Factors to consider in unblocking drains

The cost of unblocking a drain depends on a number of factors which may include:

  • The size and location of the blockage, how easy it is to find and how stubborn it is to shift
  • Accessibility to the blockage – if excavations or groundworks need to occur to find the problem then this will certainly add to the cost
  • When the blockage occurs, evening and weekend call out charges are higher than a call out during standard working hours
  • Where you are in the UK – London and the South East are always more expensive than the regions

In this article, we take a closer look at drain cleaning costs, the factors that affect the prices and how you can quickly and efficiently get your drain cleaned in an emergency.

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How is a drain unblocked or cleaned?

A drain cleaning company will have a range of tools and equipment to both establish the cause and location of the blockage and then remove it.

Simple drain rods which are lengths of semi-rigid tubes that fit together to form the required length to reach the blockage are the starting point and if these work, then a follow-through power flush should complete the job. Water jetting using high-pressure jets are another option but usually, it is a combination of drain rods and water jetting which remove the majority of blockages and most jobs can be completed within one or two hours.

Sometimes it may be necessary to use CCTV to find the blockage – a small camera is inserted into the drain on a length of drain rod. In exceptional circumstances where the drain may have partially collapsed due to the incursion of tree roots, it may be necessary to excavate to find the broken section and replace it. It’s important to understand any blockage risks when installing taps indoors or externally. Take a look at our page on outside tap fitting costs to understand relevant cost factors.

Breakdown of drain cleaning costs

The cost of unblocking and cleaning a drain all depends on how stubborn the blockage is and how long it takes to clear it. A quotation for the work should be broken down as follows:-

  • Call out charge – this will depend upon the time of day or night and whether the call is an emergency or not. The call out charge may equate to the cost of an hour’s labour and some contractors will offer the first hour free effectively as it is covered by the call out charge
  • Labour – this is the time taken to remove the blockage
  • Equipment – a drain clearance contractor will have a range of options when it comes to clearing the blockage, some of these may attract an additional fee

Causes of a blocked drain

These can vary but there are some fairly common culprits including:-

  • Tree roots – these grow and can interrupt pipework further downstream, always be aware of the location of any trees close to your house although sometimes tree roots can cause problems much further away
  • Toiletries – a common cause of blockages and include baby wipes which don’t break down at all and can accumulate into a solid mass, nappies and sanitary products
  • Foreign bodies – it is an occupational hazard if you have a young family that small children will flush toys or other objects down the toilet, they often get no further than the u-bend
  • Cooking oil – cooking oil is too viscous to flow freely and over time, will clump together in large globules attracting food waste and other debris eventually amassing into a solid blockage
  • Food scraps – try and avoid any food waste going down the sink outlet especially coffee grounds and tea leaves
  • Soap – liquid soap is not so much of a problem as the more old-fashioned tablet soap although, over time, liquid soap and bath oils can accumulate with hair and other debris to form a solid blockage
  • Hair – a very common cause of a blockage in a bath or hand basin, a wire mesh guard can help minimise the amount of hair that goes down the plughole

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Tips for clearing a blocked drain

Sometimes the blockage is small enough and localised enough for a householder to try clearing it themselves. It can also depend on where the blockage is as some are simply too inaccessible.

  • A sink or bath can sometimes be cleared with a sink plunger, some hot water and soda crystals
  • Boiling water can have a big impact on blockages caused by a build-up of grease so soap, shampoo and hair conditioner, the heat from the water can help them to break down
  • Try hot water followed by a cup of bicarbonate of soda and a cup of vinegar, leave for ten minutes and then cleanse again with more hot water
  • DIY shops and some supermarkets will sell chemical-based, caustic cleaners which are stronger and more powerful in dissolving grease, fat and oils. Always read the instructions carefully and ensure that there is sufficient ventilation before you use the product
  • It’s always worth keeping a simple sink plunger in the house; these can be bought cheaply from DIY stores. They work by forming a seal around the plug hole and then the act of lifting the plunger away causes a vacuum effect which can help to shift a blockage
  • You can make a DIY drain snake out of a piece of thin, metal wire such as a coat hanger. Create a hook at the end of the snake and try and retrieve the blockage rather than push it further away. This is a good way to remove hair blockages which don’t respond to treatment with soda crystals or chemical products

How to find a drain contractor or plumber?

It is always worth researching these details before you actually have a problem as blocked drains like other household issues, always seem to occur right at the wrong moment. Find the details for two or three local contractors who are recommended by friends or neighbours and who you can call on when you have a problem.

Find out which ones offer 24/7 drain clearance and what their charges are. There are online platforms which can source contractors at short notice, just key in your details and you can receive two or three quotations from people who are readily available to do the job.
It is easy to panic in an emergency and end up paying way over the odds for the cost of cleaning and unblocking a drain just because it is an emergency and you grab the first person you find to do the job. Sourcing the details of one or two good local drain contractors or plumbers before you have a problem should save you money as well as ensuring you have a reputable and experienced professional to do the job.

Try hot water followed by a cup of bicarbonate of soda and a cup of vinegar, leave for ten minutes and then cleanse again with more hot water

Drain Cleaning Cost FAQs

Are there any early warning signs of a blocked drain?

Most drains do not become a problem until they are properly blocked although there are a couple of tell tale signs that things are not running as they should, one is a slow escape of water and the other is a foul smell both of which prompt early investigation. A small blockage may be something you can deal with yourself but once it becomes properly established then you may have no option but to call in a drain cleaning company.

Is there any way I can minimise the likelihood of a blocked drain?

Pay attention to what goes down your drains. Dispose of cooking oil in the food waste bin and always use a drain gate or mesh in both the kitchen and the bathroom. Clean the drains regularly with a handful of baking soda or soda crystals; this can help break down small accumulations of fat and grease before they start to cause problems. Some people swear by a cup of vinegar – let this sit in the drain for a while and then flush through with some hot water.

What are drain rods?

Drain rods are lengths of tube sold in sections of one metre which are screwed together to form a run of piping which is flexible enough to be inserted into the drain and strong enough to push through and clear the blockage. There are various optional attachments and fittings for the end of the drain rods. You can buy drain rods from household DIY stores.

Who is responsible for a blocked drain?

In shared multi-occupancy properties, it can be tricky to work out who is responsible for a blocked drain but in most cases, homeowners and occupiers are responsible for the drains right up to their property boundary. Drains and sewers outside of the property boundary are the responsibility of the local waste and sewerage company or the local authority.

What is the difference between a drain and a sewer?

A drain is a single pipe that transports sewerage or wastewater away from your property. A sewer is a pipe that takes sewerage and wastewater away from a number of drains.

Rich Crossley
Having spent 30 years working all over the world for top-tier investment banks, I’ve owned and developed houses all over the world – Europe, the US and Asia. I’m now based back in the UK and involved in the property industry – oh, and I’m a keen DIY enthusiast!
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