Once upon a time, I owned a house with old pipes and lots of trees in the yard. Over time, the roots of those trees twisted and grew around my main drain line that transported wastewater and, well, waste to the sewer line out front in the street.
Eventually, those tree roots cracked into that main drain line and clogged it up. I had to call a plumber out every so often to clean out the pipes with a drain cleaning machine. Also called an electric drain cleaner or sewer cleaning machine, these large auger tools feature a rotating bit on the end of a flexible metal shaft.
The bit is sharp and spins quickly like a drill however, the steel shaft can be fed dozens of feet down the pipe to clear blockages, tree roots, and the like. What I learned is that, with a little know-how, drain machines are easy to use and I could have saved a small fortune on service calls. Below, I’ve outlined the best five models of drain cleaning machines available on Amazon.
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1. Ridgid K-400AF Drain Cleaning MachinePros:
- Professional-grade machine
- Pneumatic foot switch
- Patented Autofeed functionality
- Autofeed may be a little slow for professionals
- Larger bits may be necessary and don't come with the machine
- Heavy but it's meant to be
For the toughest drain cleaning jobs, you’re going to need a machine expressly designed to handle them. The Ridgid K-400AF is that drain cleaning machine. The K-400AF features an integrated cart with a retractable handle along with solid rubber wheels to transport the unit around the jobsite.
The cable control system can easily handle blockages while the tough, kink-resistant solid core cable will stand up to regular rugged use. This machine is professional-grade, meant for drain cleaners, service plumbers, maintenance departments, and property management companies, but that doesn’t mean the average homeowner couldn’t own one if necessary.
A torque limiter prevents the drum from turning when the blade gets lodged in some blockage down the line. Ridgid’s patented Autofeed control pushes the cable into the drain; when reversed back into the drum, the cable travels at roughly 10 feet per minute. A pneumatic foot switch makes it so the operator doesn’t have to bend down so much on the job as well.
2. Mophorn 100-Foot x 3/8-Inch Drain Cleaner MachinePros:
- Open cage design good for managing cable
- Light and compact
- The manual is just about useless but that's what YouTube is for
- Forward and reverse toggle settings may be wired backwards
- Machine is effective but slow
For its size and especially for its price, the Mophorn 100-Foot x 3/8-Inch Drain Cleaner Machine is a great solution to clear blockages at home or even your workplace. It comes with four shapes of cutters to deal with all sorts of jams and debris with an intensified solid spring cable that can wind down a variety of pipe configurations.
Mophorn offers up three different drain cutting machines with different lengths of 3/8-inch cable from 50 feet to this 100-foot model. Any of them are good to handle 3/4-inch to 4-inch diameter pipes and excellent to use with clogged toilets, sinks, floor drains, and more. The cable is housed within a drum that’s open in order to clean the machine easily as well as know how much cable you have left and deal with kinking when it occurs.
The drain cleaning machine offers a one-switch direction change control knob in order to stretch the cable out or shrink it back in by hand. The pneumatic foot switch makes it simple to control the cable progression without having to bend down as much. The handle on the roll cage is foldable so you’ll be able to save space in storage or get the machine in and out of tight spaces.
3. Vevor 100 Foot by 3/8-Inch Electric Drain Cleaning MachinePros:
- 100-foot long cable
- Drum quick-change feature for swapping out cable
- Ideal for home use
- What is it about the forward and reverse functions always being mislabeled?
- Consistent issues of shipping damage
- QC at factory is real hit and miss
There’s always at least one foreign-made machine that no one has ever heard of on any of my product lists so I give you the Vevor 100 Foot by 3/8-Inch Electric Drain Cleaning Machine. If you’re renting a large electric snake on any sort of semi-regular basis, and you’re looking to get the job done and save some money, this might be the machine for you. The price point is competitive with other drain cleaners on the list; while this machine is around $50 more than the Tacklife, keep in mind that the Tacklife offers just 75 feet of cable while the Vevor offers up 100.
The motor is strong, the foot-activated power switch is good, and the cable is of decent quality. The Vevor also has a decent fan following on Amazon. The key to enjoy this drain cleaning machine is the management of your expectations. This tool has enough power to get through substantial clogs without issue as long as the operator takes things slowly.
4. Shzond 1/2-Inch 50-Foot Drain Clearning MachinePros:
- Great value for the price
- Capable of reasonably heavy-duty work
- Includes 50 feet of 1/2-inch cable
- Doesn't include wheels for mobility
- No self-feeding option
- None of the included attachments are good for clearing tree roots
Is this a Chinese knock-off product that you can find multiples of on Amazon? Yep. Does it do the job? Yep. We all know how many products exist for sale online that come from the other side of the ocean. But let’s face it: outlets like Harbor Frieght make a killing selling tools like this Shzond Drain Cleaning Machine.
Here’s my take on this product: if you’re looking for a drain cleaning machine to deal with tree roots once a year or so, this model will save you some money and perform a reasonably good job. Keep in mind that while this product includes a self-feeding controller, you’re still going to need some good leather gloves. The Shzond comes with a pair of gloves but they’re terrible. Get the good ones and your hands will thank you later.
Something else to keep in mind is that none of the attachments that come with the machine will take care of tree roots in sewer lines, which is probably why you’re picking up a drain cleaning machine in the first place. The operations manual actually states not to use the included attachments to clear tree roots. Pick up something like this ClogChopper that’s the correct size for your pipes.
The Shzond Drain Cleaning Machine will handle jobs that a hand-held auger could never tackle. If necessary, an extension cable may be added to increase the 50 feet that comes with the unit. If you’re Joe or Jill Homeowner with a slight amount of DIY knowhow, this drain cleaner could really be of use to clear your lines from time to time.
