How to safely remove stuck manhole covers

Michal Zacharzewski/

A metal manhole cover protects and secures the holes that lead to underground drains or sewer systems, plumbing, or buried utility lines. Occasionally, these manhole covers become stuck and are difficult to remove safely.

If you need to remove a stuck manhole cover for troubleshooting purposes, such as to fix water or plumbing problems, use safe methods to do so.

Clear the manhole cover area with a shovel if dirt and debris have built up around the manhole cover. Not only does such debris make removal difficult, but you also want to limit the amount of debris that falls into the hole underneath the cover. Use a heavy duty broom to further clear the area.

Pressure wash the manhole cover's rim. Corrosion, rust and hardened dirt can adhere to the manhole cover, securing it firmly to the ground.

Review the manhole cover's design to determine the best method to safely remove it. Typically, modern manhole covers come in two designs: manhole covers with holes in the top, or solid-surface manhole covers. To safely remove a solid-surface manhole cover, continue to Step 4. To open a manhole cover with one or more holes in its top, skip to Step 5.

Use a magnetic manhole cover lifter dolly to safely remove a solid-surface manhole cover. A manhole dolly usually can be purchased where hardware is sold. These dollies use industrial-grade magnets to lock onto the manhole cover's metal surface. Place the dolly's magnets over the cover and lower to secure. Once the magnets have connected with the metal, use the dolly's crank to turn its gears and lift the cover. Once the cover is lifted, wheel the dolly to the side to expose the underground hole.

Use a manhole cover hook to safely remove a manhole cover with one or more built-in holes. A manhole cover hook is made of impact-resistant metal. Insert the hooked end into the hole and lift at a slanted 45-degree angle. As you lift one edge, pull it toward you so that the lifted edge rests on the ground. When you have one edge up, continue pulling to slide the cover away from the hole rather than trying to lift it vertically.