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How to Use a Drain-Cleaning Bladder

Indoor and outdoor drains sometimes become heavily clogged with debris, greasy sludge and other materials. In many cases, you can clear out these tough clogs with a plunger or a drain snake. However, sometimes these go-to remedies fail to get the job done. In such circumstances, you may want to place a call to your local plumbing professional. Alternatively, you can turn to a do-it-yourself device called a drain-cleaning bladder. While a bladder can provide clog relief when other DIY options won’t, you must understand how to use one in order to avoid potentially hazardous mishaps. Here’s what you need to know.

What Is a Drain-Cleaning Bladder?

Essentially, a drain-cleaning bladder (sometimes known as a blow bag) is an expansion balloon made from heavy-duty rubber. A standard metal hose attachment sits at one end of the bladder. At the other end sits a component called a pressure-sensitive valve release. When the flow of water expands the bladder past a certain point, a buildup of pressure will push this valve open and release a powerful stream of water. It is this stream that provides the force required to clean heavy drain clogs. You can find drain-cleaning bladders in a range of sizes. Just match the size you buy to the diameter of your clogged drain.

When Do You Need to Use This Device?

Drain snakes are often capable of punching a hole through sludgy material stuck inside an indoor or outdoor drain. However, they may only clear out a small section in the middle of the drain and leave behind plenty of clog-producing material on the drain walls. A drain-cleaning bladder is an excellent follow-up option in these kinds of situations. The water pressure produced by a bladder can scour away the material left in place by a drain snake. In some cases, you may want to snake the drain again after using a blow bag to ensure complete clog removal.

Things to Know Before You Begin

A Drain-Cleaning Bladder Will Only Work in Certain Situations

A drain-cleaning bladder only works in situations where it completely blocks the affected drain when filled with water. Otherwise, it will fail to generate the pressure required to clear a severe clog. In addition, there are two situations in which a bladder won’t work even if it does fill the drain interior. First, if there is another unclogged drain attached to the pipe somewhere ahead of the clogged section, the water released by a drain-cleaning bladder will merely take the path of least resistance and travel up this available opening. The same thing will happen if there is a vent line connected to the pipe at any point ahead of the clog. Whenever possible, insert the bladder into a clean-out fitting and position it directly in the main section of the drain.

A Bladder Can Burst If Subjected to Too Much Water Pressure

All drain-cleaning bladders have a maximum safe water pressure. If you fill a bladder past this point, it can burst. Before you begin, you must know the pressure specifications of the product you intend to use, as well as the water pressure inside your building. If the pressure in your home or workplace is too high, you can reduce it to acceptable levels if the building’s plumbing system is outfitted with a water pressure regulator.

A Drain-Cleaning Bladder Can Cause Physical Injuries

This caution is related to the warning about staying within a drain-cleaning bladder’s maximum safe water pressure. If you’re standing behind a bladder when it bursts, you may receive a significant injury from the flying materials. For this reason, you should make sure to position yourself to one side. Please note that a bladder can potentially burst even if your building’s water pressure does not exceed its stated upper limit.

A Bladder Can Potentially Damage Your Drain Lines

In some cases, a properly used drain-cleaning bladder may simply fail to clear a heavy clog. If this happens, the pressure generated by the stream of water must go somewhere. Unfortunately, this “somewhere” may be the joints of your drain line, especially if those joints are already weak. If the water doesn’t force itself through the drain line joints, it may shoot back up the line toward you (another reason to stand clear of the clean-out fitting or drain opening).

Operating the Bladder

There are several steps in using a drain-cleaning bladder. Make sure to follow each step carefully without attempting any shortcuts.

Set Up the Bladder

Start by attaching a hose to a suitable cold-water fitting. Next, attach the drain-cleaning bladder to the other end of the hose. Insert the bladder into the clean-out fitting or drain opening. At a minimum, it should sit six inches away from the insertion point.

Turn on the Water

Stand back from the clean-out/drain opening and turn on the water to the hose. Make sure to increase the water flow gradually instead of opening the line full-force from the very beginning. The bladder will fill on its own. When it reaches it maximum capacity, the pressure-sensitive valve release will open and the pressurized water will shoot down the drain toward the clog. If all goes well, the clog will clear and your drain will be restored to sound working condition. Let the water from the hose run for several minutes instead of turning it off immediately.

Check the Results

The bladder will deflate completely when your turn off the water. Pull it out of the clear-out/drain opening and check the results of your work. If you see water standing in the drain, the force of the pressurized water has failed to clear out the clog in your affected line. However, if you don’t see any water, the bladder has worked as intended and you now have a clear drain line. You can use a drain-cleaning bladder more than once if necessary, as long as you follow all of the guidelines put in place the first time around.

If a drain-clearing bladder fails to clear out your clogged drain, your next step is a call to your local plumbing professional. A reputable plumber like Orange Coast Plumbing has the experience and equipment necessary to deal with even the most stubborn clogs. Our skilled plumbing technicians can also provide you with important plumbing maintenance tips that will help reduce your odds of dealing with other serious clogs in the future.