5. Steel Dragon Tools K1500A Drain Cleaning MachinePros:
- Professional-grade by a lot
- 1-1/2-inch cable
- 3/4 HP motor
- Big, heavy, and expensive
- Meant only for main drain lines, not household clogs
- No folding handle for space-saving storage
With the Steel Dragon Tools K1500A Drain Cleaning Machine, you might as well hire yourself out as a local plumbing expert. This thing is about as professional-grade as you can get and the price definitely backs that up. The K1500A is designed for a one-person operation and will aggressively (emphasis on “aggressive”) cut through heavy blockages down your line.
The machine includes 120 feet of 1-1/4-inch all-purpose wound steel cable. Compare that to the other machines on our list that come with a 3/8-inch or, at the most, 1/2-inch line. You can then understand that this drain cleaning machine is miles away from anything else on our list. What that means is that this is a serious drain cleaning machine meant for your main line and not your kitchen sink.
The cable is housed in a wire rack, great for cleaning when you’re done. That rack sets up on its own when you’re ready to work. Although it’s powered by electricity, the motor is rated for 3/4 HP and 710 RPM and good to clean out pipe from two to eight inches in diameter. The set comes with six vicious cutting heads, a rubber guide hose, and a pair of gloves. Because with a machine like this, you will definitely need gloves.
What Do You Use a Drain Cleaning Machine?
If you've always called in a plumber to clear out the blockages from your home's plumbing system, you may not know all the different styles and uses for drain cleaning machines. Luckily for you, I'm here to guide you through the basics of how to get that wastewater flowing again.
Drain cleaning machines are typically large, electrically-powered tools oriented around a large drum of tightly wound steel cable. An electric motor spins the cable which is capped with a cutting bit. The type of blockage will determine which bit to use with the machine.
As you may know, any house or building features a main clean-out access point in which the cable is entered. The cable is fed in slowly until the clog is reached at which time the motor is turned on. The cutting bit rotates and eventually slices through the blockage.
Typically, a snake camera is deployed down the pipe first. This piece of equipment can provide an important visual for the operator as well as measure the length of cable needed to address the problem. Once it's pulled back and the problem understood, the drain cleaning machine can get to work.
Once the blockage is removed and flow is restored, a good plumber may check the length of the pipe again with the camera to make sure everything was addressed. The process is really very simple and any homeowner willing to take the time (and maybe get a little dirty) can take care of the job safely.
What are the Different Types of Drain Cleaning Machines?
Large electric drain cleaners come in two types: drum machines or sectional machines. Both types are effective in cleaning out wastewater pipes but how they do the job differs quite a bit.
Sectional machines are favored by plumbers along the East Coast and Midwest areas of the country. Everyone else seems to prefer drum machines. Location aside, both models have their strong points.
Here's the major difference: sectional machines use shorter lengths of wound steel cable while drum machines store a much longer cable onboard in a drum (hence the name).
Sectional machines are able to travel without the entire length of cable attached so they're lighter. And if you only need 50 feet of cable, an operator won't have to haul in a machine with 100 feet. A 100-foot long bundle of steel cable can weigh 120 pounds or more so this is a real positive for a technician making a service call.
The cable used with sectional machines is more flexible so the sides of the drain will get more of a cleaning. On top of that, the motor turns the cable faster. Sectional machines cut at faster speeds with lower torque. This has one major drawback: danger to the operator. Special work gloves must be used.
Drum machines feature higher torque to get clogs cleared up and they come in a wide variety of sizes, too. The drum used to house the cable keeps it contained which in turn keeps workspaces and vehicles a lot cleaner.
Drum machines also feature automatic feeding of the cable. While auto-feed amenities provide less physical work for the operator, that person will still need to maintain a grip on the cable to receive feedback on what's going on down the line.
What Safety Tips Should I Know Before Using a Drain Cleaning Machine?
Like any power tool with an electric motor, strict safety precautions must be followed. Let me type this out again for emphasis:
STRICT SAFETY PRECAUTIONS MUST BE FOLLOWED.
You're dealing with an electric motor, a rotating steel cable turning at 200 RPM at least, a sharp cutting blade, and water. What could go wrong? Plenty, that's what.
First: wear the proper gear. That means good work boots with rubber soles, safety goggles, maybe even a face shield, and work gloves that are made of thick, tough leather. Cloth or rubber gloves may get caught in the grooves of the cable and trust me, you don't want that.
Your drain cleaning machine should have a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) as part of the power cord. If a GFCI isn't present, don't use that machine. Period. Also, make sure the outlet used for power is grounded.
Nothing electrical that may be attached to the machine should be touching water. NOTHING. Air-activated foot pedals used to stop and start the rotation of the steel cable are designed so that control may be close to the source of the job without electricity.
Drain cleaning machines do not operate quickly and there are very good reasons for that. For one, a steel cable rotating quickly is a good way to get injured if it kinks, buckles, or whips the cutting head around while coming out of the pipe. A buckling cable could ruin your machine and could seriously hurt you.
Allow the machine to do its job. It will get through the clog but it may take a while depending on if you're dealing with paper products or tree roots. Be patient.
Don't rely on voice commands to another person to start and stop the machine or the cable. The same operator feeding the cable should be the one controlling the power switch to the machine. Make sure to keep the drain cleaning machine as close as possible to the drain opening. Again, a whipping cable is not your friend.
At the end of the job, make sure the cable is put away properly after cleaning and lubricating the steel. An open-cage design helps with this process. However, most drain cleaning machines employ a drum housing to contain the cable. It's very easy to put away the steel cable while still wet. Rust isn't your friend, either.
Use your head and, like any serious power tool, you'll be okay. The reason guides like this one over-emphasize safety is because we all know that one person that didn't. And it didn't turn out well. Use common sense, maintain a safe working atmosphere, and live (seriously) to work another day.
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