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Question DetailsAsked on 1/9/2018

toilet is backing up into the tub, paper towels were thrown in the toilet, tried plunging, snake, and toilet auger

thinking toilet auger was too short should I get a longer one? is there anything else I can try? Also tried chemicals, dish detergent and hot water. The clogged tub and toilet are on the 3rd floor of a town home. The second floor bath room and sinks are fine. I read something about a cleanout but don't think I have one, it's a 3 floor townhome.

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Yeah - a toilet augeer is only designed to clear a toilet and the pipe leading directly from it - sounds like your clog is downstream of the toilet, and if the tub is "downflow" in the drain pipe from the toilet, clog is downstream of it too. If tub is "upstream", then the clog downstream of the toilet could be causing backup to the "upstream" clog, because backed up liquid will come out the lowest elevation drain upstream of the clog, so the fact it is backing up in the tub just means the clog is somewhere downstream in the drain piping of both the toilet and the tub.

Also, since you are not getting backup on the second floor, that means one of two things depending on your plumbing configuration.

1) IF the upstairs and lower floor(s) share a common DWV (drain, waste, vent) pipe "stack" or manifold, meaning the main household collector drain line (3 or 4" diameter) goes from upstairs down through the other floors (usually vertically near the core of the house), picking up their waste at wyes into the stack along the way, then almost certainly (ignoring the rare vent system end-run to odd places in the system) the blockage is almost certainly located in the stack or manifold (manifold being the section where all the various toilet fixtures in one bathroom or two back-to-back ones all come together) between the second floor drain connections and the upstairs toilet or tub (whichever of the two is located most downflow).

This is the normal configuration - one vertical "stack" serving all floors (center vertical pipe with roof vent in following image), with each floor having a near horizontal manifold with branches to each fixture on that floor, and picking up contributory manifold lines along the way at wyes into the stack, eventually feeding directly into (usually just under the slab) the underground sewer line to the septic tank or street sewer. Here is a sketch of the typical multi-story house plumbing with a common stack - the second image. The first one also shows your likely situation, though the clog is more likely just before the manifold or branch reaches the stack than in it - commonly at the start of the wye into the stack or, if the tub is downstream of the toilet, at the wye with the tub, especially if the toilet run was not made a straight-through run with the tub wying into it rather than a combined wye or such, which tend to clog more easily.

2) or, if the various floors have separate "stacks" or "risers" - could rarely have individual vertical stack pipes dropping from the bathrooms down to eventually join together at the line to the sewer, then the blockage is downflow of the toilet and tub and before the main combined sewer line - in the stack serving the upstairs bathroom. Sometimes called anoctopus stack system because the various DWV stacks branching up out of the main drain line line like an octopus (actually ore like a cuttlesfish or squid) waving its arms.

Below is what typical bathroom plumbing looks like - of course, various fixtures can appear in any order, but commonly plumbers attempt to route the piping (if there is flexibiity) so the sink is at the upstream end (commonly on 1-1/2 or 2" drain pipe), then increasing to 3 or 4 inch at the wye where it picks up the toilet and shower/tub.

Note in the photo, that if the drain line ran past the tub (so tub drained down into it instead of being at the end of the line) where that extension "upstream" end would be where a cleanout plug would commonly go. In some systems, an upturn to the vent piping would also occur there, where the plumber cheated and provided a "branch air vent" (shown in this drawing as a single one coming up off the basin drain line, which would not be legal nor best practice in most areas) rather than the better individual vent connections at each fixture.

Paper towels are designed NOT to disintegrate in water, just the opposite of toilet paper - so such a clog can persist quite a long time because paper towels mat onto the inside of pipes well and most drain chemicals do not degrade it very well either. You need a Plumber with a long enough snake to reach to the clog (typically a 25 footer is the "standard" full length snake - or a jetting or router tool. Many plumbers but not all will carry one that long. Sewer Cleaning companies can easily handle that length.

Access would not normally be through the toilet because of the sharp bends the snake has to go through, and the likelihood of scratching and leaving metal marks in the bottom of the toilet. Usual solution would be access by removing the toilet and going down through its riser pipe, sometimes by disconnecting the trap under the sink (if likely to be upstream othe clog) and in through the stubout pipe from the wall (though because that is horizontal, andin under the sink, messier and harder to do), or through a cleanout plug.

Cleanout plugs typically look like this - photo in step 1

Cleanouts arer found a lot of places - best located at the upstream end of a branch run, but because of their appearance plus the fact they cannot be hidden in the wall, are not common in residences, or only found just above the slab or in a garage to allow access to the lower portion of the stack - which sounds like it may well be too low for your clog. Sometimes found in the bottom of backing closet walls, occasionally sticking out through the outside wall.

Here are links to a couple of other previous similar situations FYI - especially if considering DIY'ing it -

One recommendation, especially since we are talking paper towels here, and most especially if your sewer line has not been cleaned in the past 10-20 years, is you might free it from the present clog location, but if the sewer run to the septic tank or street (which is almost always low slope) is rough from corrosion, partly root clogged, has an offset joint, or has the usual buildup of soap scum, fibers and grease in it, the clog might just move on down the line and reclog further downstream - causing another backup in houros or days. If yuour main line has not been recently cleaned, or you flush a lot of grease down the sink or a lot of food garbage down the disposal (both bad for sewers), I would spend the typically $100-200 additional (on same trip) to have it routed or jetted all the way to the septic tank or sewer, not just snake the clog.

Answered 2 years ago by LCD

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