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.

  Leave a reply


  1. Ivy Baker

    It is good to know that drain cleaning does seem like a tricky thing to do. I liked that you pointed out that clearing drains is really messy. Personally, I would want to get an expert to clean my drains.

  2. Ivy Baker

    I liked that you pointed out that you should always wear sturdy rubber gloves when you are unblocking a drain. It does seem like there could be some really nasty stuff in a blocked drain. Personally, I would rather have a plumber handle the process of cleaning a drain for me.

  3. amzoun9595

    It seemed fine until a couple of weeks ago and now has got rapidly worse! I’ve poked around with pens, forks, etc. as far as I can see, and pulled out a little bit of hair but can’t see anything major. The pipe seems to bend 90 degrees after a short distance so it’s tricky to find anything better to poke around with.

    I’ve also tried putting bleach and Domestos unblocker down there but no difference…

    We bought a plunger and then found it doesn’t work as the shower tray is ridged so it can’t create a vacuum around the plughole 🙁

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