile. They don’t like bouncing around in contractors’ trucks. Now, DVDs and hard drives are dying out in favor of recording to flash drives. Contractors like that they can purchase a quantity of flash drives emblazoned with their company names and logos, then hand the inspection recordings to customers for viewing on the customer’s computer.
Wi-Fi to smartphones and tablets
Many homeowners prefer to see the inspection on smartphones or tablets rather than on DVDs or computers. That’s why manufacturers are adding Wi-Fi transmitters to their video inspection equipment.
These systems do not connect to the Internet directly, but rather link to Wi-Fi-enabled devices (smartphone, tablet, laptop) via a small transmitter with a range of about 300 feet. A free app offered by camera manufacturers lets you see the inspection and record videos or still photos to your device. Your customers can follow the inspection in real time as well if they download the app. Or you can email the inspections to your customers or post them to YouTube or social media on the spot, in the field.
Cloud storage for videos
In the old days, we had shelves full of VHS tapes of the inspections we had done. We’d either make a copy for the customer or give them the original. If you recorded on a hard drive, you still have to make a copy of the recording for each customer.
Now inspections can be emailed directly to your customer. But the files are often too big for email. A better solution is for contractors to create their own YouTube channel and direct customers to watch videos there. It offers you a way to promote your own brand and it’s free.
But YouTube also will show your customers related videos that could lead them to your competitors. A better option is to set up your channel on Vimeo instead. There is a monthly fee, but you can set each video up with specific passwords for specific customers. And it will protect you from losing customers to other contractors. There are manufacturers that offer this service as well.