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How to Clean Residential Water Pipes

Gail Marie

Buying a home means being responsible for much more than just the structure. The property is also the homeowner's responsibility, as are the sewer pipes under the property that go from the structure to the main sewer line (which the city is responsible for).

Water pipe

Keeping these residential water pipes clear of gunk will lessen the likelihood that sewage will overflow into your home through your drains, creating a stinky mess. If they are already dirty, locate the main pipe that runs from your house to the sewer (called a lateral) and use an auger to clean the debris and/or buildup. If the pipes are in good shape, be proactive to keep them that way.

  1. Locate the lateral (main pipe running from your home to the main sewer line under the street) on your property's survey documents. If you do not already have these, contact the city planning or public works departments to get them. You can also locate the lateral by finding the cleanout, which is a pipe that runs from the lateral above ground on your property as an access point. Cleanouts usually have removable caps or plugs on the top.

  2. Set a container below the cleanout before loosening the plug or cap enough to let water and waste flow into it.

  3. Wait for the water/waste to stop flowing. Remove the plug/cap and insert a drain pipe auger (also called a sewer snake).

  4. Rotate the auger reel clockwise and push the auger wire into the lateral through the cleanout. Stop every few inches to turn on the water and wash out the debris that was broken up by the auger.

  5. Use a drum auger, a motorized plumber's auger with removable blades on the end, to cut through tree roots and other major clogs. The blades will readily break plastic or copper plumbing, so use with caution or hire a professional to do it for you. Some drum augers come with cameras attached to the end allowing the user to see the inside of the residential water pipe.

  6. Routinely pour boiling water down your kitchen, bathroom and laundry drains to keep them clear of debris. If clogs form, pour 1 cup of baking soda and then 1 cup of ammonia down the clogged drain. Immediately flush with at least 2 quarts of boiling water.

  7. Tip

    Hire a plumbing contractor to inspect and clean your water pipes regularly. (Search "plumbing contractor" in yellow pages.) Older homes may require more frequent inspections than newer homes. Discuss the adequate frequency with your plumber. Plant trees or shrubs far away from the lateral, especially those with shallow root systems (like willows), because roots can grow into the pipes. This is one of the few proactive steps you can take as a homeowner to prevent blocked or punctured water pipes. Use drain strainers in all sinks. Install a garbage disposal under your kitchen sink to grind up any food that makes its way into the drain before going through your pipes.


    Do not pour oil or grease down your drains. Fats, oils and grease (FOG) enters your drain as a liquid but harden as they travel through your water pipes. A FOG plaque builds up and can eventually block your lateral.

    Do not pour toxic chemicals down your drains to clean your water pipes, which introduces contaminants into a potable water system. (Back flow preventers, vacuum breakers and other technologies are meant to help prevent accidental contamination.)