How to remove tree roots from sewer lines

Updated April 17, 2017

Tree roots in the sewer drain need to be cleaned out if you want your water to drain out properly. Nothing is worse than seeing water standing in your sink or coming back up through another drain spilling out onto the floor. Tree roots have a knack for finding a weak place in the sewer pipes, usually where the pipes join. They start out like a small hair, but will continue to grow until it fills the sewer pipe. You can call a professional to do the job, or you can do the job yourself and save a lot of money.

Locate your clean-out plug. It is generally found on the main sewer drain right below where the pipe exits the house. Other homes have their clean-out plugs located outside. It is a long PVC pipe coming from the main sewer pipe with a cap on top.

Set a 5-gallon bucket under the clean-out plug. Loosen the plug, but do not take it completely out. Allow the excess water and debris to run into the bucket. When no more water comes out, you can remove the plug.

Insert the end of either your electric snake or the manual snake into the open pipe. Push it toward the outdoors. For a manual snake, rotate the reel in a clockwise motion.

Continue to feed the snake through the pipe until you hit some resistance. This will indicate that you found the area of tree roots. Reverse the direction of the snake by a few feet. Then reverse the motor again and push the snake forward. Repeat the forward backward motion until the tree roots are cleared from the pipe.

Pull the snake back out of the drain hole. Make sure you have your bucket under the drain to catch the tree roots you have cut off and snagged. With a towel wipe the cord as it comes out of the drain hole to minimise the mess.

Pour three or four buckets of hot water into this drain. Watch to see how the water flows. If it is still slow, you may need to repeat the process until the water drains well.

Wrap the clean-out plug’s threads with Teflon tape and then replace it on the drain. This will make removing the plug easier the next time you need to remove the plug.

Check to make sure the plug is in tight. If the plug is not in tight, you will allow sewer gas and sewer water to leak.


You can rent or buy your own sewer snake at most plumbing supply stores. Be careful when forcing the snake through, as it may not be the clog. It could be the side of your pipe. Wear gloves and old clothes when working with the sewer lines.

Things You'll Need

  • Snake
  • 5-gallon bucket or bigger
  • Towels
  • Teflon tape
  • Gloves
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About the Author

Gail Delaney is a writer in South Dakota and has articles published online at various websites. She is the garden editor for BellaOnline, with years of gardening experience. Being the caretaker of her parents led her in the direction of medical issues, especially natural remedies.