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How To Check Your Clogged Drains and Toilet for Roots

Updated on May 17, 2013

Clogged Drains are so Annoying!

The first sign of our clogged drain was that the toilet wouldn't flush properly.Then we noticed that the shower was also draining slowly.Then of course the sink started backing up. Realizing that we had a clogged drain somewhere in our plumbing pipes, we brought out the good old Drano and proceeded to flush that little clog out. I had no idea at this point that perhaps we should be checking our clogged drains for roots!

HA! What a joke on us because the Drano did NOTHING except for fizzle and sit in the sink. After letting it sit for a while, it did manage to make some little sizzle sizzle plunk plunk sounds and a little bit of the water went down - but not enough by any means to unclog the drain. This was a little concerning because usually Drano does the trick, but obviously our little clog needed a little more manpower.

Next my husband got out the good old hand held snake. This would do the trick, no doubt about it!!

So down went the snake (we later found out DO NOT USE THE SNAKE IN YOUR TOILET!) but even the snake would not dislodge the pesky clog.

Trouble with your toilet draining? Could be roots clogging up.

If you are having trouble with your toilet draining, one of the possible causes could be roots in the system.
If you are having trouble with your toilet draining, one of the possible causes could be roots in the system. | Source

It must be YOUR FAULT!

Getting desperate now, and not wanting to call a plumber, we started to review our options. We figured all a plumber would do is probably use one of those BIG snake augers so we decided to rent one and do the job ourselves. Our plan was in place.

We rented a big snake auger from The Home Depot and snaked the entire plumbing system. ALL kinds of garbage came out of the pipes including lots and lots of earthy smelling dirt. Hmmm, we thought, some roots must have gotten into the system. We kept at it and eventually we got the pipes clear and the water flow started to return to normal.

All seemed well for a few months until we came home one night and found our entire family room flooded with water. The shower drain had backed up and all the water had flowed downward into our carpets, ruining not only the carpets but boxes of sentimental things I had stacked next to the wall (along with the damage to the bathroom floor) Needless to say, we were mad, depressed and downright puzzled as to why the plumbing system was again clogged. Accusations flew as family members blamed one another for various things: "If only you didn't flush those pamper wipes down the drain this wouldn't have happened!". "That kid must have thrown something down the drain!!". "It's because you always use too much toilet paper - it must have clogged the drain now!". Things were getting downright nasty, and even more so because the water that had flooded our family room also had you know what in it.

YUP, the shower drain was somehow connected to the toilet too.

Just lovely.

What a Mess

Needless to say, once again, we had a HUGE mess on our hands. After the initial clean up and tearing out the carpets, we put our heads together again. We decided we must have missed something in the drain.

Die-hards that we are, we once again decided to do the job ourselves. This time we ran the snake as far we could down the drain through the now open toilet drain and kept at it (or should I say my husband kept at it - I was getting discouraged) Hours into the snaking the snake started making a grinding sound, like it had come up against some pressure. We continued snaking. We followed where the grinding sound was coming from and my husband dug down in the dirt. A couple feet under the ground we found the main sewer line leading to the street.and roots growing into and around the pipe. We continued snaking. A few feet away from the grinding sound we eyed the beautiful thriving bougainvillea plant and a light-bulb went off. We had found our culprit!

Roots from the bougainvillea had grown so deep and stretched so far that they had entered the main sewer line and were blocking the sewer pipe. No wonder the bougainvillea was thriving! It had an unending supply of water for it's roots. How convenient! My husband decided to grind through the roots and hours later, we heard the snake clattering away under the street at the manhole. What a blessed sound that was - the snake auger had finally gotten all the way through the pipes!

A snake camera would have shown us the problem!

So after many months and money spent, valuables ruined along with some shot nerves, we finally had great draining pipes (we had to remove the bougainvillea of course) When the bougainvillea was originally planted it was only a wee thing - so nobody ever thought this monster would overtake the pipes the way it did. A valuable lesson learned!

So my advice? If you are struggling with clogged drains, take a look at the trees, plants and bushes around where your pipes are. Consider that roots in your pipes may be the problem and take action accordingly. And a word for the wise, we did find out later that a good plumber with a microscopic camera could have gone down in the pipes and probably found our problem early on. But like they say, hindsight is foresight!

