DIY Plumbing: Clearing a Drain Cleanout

By on July 21, 2015

Drain cleanouts provide an entry point into home drainage systems so clogs can be removed or a camera inserted to inspect the system. They’re usually located on the large vertical pipes—otherwise known as the main drain—in a basement or crawl space.

Designed so they can be opened and resealed, cleanout fittings are “Y” shaped and capped with a large metal or plastic disk molded with a square fitting to accommodate a wrench.

A cleanout may be blocked if you have more than one backed-up sink, bathtub or toilet in your house. If you’re having problems with multiple drains, your main drain may be blocked.

Try taking on this DIY plumbing project before you call a plumber.

DIY Plumbing Project Overview

Difficulty: moderate
Timing: about one hour

Warning: After opening your cleanout, sewer gas will be able to get into your home. Open a window and place a fan near where you’re working to clear out the gases.

Things you need

  • Large wrench (pipe wrench)
  • Teflon tape
  • Empty pail with a handle
  • Garden hose
  • Plumber’s snake or auger
  • Power auger (optional—can be rented)
  • Old newspaper


  1. Spread old newspaper on the floor where you will be working. Next, hang an empty pail onto the cleanout fitting positioned so it hangs below the cap.
  2. Now, use a large pipe wrench to loosen the cap. Turn slowly and try to control the flow of water that will come out of the drain as you carefully open it. After the water has stopped flowing, remove the cleanout cap entirely.
  3. Feed a plumber’s snake into the drain opening, turning it as you work the cable up through the drain line. When the snake hits the clog, twist it so the tip can snag onto the blockage—then slowly pull the cable back out of the drain. If you don’t find the blockage going up the drain line (vertically), try pushing the snake down the drain line the other way (towards the outside of the house) to find the clog…


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