How to Unclog the Pipes Leading to the Septic Tank

A septic system, if maintained properly, is a relatively trouble-free system that can last for many years, even decades in some instances. As reliable as these systems are, pipes will clog even on the best-maintained units. When this occurs, the entire system shuts down and your home is in chaos. Rapid action is required to get your home back to normal. Unfortunately, the action required will not be easy.

Step 1

Locate an access point to your drain line.  In some homes, there will be an access port just outside the foundation, while in other homes it may be in the crawlspace. Most access ports will be an angled pipe fitting with a screw in plug.  Use the pipe wrench to remove the plug. Remove the plug slowly and be aware that water and some sewage may spill out, depending on the location and severity of the clog.  You should wear eye and hand protection when performing this task.

Step 2

If no access port is available, you can remove the toilet nearest the septic tank.  Turn the water off to the toilet and drain as much water from the toilet as possible. Use the crescent wrench to remove the two anchor bolts and then lift the toilet off the drain.  This drain opening will now serve as your access point to the septic line.

Step 3

Place the drain auger as close to the access opening as possible.  Plug in the unit and place the foot activation switch in a convenient location. Slowly feed 3 to 4 feet of the auger's cable into the drain.  Be certain to wear eye and hand protection when using this equipment. While it will have been cleaned somewhat, remember that the auger was in someone else's sewer line just before you rented it. 

Step 4

Keep your hands approximately 12 to 18 inches apart and loosely grip the auger.  You want allow the auger to spin, but remain in your hands at all times. Step on the activation switch and begin feeding the auger cable into the drain.  Feed the cable in slowly, pushing in approximately 6 inches at a time. Be certain not to allow too much cable between your hands.  If that happens, it will try to coil up and possibly slap you very hard against the forearm.

Step 5

Continue to feed the cable into the drain.  As you reach corners you may need to twist and maneuver the cable until it can negotiate the turn. If there is standing water in the drain you will know when the auger hits the clog because the drain will suddenly empty.  Depending on the nature of the clog you can sometimes feel when you hit it and will need to pull the auger back and work through it slowly. Once you feel the clog has been removed, continue to feed in the auger for several more feet, just to be certain. 

Step 6

Reverse the motor on the auger and slowly pull the cable back while feeding it back onto the spool.  Be careful as you near the end of the cable and be certain to turn off the auger before pulling the blades free of the drain. Test the drain, then replace the access cover plug to complete the job. 

Things You Will Need

  • Drain auger
  • Gloves
  • Eye protection
  • Crescent wrench
  • Pipe wrench


  • If you are removing a toilet, be certain to install a new wax ring. These are inexpensive and you definitely want a good seal on the drain.

About the Author

Tom Raley is a freelance writer living in central Arkansas. He has been writing for more than 20 years and his short stories and articles have appeared in more than 25 different publications including P.I. Magazine, Pulsar and Writer's Digest.

Photo Credits

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