How to Prevent Main Drain Clogs (+Unclogging Tips)

Does it seem like you have a once-a-month date to fix your drain? It can be a pain when your main drain keeps clogging, and suddenly, you keep hearing gurgling noises all hours of the night. If you are like me, then you are sick of it, which is why I have a handy checklist of tips when this happens. 

Preventive care is important to keep your drain from getting clogged. Avoid pouring oils and fats down the drain while using a wire mesh to catch other objects. Regular maintenance every 18-24 months is also imperative. If it still happens, there are a number of unclogging tricks you can try. 

What is a Main Drain?

The main drain is the part of your drainage system where it connects to the septic system or your city sewer lines. Then you have drains that branch off to connect to your toilets, sinks, and other areas in the house where plumbing is necessary. Your main drains are located in the walls and floors of the home, whereas sewer lines are in the ground outside of the home. 

What happens is that when you flush the toilet or run the shower, the water runs through your piping to the main drains. From here, it connects to the main sewer or to the septic system and transfers into one of the two systems. 

These can easily get backed up or slow down when unwanted items start going through them. This can be a partial block or a full clog. You can keep an eye out for some signs to indicate that. 

Signs of a Clogged Main Drain

The most common signs of a clogged main drain are slow-draining water, gurgling noises in your drain pipes, and water pooling in the basement or drain areas. Another not-so-pleasant sign is when water backs up into other fixtures or drains. This is common when the toilet flushes and backs up the shower. Let’s take a deeper dive. 

  1. Slow-draining water is a warning sign, and the worse it gets, the worse clog you have. This is particularly true if you are noticing multiple drains starting to slow. 
  1. When gross gurgling sounds start to come from your drains, it means that there are air bubbles created from the water trying to get in and around clogs. 
  1. Backup is among the worst consequences as sewer water finds ways to get out. This can be through your shower when the toilet flushes, or it can pool near drain areas in the basement. 
  2. If you have multiple drains that are all seemingly slowing down, it is likely that this is not a coincidence. Once one of the drains starts to get clogged, it affects the rest of them since they are all connected. 

So why does this continually happen, and is there something that can prevent us from getting hit with backup water in the shower?

Why Does My Main Drain Line Keep Clogging? 

  1. Damaged Sewer Pipes

Sewer pipes that have ruptured or have breaks/dents in them will not be able to properly drain the sewage. Sewage can get stuck in certain places or leak out of the drain. Backups are usually a direct immediate result. But how do the pipes get damaged in the first place? 

There are a few reasons. When traffic above the pipes increases, you put more weight and pressure on the pipes. Naturally, they will start to bend and break. The same can be said if you are using heavy equipment sitting on top of them. It can erode or even shift the soil above the ground and cause damage below. 

  1. Tree Roots Around Sewer Line

If you have an older sewer line then there is a chance that it was made of porous material. This is a problem because it allows for things like tree roots to dent, break, and infiltrate the system. 

The other problem is that the seals between the piping were not particularly strong back in the day. Today they are much stronger. Tree roots can break the seals causing the sewer lines to leak. In general, this usually only applies to older sewer line piping, as today’s main drains were built with this in mind. 

  1. Flushing Non-Flushable Items (List examples)

Most people seem to ignore the signs that say don’t flush anything outside of toilet paper down the toilet. However, this is what causes major problems in your drain lines. Here are some examples.

  • Flushable wipes are not actually flushable. They make up 90 percent of the clogs in main drains and can cause serious damage. 
  • Menstrual products are another non-flushable item that can break a sewer line. 
  • Cotton pads, paper towels, and make up wipes are also not meant to be flushed. 
  1. Fats, Oils, or Grease (FOG) Down Drain

Pouring fat, oils, or grease down your drain leaves you susceptible to getting a fatberg in your main drains or in the city sewer line. Fat and these oils combine with non-flushable products to make solid masses that do not disintegrate. Then what happens is they cause major clogs in the drain and result in backup or flooding.