An overview of what we did again:

1. The first thing we did was use Drano according to the instructions on the label (this is the cheapest and first thing we always do for clogged drains)

2. Next we used a small household snake to try to dislodge the clog (when Drano fails this almost always works for us)

3. We rented a snake auger and snaked as much of the system as we could (this is always our last resort when it comes to clogged drains)

4. We removed the bougainvillea plant so the roots would not get back into the sewer pipes and start the whole vicious cycle all over again.

Best advice from our experience: Don't forget to check your clogged drains for those pesky roots!

(Dorsi Diaz is a freelance writer/publisher at HubPages and writes on a variety of things)

How to Use a Drain Snake Auger


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  • Dorsi profile image

    Dorsi Diaz 6 years ago from The San Francisco Bay Area

    @Karen) Yes it was. The other thing we learned was when you have an addition to the house the clean out may not be where you think it is! Thanks for reading.

  • Karen N profile image

    Karen N 6 years ago from United States

    What a nightmare! But I'm glad everything worked out for you in the end. Plumbing problems can be extremely expensive as I'm sure you already know.

  • Dorsi profile image

    Dorsi Diaz 6 years ago from The San Francisco Bay Area

    Oh Howard the thorns are murder. If you had ever got stuck by one you would remember! They ARE pretty on a trellis though!Thanks for coming by!

  • Howard S. profile image

    Howard S. 6 years ago from Dallas, Texas, and Asia

    I've been away from bougainvillea for so long I don't even remember thorns! It's lovely on a trellis, though.

  • Dorsi profile image

    Dorsi Diaz 6 years ago from The San Francisco Bay Area

    @Howard S.) I'll have to recheck with my husband on which drain we last went through. He was working between the big toilet drain (with the toilet off) and another main drain right outside the house. We thought about getting that special root killer for the drain but you have to repeatedly use that to keep the roots at bay so we opted for removing the dang plant. It was a pain in the you know what anyway because off all the thorns. Every time I pruned it I got stabbed. So all around it was a pesky plant!

  • Howard S. profile image

    Howard S. 6 years ago from Dallas, Texas, and Asia

    I had the same question as @livelonger (but was afraid to ask). Smallish drain augers are specially made for toilets, but I imagine it's all a matter of size.

    I am surprised that you had to remove the toilet bowl instead of going through the cleanout shown in the second photo.

    We had these same problems over the past couple of years, though managed to avoid flooding the house. Another difference is that we are on a septic tank system rather than municipal sewer. I wrote a hub about how to treat the roots chemically. It doesn't kill the bougainvillea and postpones replacing the whole septic drain field, which would cost thousands US$!

  • Dorsi profile image

    Dorsi Diaz 6 years ago from The San Francisco Bay Area

    @livelonger) Perhaps a smaller snake would have been OK but we used a metal one and it scratched the inside of the toilet. And it was too big and did not properly go down that smaller hole. Once we took the toilet bowl off and got to the main drain it worked great.

  • livelonger profile image

    Jason Menayan 6 years ago from San Francisco

    OK - is it wrong that I want to know now why you don't recommend using a snake in the toilet?! Yeah, pipes are strange things, and it's amazing that so many things can plug them up and create all sorts of problems. Hope your house is dry, and thank you for sharing your checklist so we don't run into the same problems. :)

  • Dorsi profile image

    Dorsi Diaz 6 years ago from The San Francisco Bay Area

    @Simone) It WAS horrible!! Something I will never forget. I will certainly be careful that I plant NO plants or trees by any plumbing pipes or drains ever!

  • Simone Smith profile image

    Simone Haruko Smith 6 years ago from San Francisco

    Yikes, what a horror story! Very interesting about the snake cameras though- I din't know that some plumbers use that as a tool!

  • Dorsi profile image

    Dorsi Diaz 6 years ago from The San Francisco Bay Area

    @hello,hello) Thanks for coming by. We have had no more problems with the plumbing since we took out that plant. Thanks for asking!

  • Hello, hello, profile image

    Hello, hello, 6 years ago from London, UK

    What a terrible experience. JHopefully everithing is alright now. Take care.

  • Dorsi profile image

    Dorsi Diaz 6 years ago from The San Francisco Bay Area

    Thank you Sweetie. Yes it sure was a mess! Thanks for stopping by and reading.

  • sweetie1 profile image

    sweetie1 6 years ago from India

    Hi dorsi,

    I am sorry you had to go through all of this twice and your living room was flooded but good thing was you learnt about the roots. Out here we dont have this soffosticated thing like cameras or anything but we do have people who specilize in cleaning drains and they would do it at maximum rs 500 ( about 10 $) and it works well.