What are sewer cleanouts and why do you need them?
Many things can cause a blockage in your sewer line. Tree roots, damaged or defective pipes, sanitary and personal items, toilet paper, paper hand towels, plastic toilet cleaners, wet wipes, grease, and other foreign objects, to name a few, can make their way into your sewer system causing blockages. Unblocking the drain is easier, faster, and less stressful for both you and the Plumber if your home has drain or sewer cleanouts.
From our experience about 80% of Sydney homes we visit have one or more accessible sewer cleanouts somewhere on the property that will be suitable for us to use to clear the blocked drain they are experiencing.
What is a sewer cleanout?
Cleanouts provide Plumbers with direct clearing and inspection access to your underground sewer line in the event you have a sewer blockage. If you have one or more cleanouts they are normally located outside of your home in the front or back yard or can be at the side of the house outside a bathroom, kitchen, or laundry. Cleanouts typically go unnoticed until there is a problem.
It is important not to confuse a “Gully” with a cleanout as not all gully types are suitable for drain clearing and inspection purposes.
Having proper access to your underground sewer pipes is the most important consideration for a Plumber dealing with a blocked drain
How to tell the difference between a cleanout and a gully
Identifying a cleanout (CO)
A cleanout (CO) provides Plumbers unhindered access via a direct access shaft to the sewer line underground. Depending on the design and location of the cleanout, the shaft will provide access to either one, two or three directions within the sewer line - upstream, downstream, branch drain. Unlike a gully which has a loose plastic or metal grate on top, cleanouts will always have a sealed plastic or metal lid secured by either screws, bolts, or a screw on or bayonet cap. As cleanouts are a direct access point to the sewer line, they must be sealed to stop sewer gases from escaping into the environment.
Identifying a gully (ORG)
A gully or ORG (Overflow Relief Gully) has only one purpose. To provide an overflow point in the event of a Sydney Water main line sewer blockage, so sewage does not backup inside the house. Unlike a cleanout which has a sealed lid or screw on cap, gullies will always have a loose plastic or metal grate on top. The grate will float off during overflow events allowing free flow of wastewater onto the ground outside the house preventing flooding inside the house. Gullies do not need to be sealed because they have a 'P' trap water seal at the bottom of the shaft which prevents sewer gases from escaping into the environment.
Gullies come in many different designs, shapes, and sizes. If you want more information about gullies? Just Google "what is a sewer gully" or "what is an ORG" for more information or you can call us.
Examples of suitable cleanouts used to clear and inspect blocked sewer lines
Cleanouts come in many different designs, shapes and sizes and are designed specifically for sewer and drain clearing and pipe inspection purposes and the use of drain clearing equipment and tools such as high-pressure water jets, electric eels, and CCTV drain cameras.
Watch this drain clearing video to see us working through a sewer cleanout.
PVC Bolted Trap Screw
Cast Iron Bayonet Lid
PVC Stack Gate
PVC Inspection Point
Not all homes have cleanouts
Not all cleanouts are suitable
Not all cleanouts are accessible
But what if I don't have a cleanout?
If you do not have drain Cleanouts (CO), sewer blockages can still be cleared but it can sometimes be more challenging and time consuming. Once it has been established that suitable cleanout access is not available the Plumber will need to gain access to the underground sewer line by other means such as excavating down to the sewer line to access an Inspection Opening (IO) or to cut into the existing pipework to create an access point, dismantling or cutting into vents or removing internal fixtures such as toilets, basins or laundry tubs, however, clearing blocked sewer lines from inside the house or by removing plumbing fixtures should always be considered a last resort!
Why would a cleanout not be suitable?
There are no two sewer systems the same. A sewer system is an underground network of pipes running under your home (Internal Branch Drains) that connect plumbing fixtures (toilets, basins, showers, sinks, tubs, baths) inside your house via junctions to an underground network of pipes running around the outside of the building (External Main Drain) that leads to your connection with the Sydney Water Sewer Main Line. A cleanout installed on a branch drain will only give access to that branch drain and possibly a section of the main drain but not to the entire sewer network and cleanouts installed on the main drain usually only give access to the main drain and not the branch drains.