This can happen to your own home, but also it happens in the city sewer liens. Cities spend millions annually sending teams to break up fatbergs in their sewer lines. This is hazardous for the teams and can create problems for the entire city. 

Tips for Unclogging the Main Drain

Sometimes if the problem isn’t too far gone, you can avoid hiring a plumber. Sometimes plumbers are expensive and work by the hour. So if it’s a minor clog, it’s worth trying to solve yourself. Here is a handy DIY guide to unclogging your main drain.

  1. Locate your clean-out plug. This is on the main drain located near your foundation, basement, or sometimes even in the crawlspace. 
  1. You’ll need to remove the cap by using an adjustable wrench. This will allow for the build-up to come out. For any vertical drain pipes, be sure to have a bucket underneath to catch the waste. 
  1. Now you will need an auger or rod to reach into the drain pipe. Keep feeding the rod or auger until it hits the clog that is in your piping. Twist your tool to the right to try and get it to pole/, dig, and prod at the obstruction. 
  1. Continue moving it until you are able to break up the pieces.

If you are not able to clear the clog, then this is when you need to call a plumber. They may need to take apart some piping if the mess is too hard to fix with a prod. For small instances where this is just a little backup or slow draining, an auger or a rod is likely to be able to do the trick. 

Some households pour baking soda and vinegar down their drains from kitchen sinks and bathrooms to try and dissolve small clogs. Sometimes the combination can help break down materials that need to be disintegrating well enough on their own. 

This, however, doesn’t necessarily work for septic systems because old septics may have porous materials. You always want to be careful about the kinds of chemicals you are putting into that system. But to avoid all of this, the best fix is not having to do it at all. Preventative care is the best care. 

How to Prevent Clogs in Your Main Drain

Preventative medicine is the best medicine. Here are the four most common preventive measures you can take to prevent clogs in the main drain. 

1. Professional Drain Inspection 

Getting your drain inspected every 18-22 months is the best thing you can do to avoid trying to fix the plumbing yourself. This maintenance, roughly every two years, can be a huge savior when it comes to cost in the long run. Typically the service is inexpensive and doesn’t take more than a few hours. 

Nowadays, a camera can slowly move through the sewer line or the main drain and record to see if anything is majorly wrong. This way, you can check for any pipe damage or potential build-ups that need to be sorted. 

2. Avoid Pouring Fats, Oils, and Grease Down the Drain

You can save yourself from making a fatberg by not pouring any fats, oils, and grease down the drain. A fatberg is a city’s worst nightmare. It’s also bad for your home. This is when the oils and fats combine with nondisposable to make a somewhat indestructible clog. 

This requires some dedication because if you think about every time you wash out your frying pans, you end up letting a lot of leftover grease and cooking oils go down the drain. It’s better to either pour it outside or even in the trash. If you don’t have any option, try putting baking soda down the drain afterward. 

3. Use Mesh Lint Traps

Interestingly enough, the hair, lint, and other debris from doing your laundry can clog the main drains attached to it. When this goes unchecked, all of it can end up lining the walls of the main drain and narrowing the drain pathway. This winds up in a clog. But by using mesh lint traps, you can avoid this entirely. 

Mesh lint traps can go any place where this is a drain. This could be in your shower or in your sink. This will keep everything except for the water out of the drain. While some people don’t like seeing their hair get caught, regular cleaning keeps it sanitary. 

4. Flush Your Drains Regularly 

Because of eco-friendly movements, less and less water is being used to flush things down the toilet. This makes it difficult to move non-flushable solids through the pipes. It also allows for grime to build up along the walls of the pipes. One way to solve this is to flush your drains regularly. The force of the floods takes the grime away with it. 

Using hot water is the best way to do this. That’s because hot or warm water supports bacteria that also help clean out the drains. In this case, the bacteria is good. It’s a better alternative than using chemicals that may eat away at the piping.

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