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What is a Sewer Clean Out?

Plumbing snakes are used to remove sewer blockages.
The sewer clean outs on city property tend to have larger openings.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 15 September 2014
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A sewer clean out is a capped pipe which provides access to a sewer line, allowing people to clean out blockages in the sewer. In many regions, sewer clean outs can be found along the lateral sewer line, the sewer line which connects a home's plumbing to the municipal plumbing. Lateral clogs and the sewer clean out are the responsibility of the property owner. Larger sewer clean outs are also located at intervals along the municipal sewer line, so that water and sewer employees can clear blockages in the part of the sewer system which is the city's responsibility.

Most home owners are concerned with the clean outs on their properties. Sewer clean outs are often situated near each home on a property, and at the property line, providing several points of access. It is a good idea to know where each one is located, and to keep the surrounding area clear so that the clean outs can be accessed in a hurry. When a blockage does arise, quick access can be critical to prevent overflow. In regions which are prone to snow, a sewer clean out may be located in a basement, so that it will be accessible in the winter months.

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The pipe can usually be opened by hand or with a wrench and cleared with the use of a plumbing snake or augur, a tool which consists of a long coiled cable attached to a large head. The head is shoved into the pipe and the coil is pushed, forcing the head through the blockage to clear it and promoting a free flow of materials through the sewer line. It is also possible to investigate a blockage with the use of a plumbing camera.

Homeowners should also alert renters to the location of the sewer clean out, so that the renters can reach it quickly in an emergency. If a homeowner does not know where the sewer clean out is, a city employee or licensed plumber may be able to locate it. In the event that one has not been installed, homeowners must usually apply for an installation license, and then hire a plumber to fit one, although some cities install them free of charge as a service to their customers.

The sewer clean outs on city property tend to have larger openings, reflecting the increased diameter of municipal pipes. City employees can use snakes and other equipment to clear blockages which have developed in the city's sewer system. If blockages recur in a particular area, city employees may ask neighboring residents to exercise more discretion about the materials they flush.

If a home's sewer connection appears to be backing up, the water should be turned off, and the cause of the backup should be investigated. The problem is often located in the lateral line, and a quick visit to the sewer clean out will resolve the issue. If the plumbing continues to be clogged, it may be time to call the city and report a sewer blockage on their side of the property line.

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anon935343
Post 7

A possible addition to this article: In Canada, at least, there are often numerous cleanouts on each branch off the main sewer line, generally tucked behind cabinets. Thus, if only the sink (toilet/shower/whatever) is blocked, or if only the one bathroom is blocked, you can use the clean out for the sewer line directly from the problem area, rather than having to go through the entire house, which saves you a lot of time (and money, if you're paying your plumber by the hour). I kind of expected this would be standard since it's the easiest way to get access to a specific branchline where the problem is; steering augers into the proper path of a junction is a royal pain.

@anon167424 (The guy with the sinkhole issues): I'm afraid the city doesn't really know what it's talking about. The presence or absence of an opening that gives access to the sewage line into your home is irrelevant to the geological forces that cause sinkholes to develop. There are a number of other things that might cause it:

Natural ground conditions from the natural erosion of limestone or other rock types that are similarly susceptible to water erosion. Sinkholes are just like caves; they just open up rather than sideways.

Poor foundations. Standards for road construction are awfully poor in North America. Whenever there's a major flood incident, you'll see lots of footage of roads that have been washed out, particularly when they're over fill (rising above the natural ground). The powers that be refuse to understand this and keep rebuilding the roads the same way, which leaves geologists more than a bit annoyed. If you have a lot of groundwater activity in the area, the foundation issue would cause a sinkhole.

Broken pipes. Same issue with the foundations as above, but an old sewer or water line that breaks is going to leak large volumes of water. So, even if you don't naturally have a lot of groundwater activity, you now have far more than nature would ever throw at you. And in the case of a leaking water main (pressurized to 60 psi in my hometown), it only takes a day or two to cause critical damage.

And unfortunately, no, the city's not going to be liable. They installed the pipes properly -- just a long time ago and they need new ones. They built the foundation of the roads to spec, except the specs are useless.

anon345085
Post 6

The county replaced the sewer lines in our area. They gave us a clean out but it is 9feet under ground with no surface access. Is this within code and is it standard practice?

anon285061
Post 5

My primary clean out is in my front yard in the ground (at grade) about three or four feet from my foundation. There is another clean out coming out of the wall on the back of my house about one foot up from grade. It shares the wall with the kitchen sink but is not aligned with the sink drain necessarily.

Could you tell me what the purpose of this clean out is and give me some idea of how it is plumbed inside the wall? The house was built in 1984.

anon167424
Post 4

You would have to hire a plumber like I did and I didn't have one which is what my city claimed caused the sinkhole on my street.

I put a clean out closed to city sewer lines but connected to my lateral sewer lines. The cost is around $3,000 but plumber recommended replacing old terra cotta pipe with copper and install second clean out as the base of home to prevent backflow in my home. Total cost is $7,500 -- the joys of home ownership!

anon167049
Post 3

Not everyone has a clean-out. I do not and my local sewer company will not put one in even though I offered to pay for it.

moonTiger
Post 2

@PandaGolden – Your local government office should have sewer maps of your area. They may not always be accurate, but the map gives you a starting point. Another thing you can do is locate your property lines by getting a map of your neighborhood from your county deed office. If you can find out where your property ends and where the sewer is on your property, you may be able to locate the sewer cleanout.

PandaGolden
Post 1

So, if you look around your property and in your basement and can’t find your sewer clean out, how do you find where it is? Is there someone that would know where it is?

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