How To Clean A French Drain

A French drain is a perforated tube that allows water to enter while keeping soil out. Exterior French drains are buried in the soil and surrounded by gravel. The gravel acts like a filter, allowing water to sift down to the pipe while providing support for the soil.

The entry point for a French drain is usually found at the top of a grade, maybe or maybe not connected to a home gutter system downspout. Over time, French drains can be compromised by tree roots, stray soil, gravel and other debris. Regardless of whether or not your French drain has become clogged, it’s a good idea to clean it out on an annual basis. Here’s how.

Rent an Electric Sewer Snake

Electric sewer snakes are available for rent at home improvement centers, hardware stores and tool rental facilities. When renting an electric sewer snake, look for a machine with a 3/4 inch spring-wound cable.

If you’re not sure how long your French drain is, rent a machine with a 100 foot cable to be on the safe side. The snake you rent should come with instructions. If it doesn’t, ask the people you rent the snake from to give you a brief tutorial.

Snake the Drain

  1. Put on tough leather gloves before getting started. These gloves will help you prevent your hands from getting torn up while feeding the cable into the drain.
  2. Uncover the lid on the drain. If the drain is a part of a gutter downspout, you may need to detach the downspout from the entry into the drain.
  3. Turn on the snake.
  4. Feed the cable into the drain.
  5. When the cable encounters a turn in the drain or an obstruction, hold it back while the snake turns in the pipe. Once the snake has overcome the obstruction or the turn in the drain, feed the snake gently forward into the drain.
  6. Continue to feed the snake into the pipe until it reaches the other side. Let the snake turn in the drain when it meets resistance from clogs, tree roots and other obstructions.
  7. Retract the snake when you’re finished, and feed it back into the machine.
  8. Use a garden hose to spray a powerful jet of water into the drain. This will help push any debris out of the drain.

Resources and Advice

This helpful tutorial video clearly shows how to use an electric sewer snake to clear a French drain. Take a look:

If watching this video and reading this tutorial has made you decide that cleaning your French drain is not for you, and if you’re a resident of the Pittsburgh area, contact Terry’s Plumbing. We have all the tools, and of course we like clearing drains. It’s what we do. Call us today at (412) 364-9114 to set up an appointment.