By following these basic rules, you'll be way ahead of the game when your customer asks, 'While you're here, can you take care of this clogged drain problem?'

Drains clog. No matter what time of year or what state of the economy, drains clog. Having a drain-cleaning machine at the ready for a customer with a problem is good for business. Knowing what tool to use and how to use it properly is even better.

Choosing The Right Machine

Before you start, ask your customer a few questions to figure out which of your tools is most likely to solve the problem.

For example, if just one drain is clogged, the problem is most likely limited to the small drains where a small hand-held model or small floor model will do.

If the tub, sink and toilet are all stopped up, then the problem is likely to be in the large waste line leading out of the house. For that kind of problem a larger floor model machine would be the right tool for the job.

The best tool for clearing a clogged toilet is a closet auger. No other tool will go through the bowl as quickly and easily.

  • Drum-Type Machines Vs. Sectional Machines. Some people prefer to use a sectional drain cleaner rather than a drum-type. One of the main advantages is that the machine is lighter because the cables are in sections, rather than one continuous piece. The main advantage of the drum-type machine is everything is self-contained and easy to transport.

    Some parts of the country prefer the sectional machine while others prefer the drum-type. Check with other plumbers in the area to see what they are using, or rent each type from a local rental store and try each of them out to see which one you are most comfortable with. (Take a look at the charts on page 68 to help match cable size, pipe size and applications.)

  • Grease Clogs? When it's a grease clog, it's a jet all the way. For grease, sand or ice, nothing clears the line faster than a jet.

    When a cable goes through grease, the grease will close up behind the cable and still leave the line clogged. A water jet uses high-pressure water to flush away sticky clogs like grease that cable machines have a hard time clearing.

    However, jets don't replace cable machines because they can't clear heavy stoppages like tree roots. If you are in a cold climate, jets can be used to clear lines clogged with ice. The larger gas jets can clear 1 ft. of ice per minute in a 4-inch line, while electric jets take longer. If your customers include restaurants, factories and institutions where grease clogs are a constant problem, jets are ideal.

  • Water Rams. And now for something completely different. The best tool for clearing a clogged or slow-draining bathtub is a water ram. Tubs often drain though drum traps that are very difficult to get through with a cable.

    The water ram creates a shock wave that follows the path of the water 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 mobile homes that can be difficult to clear because often they have narrow drain lines with tight bends.

    Before You Start

    Place the machine within approximately 2 ft. of the drain opening. Greater distances can cause the cable to whip or kink. If you can't get the machine this close to the opening, run the cable through a metal guide tube.

    Position the foot pedal for easy accessibility. The machine is designed for one-person operation. Be sure you can quickly remove your foot from the pedal in an emergency.

    Select a cutting tool. Start with a small cutting tool like the arrowhead or U-cutter. After the line has been opened, follow with larger blades, which scrape the walls of the pipe, assuring a thorough cleaning job. There are no fixed rules for which cutter to use. If one doesn't take care of the stoppage, simply try another.

    Cleaning The Drain

    Begin by pulling the cable from the drum and sliding it into the drain as far as it will go. Move the motor switch to the forward position.

    Do not use reverse to pull the cable out of the drain. Always run the machine in forward, whether you are feeding the cable into the line or pulling it out. There are exceptions to this rule. Read the manufacturer's instructions before you begin operation.

    With both hands (wearing leather gloves) on the cable, depress the foot pedal to start the machine.

  • If your machine has an automatic feed... Keep one hand on the feed control and one hand on the cable. Move the variable-speed feed control lever forward to feed the cable out of the drum and move it toward reverse to retract the cable from the line. The middle position is neutral.

    Guide the rotating cable into the line and against the obstruction with a firm, even pressure. Do not force the cable! Let the cutter do the work. The job won't get done any faster and you could damage the cable.

    Do not allow too much slack in the cable between the machine and drain opening since this could cause whipping. If the cable starts to bend or build up too much twist, release the foot pedal and rotate the drum in the opposite direction to relieve the twist on the cable. Push any excess cable back into the drum and then continue.

    Continue to feed the cable slowly into the line until resistance or the obstruction is met. Then move the rotating cable back and forth to chew up the stoppage thoroughly.

  • If you're using a sectional drain cleaner... Operation of most sectional machines is very similar to a drum machine. However, sectional machines do not continuously feed the cable. Use the following procedure instead:

    After you push the cable section into the line as far as it will go, pull an extra foot of cable from the machine so that an arc is formed. Turn the power switch to the forward position and the motor will start running. (Most sectional machines do not have foot switches.) With one gloved hand on the cable, pull the chuck handle lever down to engage the jaws. The cable will spin in place.

    Guide the cable into the line with a firm, even pressure. When the slack is gone in the cable, release the chuck handle and pull another foot of cable from the machine. Pull the handle down and continue to feed the cable. When you reach the end of the cable section, pull it out of the machine and slide another section into the machine. Connect the male and female ends and continue feeding until you reach an obstruction or blockage.

    Do not force the cable - let the cutter do the work. When you reach the blockage, move the cable back and forth as the cable is rotating until the stoppage is cleared. Just like the drum-type machines, after the obstruction has been cleared, retract the cable while keeping the motor in the forward position.

    Now that you've got the basics, try out your new skills on a clean drain at home before you tackle your customers' drains in the field. Practice until you look and act like a professional drain-cleaning specialist, so that your new customers will never know it's the first day of your new money-making career.