The Cottage Smallholder


stumbling self sufficiency in a small space

How to unblock a drain. Tips and tricks for the self sufficient.

Drain rods and attachments

Drain rods and attachments

When I stepped out of the car this morning I noticed a large puddle in the drive.
“It must have rained hard when I was out.” I thought.

Then I noticed the seepage from the drain cover and that pervasive smell. Sewage.

This is not a leave until later job. Raw sewage seeping down the drive is a health hazard. Most city dwellers have to call in a Drain Cleaning Company – with an impressive van and expensive jet cleaning equipment. Even though they are wearing overalls they don’t really need to get their hands dirty. Just lever off the drain cover, shove the turbo charged rod in deep and switch on.

Country bumpkins like me tend to have our own drain rods and if I did move back to a city I’d definitely take them with me. I’ve had mine since I moved in 20 years ago. The drain blocking culprit is our beautiful willow tree. It stands ten feet away from the drain and like a determined dictator, its tiny black roots search far and wide to maintain the lofty tree. These tiny roots can break through drainpipes and concrete.

We had the drains rebuilt a few years ago but that little black roots of pesky willow have silently, steadily infiltrated the drain again. The tree has to go which is a shame as I love it.

There are four rules for successfully unblocking a drain. Never, ever think about what the effluent actually is. Always wear sturdy rubber gloves that can be washed after the deed is done – you will be handling rods that have ventured deep into the blockage. Stand well back – it can be a bit splashy when the drain gurgles with relief and starts to empty.  And, most important of all, remember to always turn the rods the same way so they don’t unscrew in the drain. The Penultimate Paramour lost some rods in our drain once but managed to retrieve them as I squawked with horror from the kitchen – I never discovered how he managed to achieve this feat. Was it luck or skill?

Today’s job took an hour and a half. The drains were blocked from the road right back to the cottage in two directions – approximately 120’. The sort of backup that would have a professional drain busting team rubbing their hands with joy at the thought of the fee. I remember back in the 1980’s in London, a friend paid £400 for her drains to be cleared. That’s why I originally invested in my rods. They were £14.99 at the time and seemed a bargain. It’s worth investing in a set with good brass fittings and attachments – they should last a lifetime.

The rubber plunger is best for clearing the matted willow roots, despite their persistence in finding moisture they are quite delicate when faced with a sturdy disk, wielded with a determined hand.

You need to work out the distance from your drain cover to the main drain on the road outside. Each of our rods is a yard long so it’s easy to work out how far the line of rods has penetrated. Moving the rods back and forth eventually will dislodge any blockage and with a wonderful gluggy and messy gurgle everything eventually sloshes steadily away. This can take some time and you need to babysit the drain as you might need to plunge again.

Finally when everything looks clear enough to impress the pickiest of surveyors you have succeeded! Then all there’s left to do is the satisfactory slow washing the drain, cover and rods with a hose. Throw your gloves into the washing machine. Pop on the kettle for a well earned cup of tea after sterilising the rods with boiling water. The last step is the best – the triumphal return to the cottage and chest banging announcement.
“I’ve cleared the drains.”
Clearing drains is messy, yes. But it earns you a zillion Brownie points that can be cashed in for months. Danny is busy cleaning the bathroom as my fingers fly across the keyboard.

Even if you don’t have a hungry willow tree drain rods are reasonably inexpensive and a great investment. We have used them to unblock the main drain too, when nappies from the long gone next door neighbour’s baby caused a problem. The rods also double as chimney sweeping rods – the chimney brush heads available at your local builder’s merchant should fit your rods.

Although I sometimes curse them when I fall over them in the barn, I wouldn’t be without my drain rods. They have saved me loads of money over the years.


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15 Comments

  1. Jono / Real Men Sow

    I had to do this when we moved into our house.

    ‘Never, ever think about what the effluent actually is,’ is excellent advice.

    Once I’d got over that I found the job strangely satisfying!

  2. Yes, drain clearing is indeed strangely satisfying- and the thought of the money saved makes it even MORE so!

  3. Interesting. Here in the states we use an article called a snake to do the job. It’s a long metal thingy that is constructed so that it can be coiled up for storage, but it has a crank on one end and you go at the blockage with gusto, cranking away. My parents had one because we eight kids were constantly blocking the drains with one thing or another. Until the day I dropped my toothbrush in the toilet. So I flushed it. No more problem, and I didn’t have to reach in there to get it, not that I’d ever use it again. Or so I thought. A couple of toilet uses later and the toilet was backing up. Mom barked orders: you- go get the bucket! you- go get the mop! you-go get the snake! We scattered and hurried back with the goods. But no luck. She had to call the plumber. I finally admitted that I’d flushed my toothbrush, so eighty of my hard earned babysitting dollars later, we had a toilet we could use. To this day, I keep the lid to the toilet closed, especially when I’m brushing my teeth!

  4. When we bought this house, the vendor said “We’ll leave you the drain rods. You’ll need them.” “Nice, we thought. Why not tell us this sooner?”
    We live in a bungalow on a steep hill. The drain runs at the back of the house, which is on the uphill side! Builders, eh? This means that the drop from the bathroom, kitchen and utility room drains are a matter of inches.
    Within days of moving in, we had to get the rods out. Their fault, not ours, if you get my drift.
    We now use the powderiest loo paper we could find, which seems to help, but still have problems with leaves getting under the drain covers, and moss coming off the roof and down the drain pipes. Apparently building regs. do not allow houses to have roof water going into drains anymore, but this is the way our house was built.
    The really odd thing is that hubby seems to relish this job! At the hint of “I think the drains might be blocked” out come the rods and hose pipe (we use a jet gun on the end – brilliant), and he’s happy as Larry for an hour. Until I read your post I thought it was a boy thing!

  5. janerowena

    Even our local church loves my drain rods – they used them to get a feather duster up to the 30′ high ceiling to get rid of the cobwebs!

  6. At my last house my next door neighbour and I were dab hands with drain rods. Neither of us owned a set but the man across the road was always willing to lend us his (he never volunteered to help though!). Haven’t had to use my skills since I moved here though.

  7. Terrier

    We have septic tank and no mains drainage, we have a land soak-away that is about 100yds from the house and probably once a year we get the old rain rods out to give the whole system a bit of a clearout. Smell job, but as you say, strangely satisfying.

  8. A neighbour has a set we have borrowed; a combined drain runs under our side passageway and has blocked a couple of times. If he ever moves away I might have to get a set of my own.

  9. RULE 5: Always hang on tight to the rods when the block starts to clear… the suction can pull them out of your slippery rubber gloved hands and disappear down the drain like the proverbial rat…. speaking from experience! x

  10. We too invested in drain rods, best bit of money we ever spent. The next best bit of money we spent was on the carry case from screwfix costs under a tenner. Pre carry case days they would be put in the corner of the shed and in time fall over and scatter so when we needed them they were a pain to find and get out.
    Like you we too have bought the chimmney sweep brush for the top but haven’t used it yet.

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