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My downstairs toilet is the last fixture hooked up to the house drain line before it makes its way to the public sewer system. This line between the toilet and the public sewer gets clogged periodically.

Unclogging this usually means calling a plumber who will remove the toilet and put a large head snake in and snake it from the point where the toilet connects to the street. Being Bergen County, NJ, that runs $300+ depending on the time of day.

What's the best equivalent solution that I can do as a homeowner? I'd rather not remove the toilet. Can I get a 3" snake and run it out to the street? Would that damage the toilet?

What's the best method to clear the drain in this situation? If it's a snake, then what kind of snake? It is about a 30-40 foot run to get from the toilet out to the street.

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    Why is it periodically clogging? It might be worth investigating that. It's not normal. – Matt Oct 13 at 20:08
  • Good point. The plumbers who have been there have suggested that the pipes are old and the path is quite twisted (not a straight shot). I'm afraid that any solution to fix the root of this problem will be very expensive... – JoshK Oct 13 at 20:22
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    Yes, a proper fix may be expensive but $300+ every time it clogs, assuming is does no further damage, is expensive too. You could purchase or rent the same type of equipment that the plumber uses and do the job yourself. It wouldn't take long to recoup the investment. You could also decide it's time to fix it properly and get some quotes on that. These days there are multiple options beyond the old-school "dig it up and bury a new one" that was used in the past. – jwh20 Oct 13 at 20:28
  • Yeah, so my strategy for now is to try to get the right tool to just unclog myself. That will let me by time and save the incremental $300's.... – JoshK Oct 13 at 20:33
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As others have suggested, knowing why it backs up is key. For that, a reputable plumber with a camera can find the absolute answer. If it's damaged pipes there is no other long term option than replacing the main. If it's backing up due to bends or joints then installing a cleanout would be the best option for cleaning it out yourself in the future. Then you could buy your own sewer machine (I've seen them as low as $150 on CL) and deal with it yourself. With a cleanout installed you could also have a service plumber clean out the line for about $85-$100 per visit in the future.

Alternatively, you can add products to the line yourself to maintain it, things like a lye-based gel or heavy duty main line cleaners such as Liquid Plumber, to keep some of the solids or semi-solids from accumulating to the point of backing up the line in the first place.

Lastly, have you checked to see if the local sewer/water company offers main line insurance? Here at my house it's like $10 a month and covers main line failures. After signing up it would be wise to wait at least a month or two before filing a claim on that.

Good luck!

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