How to Unblock an Outside Drain

Outside drains do many important jobs, handling everything from domestic waste to leaves and outdoor debris.

Outside drains do many important jobs, handling everything from domestic waste to leaves and outdoor debris. This means that they can become easily blocked, but luckily drain unblocking is quite simple to do by yourself if a problem occurs. Read on to find out how.

Finding Where Your Drain is Blocked

The first step in unblocking drains is figuring out exactly where the blockage is, and you can do this by checking the water levels in drain chambers. Simply take off the drain covers and look inside, if it’s full of water then the blockage is after this drain chamber and if it’s drained then the blockage is upstream of it. You can use this to narrow down exactly where the block is.

Once you’ve found a chamber between a full and an empty one, you can get to work!

1. Unblocking Drains by Hand

The first step in the drain unblocking process, before trying anything complicated, is to see if you can unblock it by hand. Many blockages can be surprisingly easy to shift so don’t think that you need to do anything drastic before you’ve tried the simpler options.

Unless you’ve got a dedicated pair of drain or pond gloves, you’ll want to get several heavy duty bin bags so you can cover your arm up to the shoulder. If you’re using bin bags, make sure you use more than one as they tear easily.

You also might want to tie a scarf around your mouth and nose, especially if you’re going to be reaching in up to your shoulder as blocked drains aren’t the nicest smelling thing in the world.

After you’ve donned your protective gear, reach into the drain and start slowing pulling out any material you can find that could be causing the block. It’s best to do this upstream of the blockage as it will be easier to pull it out and you won’t risk compacting it further.

2. Using Improvised Drain Cleaning Tools

If you can’t unblock your drain by hand than you might want to try using some simple tools. You can easily improvise tools from common items that can extend your reach or get into tight spaces to help you pull out the offending material.

If you simply need to extend your reach further along the drain then you can use a long handled slotted spoon to try and scoop out-of-reach debris. If you’re struggling to reach into smaller drains or tight spaces, then you can unbend an old-style wire coat hanger and use the hooked end to pull out lodged items.

Similarly to unblocking drains by hand, this method is best done upstream of a blockage.

3. Unblocking Drains with Soda Crystals

If your drain isn’t completely blocked and is still slowly draining, you can consider using soda crystals or caustic soda to clear your blockages. This method is particularly effective against grease and fat blockages but less effective against other types.

You will have to wait until the water level drops fully before attempting to remove the obstruction. You can use a container to bail out water to speed this up. You may have to limit water usage for several hours on outlets that empty into the blocked drain. If you don’t wait for the water to drain down to the blockage, then this method will be far less effective.

After your drain is mostly free of water, simply pour around half a cup of soda crystals or caustic soda into the drain followed by boiling water.

Be very careful when using caustic soda because it can be extremely dangerous. You should take care to avoid contact with your skin or eyes and it’s advisable to wear protective clothing as it can cause severe burns. If it does come into contact with either your skin or eyes, flush the area with clean water for 15 minutes.

4. Drain Unblocking with a Hose

A great way to clear a blockage without using chemicals is to use a hose or pressure jet to force the obstruction through the pipe. To do this, you should first clear the drain as much as possible using your hands or tools and then scoop out the water to a manageable level.

You will then want to push your garden hose or pressure jet as far down the drain as possible and then begin sealing the drain cover entrance. You should do this by firmly packing the entrance with old towels or sheets to stop the pressure you’re building up from simply causing the drain to overflow.

Blocking one avenue of water egress will help the pressure rise and force through the blockage, although you should make sure to pack it tightly with material so that it doesn’t just get pushed out. This also has the added advantage of avoiding splashback that can cover both yourself and your home with stagnant water.

After turning the hose or pressure jet on high for around 10 seconds, the blockage should have cleared. If it hasn’t cleared in that time then it is unlikely that this method will work.

5. How to Use Drain Rods

Drain rods are a great way to unblock drains, and are the most common method used by professionals. They are also very simple to use although you must make sure that you’re using the correct technique so that you don’t risk making your problem worse.

First you will need to attach an appropriate sized plunger onto the end of your drain rod. Then insert the rod into the drain, bending it so that it goes into the pipe. Push the rod further in, turning it clockwise as you do so and attaching lengths of rod as needed to extend your reach. The clockwise motion is very important as this will stop your rods from unscrewing, detaching inside the pipe and causing further problems.

You can use this technique from either upstream or downstream of the blockage. From downstream, you are working in the direction that the blockage came from which can make it easier to shift, although it could re-block if you don’t shift the entire mass. If you work from upstream then you risk packing it further, however it is less likely to reform.

If you can’t dislodge an obstruction using this technique, then you can swap the plunger attachment for a corkscrew attachment to break up and grip the blockage.

5. How to Use Drain Rods

Drain rods are a great way to unblock drains, and are the most common method used by professionals. They are also very simple to use although you must make sure that you’re using the correct technique so that you don’t risk making your problem worse.

First you will need to attach an appropriate sized plunger onto the end of your drain rod. Then insert the rod into the drain, bending it so that it goes into the pipe. Push the rod further in, turning it clockwise as you do so and attaching lengths of rod as needed to extend your reach. The clockwise motion is very important as this will stop your rods from unscrewing, detaching inside the pipe and causing further problems.

You can use this technique from either upstream or downstream of the blockage. From downstream, you are working in the direction that the blockage came from which can make it easier to shift, although it could re-block if you don’t shift the entire mass. If you work from upstream then you risk packing it further, however it is less likely to reform.

If you can’t dislodge an obstruction using this technique, then you can swap the plunger attachment for a corkscrew attachment to break up and grip the blockage.

What to do After Unblocking a Drain

After you’ve successfully cleared your drain, you should thoroughly rinse it down with water to make sure that you have properly removed the blockage and not just allowed it to shift further along the system where it may cause problems in the future.

Preventing Blocked Drains

The best way of preventing your drains from blocking is by controlling what goes down them. If your drains connect to the inside of your home, you should make sure that no-one is putting cooking grease or coffee grounds directly down the drains as these are common causes of blockages.

You can also add grates and filters to your outside drains to stop garden debris from blocking them. These are very effective against leaves which can contribute significantly to blockages. You can also add small filters to your plugholes indoors to catch food waste and hairs from being flushed down and contributing to blockages.

If your drains regularly block despite precautions, you may wish to start putting baking soda, vinegar, or small amounts of a chemical drain cleaner down your drains to help keep them clear for longer.