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Question DetailsAsked on 6/22/2011

Can I use a snake to unclog a basement floor drain?

I have a partially finished basement with the only unfinished room being the laundry room. There is a floor drain that overflows anytime the washing machine drains. I want to avoid getting the carpet in the basement wet at all costs so I need to take care of this problem ASAP. I'm assuming the obvious answer is that there is a clog somewhere in the plumbing. Has anyone had this problem? I'm kind of a DIYer and would rather try to unclog it with a snake myself rather than pay someone $200 to do it. My question is, where should I insert the snake? Can I just go through the basement floor drain or do I need to start at a higher point in the house? I've tried foaming drain cleaner without any success.

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14 Answers

Voted Best Answer

From the sounds of it, you have a clog between the floor drain and the connection to the city sewer (unless you have a septic tank). The lower flow rates of sinks / showers / dishwashers probable don't cause a backup like the washing machine does. A couple of suggestions.

1. Snake the drain line with a spade tip snake, twisting the snake as you advance it. This should clear the partial blockage.

2. If feasable, have your washing machine discharge into a utility sink and put a strainer on the drain to catch the clothing fibre (fibres and grease from the sink probably made the clog in the first place not to mention a garbage disposal).

3. Replace your floor drain with one that has a backflow preventer (looks like there is a ping pong ball in it).

Good Luck

Answered 9 years ago by Pauly326


First, please don't use drain cleaner again. You could eat right through the pipes, especially if they're old. Trust me, I learned the hard way.

Some questions: How much water comes out of the drain when the washer drains - does it seem like all of the washer drainage is coming up? Can you get to a place under the house where you can see the arrangement of pipes? It could be as simple as a partial or complete blockage at the point past where the floor drain and the washer drain connect into the main waste line. Or it could be a more serious problem in that the drain for the washer is slanted and/or connected to the main line incorrectly for proper drainage. Is anything else tied into the main drain at that point? A laundry sink, a bathroom sink, etc? If so does this happen when they drain?

At this point from what you've said I'm suspecting a partial blockage at a point past where the floor drain and the washer drain connect to the main drain. If this problem is recent then that would make sense. In any case I'd suggest snaking from the lowest point - the floor drain - first and then if that doesn't do the trick snake from the washer drain. The washer drain pipe is more fragile, which is why I suggest that order of attack. In either case be very gentle and be sure to keep the snake turning as you retract it, in addition to turning it as you advance it.

Answered 9 years ago by Commonsense


I called a plumber last night and he told me to use the drain cleaner. After doing some research online, a lot of people advised against using chemicals. It only seems to overflow when the washer drains and it tends to be quite a bit of water. I've read online that it may only flood when the washer drains because there is a large quanitity of water draining at one time with quite a bit of pressure behind it. Sinks and showers drain more slowly and without all of the pressure. I'll try snaking the drain from the basement. There is no way to get under the house to check the pipes. If snaking through the basement drain doesn't work, I may just call a drain cleaning service company. I've heard of people cracking weak pipes by applying too much pressure with the snake. I certainly don't want to take that risk. I might be better off with letting a professional do it. I've looked at some of the companies on the List and checked out the member reports. It looks like this job should run under $200. Thanks for the advice!

Answered 9 years ago by Austin


I understand your concerns about damaging your pipes and I think you're being very prudent. But I also think if you gently snake the pipe you might have satisfaction, and if it doesn't work then you could call out someone to clear the line. I'm amazed a plumber recommended the chemicals - could it be he didn't want to work? [:O]

Answered 9 years ago by Commonsense


Just to add my two cents worth....chemicals = bad. I don't know about Commonsense's experience, but I've got one that could make your skin crawl. IMHO, unless it's a minor hair clog in a sink, chemicals can do more damage than good. I'm a big DIY'er, but I'm also a big fan of hiring a professional when need be because the $200 you might pay them is a lot cheaper than the $2000 you might have to spend to fix any mess you might make.

And I'm shocked a plumber suggested chemicals also. When I told my plumber chemicals caused my mess, he darn near had a stroke.

Answered 9 years ago by Chastity1053


Yes, a plumber suggesting chemicals is like a doctor suggesting witchcraft.

My experience was when I was living in a rented townhouse by myself. It was Christmas eve and my tub would not drain (only tub/shower in the house). I left a message for the landlord, but then I thought "maybe I can take care of this myself, clever me" so I bailed out the water and poured Liquid Whatzit down the drain. Nothing happened, so like an idiot I poured more in and filled up the tub to have a lot of pressure behind it. I was still waiting for it to work when one of my cats ran upstairs acting all freaked. He led me downstairs to the kitchen which was right below the tub, where there was a steady stream of water coming THROUGH the light fixture (eek!), across the cabinets, down through the cabinets by way of all my food, and onto the counter and then the floor. Of course there was a tubful of water mixed with Liquid Whatzit built up behind it, so I could look forward to a huge mess.

I called my landlady again and managed to get her on the phone. "But it's Christmas Eve," she screamed at me. "I know," I said. "Guess what? It's Christmas Eve for me too, and yet the water is still pouring through the ceiling." (I didn't admit to her that I'd used the chemical, because by now I realized my mistake.) She told me to try to find a plumber and pay for it myself and then take it off the rent, but I refused because that wasn't my job and I didn't have that kind of money up front. It soured the relationship with her permanently, because apparently she was of the firm opinion that emergencies should only happen when it was convenient for her.

So. . .no chemicals in pipes. None. Zip, zilch, nada. Considering how extremely caustic these things are and therefore how dangerous not only to the user but to the ecosystem, I don't feel they should even be sold.

