How to clean roots from sewer pipes

Updated February 21, 2017

Sooner or later, a home may experience a clash between its landscaping and its plumbing system. Fortunately, digging up and replacing the entire drain line is not always necessary--a quick sewer snaking combined with copper sulphate-based root killer encourages the deterioration of roots, allowing you to clear your lines without trenching and plumbing. If your plants are the culprit behind your drain problems, act quickly--roots are a growing problem.

Search for the cleanout fitting closest to the invasive roots. A cleanout is a threaded drainpipe fitting that allows access to the drain line. Cleanouts commonly appear as pipes protruding from the exterior wall of a home or are behind access doors along the perimeter of the structure.

Detach the plug or cap from the cleanout. Attach a pipe wrench to the fitting's protruding knob and turn counterclockwise to loosen. Finish removing by hand.

Clear the drain line. Feed the auger line into your drain until you encounter resistance from the clog. Crank the drum, if using a manual drain auger, or turn on the power, if using a mechanical drain auger. Continue for several minutes or until a slack in the line indicates that you've broken through.

Remove the sewer snake. If gunk and roots pull out along with the line, you've successfully cleared some of your blockage. Test one of your clogged drains--if it drains a little more quickly, you've made a difference.

Replace the cap or plug on your cleanout. Apply a double-thick layer of thread-seal tape around the threads of the fitting. Wrap the tape in the correct direction so that the cut edge will not catch and unravel as you tighten the fitting.

Add the root-killing compound to your drain system. Excessive water flow flushes the root killer out of your drain system, so the best time to add it is after you have finished using your drains for the evening. Pour the granules or liquid into a toilet bowl, flush once and close the lid.

Add a daily dose of root killer to your drain system for approximately a month. After the initial month, use root killer twice a year.


Don't quit after one run of the sewer snake. Another try might clear an even larger passage.


Never add root killer or drain cleaner to standing water in a completely clogged drain--you risk exposure to harmful chemicals.

Things You'll Need

  • Drain auger (sewer snake)
  • Pipe wrench
  • Thread-seal tape
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About the Author

Based in Hawaii, Shane Grey began writing professionally in 2004. He draws on his construction experience to write instructional home and garden articles. In addition to freelance work, Grey has held a position as an in-house copywriter for an online retailer. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in theater arts from Humboldt State University.