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We have a drain that backs up when a few gallons of water are put down it over time. The back pressure forces the water out through the toilet drain seal, leaving the water pouring into our basement. We have a plumber coming to fix this under our home warranty but I was wondering what it would take for me to fix this myself in case it should happen again.

What equipment would I need and what steps would I need to take?

There is an access point to the drain somewhere around where I think the blockage might be.

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You might try a live-culture cleaner like Bio-Clean (bio-clean.com). A plumber I worked with recommended it. –  Jay Bazuzi Dec 8 '10 at 14:28
    
@Jay: The plumber we had out did indeed recommend something like that after he had finished cabling. –  Jeff Yates Dec 9 '10 at 3:04

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I was afraid of doing this the first time; but after a plumber let me assist him I saw it was pretty basic. When you want to clear a drain pipe you want to consider the diameter of the pipe and the material of the pipe. The size of the pipe will determine what size bits you want to use. Bits come in a variety of sizes and shapes to handle different size pipes and types of blockage. Since you are overflowing at the toilet seal, I'm going to assume you want to clear your main line which is going to be pretty big.

The size of the bit will also determine the thickness of the cable you need to use. If you use a cable that's too thin for the bit, it will bind up and could become a twisted mess when it hits the blockage. For most jobs, the power drain cleaner you can rent at Home Depot is sufficient.

An important point is to go slow and use a low speed until you get to the blockage. The thing you want to avoid is to have the bit banging around with so much force that you damage the pipe, especially if you have a brittle material like clay. Start with a small bit to see how far the blockage is and how tough it is. Work the small bit through the blockage if you can, and then replace the bit with a larger one and repeat until you have the pipe cleared.

The 'tricky' part is working through the blockage without twisting the cable. You don't want to push the cable, just let it pull itself through the pipe and blockage. You also want to make sure to wear a pair of thick leather gloves. If the cable does twist up it will protect your hands and fingers from getting seriously pinched.

If you think there is some kind of damage or other serious issue, you can rent a camera to inspect the inside of the drain pipe. Most of them will also give you a distance measurement and record the video. This would be useful if you have to bring in a professional plumber.

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Thanks, Chris. We had the plumber out today and it was certainly an event. Once he got access to the drain, a 4-inch wide, 6 foot snake of cottage cheese consistency "stuff" came oozing out. He said it must've been backed up for possibly years and was amazed that our kitchen and bathroom had been draining at all. A lovely afternoon cleaning up the basement - thanks to the people who sold us the house, I guess. –  Jeff Yates Dec 9 '10 at 3:06

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