As sewer systems are unique to each property there are infinite variations to the above however sometimes although there may be existing cleanouts available on the property the blockage can be located anywhere within the homeowner's sewer network that is not serviced by those existing cleanouts. If this turns out to be the case, then other work will need to be carried out or another cleanout installed to gain access to that affected part of the sewer line.
I can't find any cleanouts?
Many homes can have one or more cleanouts but unfortunately, they can be difficult to find. Sewer cleanouts need to be installed in such a way as to be exposed at or above ground level and always kept clear so they can be found by the homeowner or a Plumber when they are needed however over time existing cleanouts can become concealed or hidden in one way or another.
Buried by landscaping works
Concealed under hot water heaters and air conditioner units
Covered over by concrete paths, driveways, paved areas, or wooden decks
Built over by garden sheds, retaining walls, tennis courts, swimming pools or home extensions
Hidden in garden beds under leaves, dirt, plants, hedges, trees or simply covered by grass or a pot plant
The best way to find sewer cleanouts on your property is to follow the path of the sewer line using your Sewer Service Diagram (SSD). An SSD is a plan or map of your sewer system. All properties have a Sewer Service Diagram, if you don't have one you can get one online from Sydney Water or we can get one for you. Having your homes Sewer Service Diagram available when your Plumber arrives to unblock your drain is always a good thing, it will save time and frustration for everyone involved and the Plumber will thank you for that!
Cast iron cleanout hidden in the garden under a shrub and leaves and covered by a sandstone rock.
Homeowner has lived in the property for 25 years and had no idea this cleanout existed!
Below is a funny video of a homeowner discovering a sewer cleanout for the first time. The sewer cleanout was found inside a room concealed under carpet and carboard boxes. The cleanout has been installed on the main drain which will give direct access to the sewer line for drain clearing and CCTV drain inspection equipment. If you look closely at the bottom of the cleanout you will see there is a "branch line connection junction" on the left. This means this is a three way cleanout which will give the Plumber access downstream via the main drain to the authority's main sewer line in the street, upstream via the main drain to other branch drain connections and plumbing fixtures and upstream to other branch drain connections and plumbing fixtures via the branch line connection junction on the left at the bottom of the cleanout. This is a good example of a three way cleanout as one way and two way cleanouts are a lot more common.
What Is An Inspection Opening (IO)?
If no Cleanouts (CO) can be found your Sewer Service Diagram (SSD) will also show where the sewer Inspection Openings (IO) are located. Sewer Inspection Openings are sealed earthenware or PVC access points on the sewer line underground that are also used for drain clearing and inspection purposes however Inspection Openings are not accessible at ground level like cleanouts, they are located directly on top of the sewer pipe underground so they will need to be excavated and exposed to gain access into the sewer line. All homes will have several sewer Inspection Openings as Australian Standards AS/NZS 3500 requires Inspection openings to be installed in specific locations on all sewer lines. Older earthenware Inspection Openings will consist of an oval shaped earthenware cap with a cement seal on top, while more recent earthenware Inspection Openings consist of a round earthenware plug with a black rubber ring seal held in place with a metal clip exactly like in the example below, and PVC Inspection Openings simply have a threaded PVC screw on cap.
1. Excavation to expose sewer inspection opening to access drains under bathroom
2. Inspection opening exposed with cap, rubber ring seal and metal clip in place
3. Inspection opening exposed with cap, rubber ring seal and metal clip removed
To recap: A Cleanout (CO) is a ground level access point giving quick and easy access to the sewer line and an Inspection Opening (IO) is a buried access point to the sewer line that will need to be excavated to access.
Need more information on sewer cleanouts? Just Google, "what is a sewer cleanout?"