More often than not, a clog in a toilet, sink, or other plumbing fixture will be solved by the use of a plunger or drain snake used right at the fixture itself. Sometimes, though, the main sewer line itself that carries waste from the house to the city sewer system can get clogged. Many homeowners have experienced the unpleasant symptom of this—a floor drain backing up so that foul, sewage-laden water spreads over the floor.
The main sewer line is the pipe that carries waste from every sink, toilet, and shower in your home, so when it gets clogged, it's a problem that just can't wait. When you call a plumber or sewer specialist to clear the stoppage, you almost always will be asked if you have a clean-out. The cost of the service call will be determined in part by your answer. Augering the main sewer line is fairly easy if there is an accessible clean-out; it's much harder (and more expensive) if the plumber has trouble getting at the sewer line.
It's a good idea for every homeowner to know if they have a main drain clean-out fitting, and where it is located. Do you know where yours is?
What a Clean-Out Looks Like
A clean-out fitting can take a number of different appearances, but most typically it is a 3-inch or 4-inch diameter pipe with a visible cap that can be unscrewed with a wrench. Sometimes the main cleanout is located in the floor, while other times it may be a Y-fitting mounted at the base of the main soil-stack in the house. In larger homes, it's possible there will be more than one sewer clean-out fitting. In warmer climates, the cleanout fitting will be located outside the house, usually close to the foundation, and will be set at ground level.
Where to Find It
Finding a clean-out is not always easy. It is very often found in a utility area, but since it is used infrequently, it's common for homeowners to forget about it and gradually hide it behind shelving, benches, or stored items.
In colder climates, the main clean-out is almost always located inside the house as a protection against freezing, often in a basement. You may see a 3-inch- or 4-inch-diameter pipe stub extending out from the slab floor. The stub out will have a screw-in plug, which is your main drain access. When a clog or stoppage in the main drain line occurs, this will be where you access the line to auger it clear of obstructions.
In slab homes in cold climates, the main clean-out may be in a utility room or attached garage. One way to find it is to visualize a line from a floor drain running out toward the municipal sewer lines, which usually lie beneath the street. In most cases, the main clean-out will be located at some point along this line from floor drain to street.
In warmer regions, the main clean-out is more often on the exterior of the house. You will need to carefully look at all sides of the house to find the sewer clean-out because there could be more than one, and they can be obscured by landscaping. Often, the main clean-out is set into the ground or a concrete slab, with a hinged round cover.
Knowing the location of your main clean-out can save you valuable time when a sewer emergency arises. Make sure everyone in your family knows where it is located.