Answered 9 years ago by Commonsense


Okay, you win. My experience was similar to yours in that if a little bit is good, then a whole bottle (or two) must be even better!

I had a clog in the tub, so I dumped several bottles of some chemical down the drain. I didn't have water pouring through my light fixtures, but rather every little last ounce of hair, soap, goo, etc. came bubbling back up through the pipes and flooded the tub a nice blackish rust color. Not bad, but for the fact I was having the house appraised for refinancing purposes later that day. So the appraisal guy does his inspection, notices the "aroma" coming from my bathroom, poked his head in, and noticed the black swamp that took over my tub.

He wondered aloud if I was planning on getting that fixed because faulty plumbing takes away from a home's value. No, I was planning on leaving it like that.

Answered 9 years ago by Chastity1053


Actually, I think you win since you were having an appraisal later that day and I was only renting.

Did the guy actually ask you if you were planning to have it fixed? Were you tempted to tell him the tub was full of earth from your native land and if it went down the drain you would be unable to rest for eternity? [8o|]

Answered 9 years ago by Commonsense


Dead serious. The guy actually asked me if I was planning on having that problem fixed. Like I said, no, I wasn't planning on having it fixed. I enjoy taking a shower in black goo sludge up to my ankles.

Darn near spit the soda out of my mouth when I read your comment....

Answered 9 years ago by Chastity1053


Now that I stopped laughing about the backed up bathtub tales - what a hoot! TY, TY, TY~

Only when the washer is used?:

Presuming the washing machine pump is working at speed/correctly, there may be a clogged drain. try using a "snake" youself or hire a plumber who should be prepared to use a power auger. If the washer backs up again, you need to explore further (tree roots in the drain or worst case scenario a collapsed sewer pipe). A less expensive possibility might be the drain pipe bracket(s) failed and the drain pipe shifted compromising the gradient for a downward flow into the sewer system. easy fix, if interior pipes are accessible.

Me? I learned to call a reputable plumber - last time was no charge! because he didn't have to crawl under the house!!!

Answered 9 years ago by #N/A


My two cents...

<>I had exactly the same problem. Turns out I had a pine tree out front growing roots into the sewer pipe blocking

<><>the drain from the whole house out to the street. (and it would back up into my basement floor drains -- yuk)

<><>I had them rotoroot it, and the problem disappeared, but I know thats only a temp fix.

<><>Dont know your situation, but it might be similar to my prob. FYI<>

Answered 9 years ago by davidjaybrown



I feel there is some block in the pipe which is connected to Utility Sink. Try unclogging the utility sink with snake from top.


Utility Sink


Kitchen Sinks, Bar Sinks, Utility Sinks, Bathroom Sinks

Answered 9 years ago by Utility Sinks


You can snake your own drain. The problem sometimes lies in the fact that IF there is a broken pipe or tree roots snaggin then clogging the pipe and this type of situation is left untreated then the plumbing bill will be more in the long run. It will be more because if a pipe collapses which occurs in 40 yr old + pipes then are not maintained, a patch or relining of a broken section cannot be done. The whole yard, basement floor or whatever, would have to be dug to put in a new pipe. This is a messy and expensive job compared to pipe stent or other trenchless type repairs


Answered 8 years ago by MightyMo


If it is overflowing at the basement floor drain, then the blockage has to be downstream of that point, so that would be a good point to try snaking from. Since it is not happening with regular sink, shower, dishwasher, etc flow you only have a partial blockage that will let 5 gallons or less though OK, but not the 10+ gallons all at once from the dishwasher. I would guess a bathtub emptying causes the same bubbling up.

If snaking does not work from the floor drain, then try a point further downstream. Do you have a downstairs toilet, garage floor drain, etc downflow from that floor drain. Frequently semi-floating solids and grease build up at the wye's to that sort of drain and block the intersection, especially if it is not frequently used, as with a basement guest bathroom (or stubbed out and unused basement toilet or tub connection) or garage floor drain. Try snaking and flushing from those points if the floor drain snaking does not work.

When snaking be sure to have water running somewhere upstream of where you are snaking, so what you scrape off goes down the pipe immediately - else you can turn a partial clob into a full blockage. It helps to have someone else watching any basement drains when doing this, so they can run and shut off the water if it starts backing up on you. Also, if you have a crawl space, there may be cleanout plugs there you can snake / flush from.

Typically, there will be a vertical cleanout pipe very close outside the house as well (typically about 3" or 4" cast iron or black ABS plastic; may have a square-head xxxx -in plug or more likely a rubber cap held on with a stainless steel scre clamp). Remove the cover, and take a strong flashlight and shine it down there at a time the drain is backing up to see if it is backing up in that riser - if so, then your blockage is between the house and the street, not in or under the house (unless there are two). If the blockage is in or under the house, you will see a flow dropping into the riser where the sewer comes out from the house, and flowing freely down the riser into the lower (about 6 feet deep, typically) sewer run to the street. At least initially when you start running water full force, that flow will be less than is going into the pipe because it is backing up in the pipes under the house.

Having been down this road myself a couple of times, I have to say that snaking itself yourself may temporarily alleviate the problem, but only the full-diameter cutting edge of the power router used by a sewer and drain contractor really returns the pipe to full diameter, while also removing the grease and toilet tissue buildup in the pipe, which generally needs to be routed out every 5-10 years anyway.

Answered 7 years ago by LCD


The Plumber inserted a 45 foot snake/eel in a higher point in the sewer pipe higher/above the floor drain found & cleared out the blockage. Sewer pipe is draining properly now. We vacuumed up about 5 or 6 gallons of water with our wet shop vac, the rest of the water went down the floor drain. The water was clear & no smell.

Answered 7 years ago by wvlordan

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