You wash your face after your morning shave, and as you let out the water you notice it's draining slowly. Is this the beginning of a blockage in the basin's trap, or is there a more serious problem with your main sewer line? It's best not to wait to find out. Taking immediate action to resolve a potential blockage can save you money when hiring a plumber later on.
Clearing a basin or tub drain may cost as little as the price of a plunger and 10 minutes of mild exertion, but calling in a professional plumber to snake your main line and clear a severe blockage could cost hundreds of dollars. Understanding when to fall back on the skills of a pro, when to undertake the work yourself, and what steps to take to prevent future blockages makes it easier to manage your finances while also keeping your home plumbing operational.
Types of Drain Clearing and Costs
Blockages range in severity from limiting the speed at which water drains away to completely preventing the water from escaping. Generally, treating the blockage at the first sign of a problem is the most cost-effective and efficient solution, as this is often something you can do yourself. Clearing a blockage may only take an hour of your time, and the only cost is a plunger or a bottle of drain cleaner, making it possible to complete the task for around $20.
The longer you wait to clear the blockage, the worse the problem becomes, until it may be necessary to hire a plumber. One of the main cost factors for a plumber is the hourly rate, which varies by region but is usually $45 to $150.
The total costs to employ a professional vary based on the amount of work involved, but expect to pay around $127 and $280 for parts and labor, an average of $201. Small jobs cost as little as $81, but clearing a severe blockage costs as much as $500.
Clearing a Tub or Sink Drain
Hiring a plumber to clear a simple tub or sink blockage costs $109 to $214. These jobs are usually very straightforward, and the main cost is the labor. Many plumbers charge a call-out fee, or they charge for a minimum amount of labor, regardless of the amount of work involved. Even if the job only takes a few minutes, you could still end up paying a large bill. It's often more economical to attempt to clear a simple drain blockage yourself.
Clearing a Toilet
It costs $109 to $273 to hire a plumber to clear a blocked toilet. This is a less-pleasant task than clearing a sink blockage, but you can still undertake the work yourself if you purchase a household snake tool for $8 to $40. If you do snake your own toilet, wear protective clothing, including gloves and glasses.
Clearing a Main Line
It costs $100 to $800 for a professional company to snake a main sewage line. The costs vary significantly based on the severity of the blockage, the distance snaked, and the amount of time involved. While it's possible to rent an industrial snake for $29 to $70, this is an unpleasant job that you should leave to a professional unless you know what you're doing.
It's not always necessary to hire a professional to resolve a blocked drain. Before you start phoning plumbers to get quotes, try to determine the cause and location of the blockage. If water fails to drain in the kitchen, food debris is the most common cause, while in the bathroom it's most likely hair and soap scum. These are relatively minor blockages and are often easily resolved with a plunger. However, if the blockage is affecting multiple plumbing fixtures then there is probably a blockage in your main sewage line. A blocked main line is a serious issue that may result in flooding if you continue to use water in your home, so immediately stop using your water supply and contact an emergency drain cleaning service.
Assuming you have an isolated blockage in one room in your home, you have the option of trying a few DIY options before bringing in the pros. You should only attempt these steps if you are confident in your abilities and know enough about your plumbing system to work on it without causing additional problems:
Using a plunger: Plungers create a seal around the blocked drain and use suction to free the blockage.
Using a chemical drain cleaner: A more severe blockage may require the use of a chemical drain cleaner to dissolve the debris and sludge inside the pipes. Such products often create noxious fumes while in use and can cause chemical burns if they come into contact with your skin. Acid-based cleaners may corrode the pipes, or even remove the finish on your drain if used without care. When using any chemical cleaner, always wear protective glasses and gloves, and follow all of the manufacturer's instructions on the label. If in doubt, call a professional instead.
Removing the trap: If you can easily access the pipes under the basin, you can remove the U-shaped trap to gain access to the blockage. When you do this, ensure you have a bucket under the basin to catch any water. Some traps are easy to remove by hand, while others require a wrench or some slip-joint pliers.
Snaking the drain: Small household snakes are relatively inexpensive and simple to use. For blockages in the main line, you need a much longer industrial snake.
Many factors affect the overall cost of hiring a plumber to clear a blocked drain, including:
Regional and seasonal price variations: A plumber's hourly rate is often one of the largest cost factors.
The severity of the blockage: While it may be possible to clear a simple blockage in a few minutes, a more severe blockage may require a plumber to snake your pipes, which is much more time consuming.
The number of clogs: Having several clogged fixtures indicates a blockage in the main line, which is more difficult to resolve.
The cause of the blockage: Scum, hair, and food debris are easy to dissolve and flush through the system. However, repairing blockages relating to corroded pipes often involves replacing the pipes. Removing and replacing pipes incurs additional costs for parts.
It's better to prevent blockages in the first place rather than deal with them once they become an issue. A common option for keeping drains working optimally is to regularly flush them with a store-bought chemical drain cleaner. However, over time the harsh chemicals may corrode pipes and the finishes on your fixtures. Where possible, use a non-corrosive bacteriological drain cleaner to eliminate germs and clear sludge without damaging your pipes.
A more cost-effective solution for cleaning drains involves flushing the pipes with hot water, baking soda, and vinegar. Start by pouring a pot of boiling water down the drain, and then pour in 1/2 cup of baking soda. After a few minutes, pour in a mixture of 1 cup of vinegar with 1 cup of very hot water. Leave the solution for up to 10 minutes, and then flush through with more hot water.
Once you have cleaned your drains, try to keep them free from debris. Avoid scraping too much food into your garbage disposal, and regularly remove clumps of loose hair from your shower and tub drains. Where possible, invest in metal mesh screens that fit inside drains to prevent hair and food from entering the pipes.
A blocked drain could be a mild inconvenience or a disaster that leaves your home water-logged, so take action at the first sign of a clog. Clean your pipes regularly with baking soda and vinegar, and invest in a plunger.
If you do need the services of a plumber, shop around for the best rates. It may be difficult to get an accurate price without knowing the nature of the blockage. Aim to get at least three quotes to choose from, but remember that you get what you pay for. It's worth considering paying slightly more to hire a licensed, insured plumber with satisfied customers and excellent reviews. Before agreeing on a price, make sure you understand what the quote covers. Nobody likes an unexpected bill for additional services and parts that weren't included in the original assessment.