Hydro Jetting vs. Snaking: How to Clear Different Kinds of Clogs

Clogs. Nobody likes them. But it can be real satisfying to clear them if you’ve got the right tools. So let’s take a look at three different types of clogs, the best ways to remove them, and whether hydro jetting or snaking is the best option for you. This how-to will be helpful to plumbing apprentices, DIYers, and professionals alike. So let’s dive in.

Watch the video below

Explaining Hydro Jetting Nozzles and Heads

Let’s go through the different kinds of nozzles or heads you can use for hydro jetting. They range in type and purpose, depending on the clog and climate.

  • Cleaning head. This is your old reliable. You just push the cleaning head down the line and then draw it back slowly, cleaning the line out as you go.
  • Penetrator. This is a little bit more aggressive head. There is a hole in the front it that shoots out an aggressive forward jet. It will run into the clog and poke a hole through it. But the penetrator also has rearwards-facing jets. So when you drag the head back through the clog, it clears it in the opposite direction, too.
  • Grease head. This head is, you guessed it, specifically for grease.The brass piece on this head rotates, spraying water perpendicular to the head. As it moves through the line, it scours the grease that clings to the sides of the pipe. But since the grease head focuses on pipe walls and not clogs in front or behind, you may need to follow it with another cleaning head.
  • Ice head. The ice head is designed to slam into an ice blockage. In Southern climates you’ll probably never need this. But we’re in Montana, so we get a lot of frozen lines.. The ice head has forward- and rearward-facing jets — and using its sharp point, it slams into the ice dam to break up the ice. And then the rearward-facing jets clear the clear the ice out behind it. In these instances, using with hot water is best.
  • Leader. The leader is designed to go around P traps and other tough bends. It bends around the trap and then causes the head and the line to follow it. So that way you can get around awkward places in your piping.
  • Warthog head. We call this Mr. Nasty. The warthog head is big, fat, and spins with high velocity — and will clear some incredible clogs. It can do a lot of damage if you’re not careful, but when you need it, there’s nothing like it. It will clear even the worst blockages in your lines.

How to Clear a Soft Plug

Let’s start with how to clear a soft plug. These clogs are commonly found in your larger four-inch line after it leaves the house. Grease, or maybe even an imperfection of the pipe, starts to catch soft materials such as toilet paper and flushable wipes. Then it all starts to build up and build up until it creates a dam. The water will slowly work its way through that dam, but the solids will not — and you’ll eventually end up with a clogged line.

So should you use a snake or a jetter on a soft plug? Let’s start with the snake. When the snake goes through a soft plug, it bores a hole. While it may temporarily release the blockage, the snake hasn’t removed all the material. As soon as the snake is out, the material will seal itself back up — and you’ve got the same clog all over again. So on a soft plug, your best bet is hydro jetting. A jet will clean the clog out completely, leaving a fresh clean surface in your line. With a jetter, no solid materials will remain in the pipe that can reseal.

Which jetting head or nozzle should you use for the soft plug? A lot of times we’ll start with the penetrator. The penetrator will poke a hole through the soft plug. You get to the other side of it, and then you can slowly clean it back through and clear the plug. Now, if we have space and if it looks like the proper time, we will use Mr. Nasty on a soft plug, which is called the warthog. What it does is it gets aggressive with that soft plug, tears it into pieces, gets it down the line. We then clean the line out and everything’s good to go again. No more backups, everybody’s happy.

How to Clear a Sink Clog

The next clog we’ll look at is a standard utility sink problem. We run into this a lot: painters rags, blue shop towels, flushable wipes. But wait. It’s called the flushable wipe. Why hasn’t it allowed to be flushed? While it can be flushed, it doesn’t degrade. It is really the bane of the plumbing world. Your city spends hundreds of thousands of dollars a year just dealing with that at the treatment plant. So please don’t flush flushable wipes!

Let’s talk sneaking versus jetting. Could you start with a standard sewer snake here? Yes, a sewer snake possibly could do the job. You send a retriever head down, and sometimes it can grab the wipes, grab the shop towels. You can pull ’em out and you’re good to go. However, it’s also possible that you send the snake down and it just tears that material up, but doesn’t pull it out. You’re running back and forth, back and forth, putting a lot of time of energy into it and you’re just not getting it done. So sometimes hydro jetting really is the way to go on these.

Since this clog is fairly standard, we’d start with a penetrator. It’s got the forward facing nozzle, which will poke a hole through the clog. After the head gets through the clog, you drag it back through the clog and clean it out. Sometimes with the penetrator will clear the clog all by itself, and you won’t have to do very much more to get through pipe clean and clear.

How to Clear a Grease Clog

Our last clog is a grease clog. Simply put, it’s a line coated in grease.  In residential settings, we often find this in kitchens — especially if you’re dumping baking grease down your line. People think that a garbage disposal will take care of that. However, it won’t. So please throw your grease in the garbage.

In our grease clog example, we’ve got a two-part clog. So you have to do two things. First, you need to to clear the clog. You should start with the penetrator head, which will poke a hole through the clog and clearing it out of the way. After you do that, switch to the grease head. The grease head, remember, sprays perpendicular to the pipe in order to clean the grease coating the line.

And why worry about cleaning out the grease? Why not just leave it? If you don’t clean out that last bit of grease, your problem is going to come back right away. Grease goes into your pipe warm — the second it touches the pipe, it cools down. It now becomes a trap to catch new grease going down the pipe, along with other materials. In two weeks, you’d be back with your plumbing tools trying to fix the clog again.

Is hydro jetting always the best way to go?

While experience has taught us that hydro jetting is often a great option for clearing clogs, it’s not true in all cases. Sometimes snaking is the best option. There’s all sorts of times when you should snake and not jet: inside a building, for example, where you can’t introduce water to where you’re plumbing. Sometimes roots clear better with a snake, too.

What you really need to do is call a professional who’s trained and knows what tool to use in each situation. They’ll clear your pipes and you can move on with your life.

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