Fixing a clogged manhole drain in 5 steps

June 30, 2015

Manhole drains can become clogged by foreign objects flushed down a toilet or tree roots invading the drain. Fortunately, with a set of drain rods and the steps listed below, you can clear the blockage in no time.

Fixing a clogged manhole drain in 5 steps

The power of drain rods

A set of drain rods bought from a DIY store is an excellent investment as it will pay for itself many times over the first time you use it.

A set consists of several stiff but flexible plastic or metal rods that can be connected end to end and passed along a drain to remove any blockages. Rod sets come with one or more "heads" – some resemble plungers that can push through blockages or scrape the inside surfaces of the pipe; others are corkscrew-shaped and ideal for tearing at tree roots that may have invaded the drain.

It should take you about 30 minutes to unplug a drain. You will need a set of drain rods, protective clothing, gloves, goggles and a hose.

  1. Put on your protective clothing before removing the cover from the manhole or inspection hatch. Locate the end of the waste pipe.
  2. Attach two or three drain rods to a head. Push the rods into the blocked pipe. Rotate the rods clockwise to help them move forward; don't turn them counterclockwise because they may unscrew and become stuck in the drain themselves.
  3. If you don't feel any resistance, add more rods until you hit the blockage. Push and twist the rods to shift it; when the blockage moves, the water trapped in the manhole will run away freely.
  4. Pull the rods back. Keep turning them clockwise as you withdraw. Clean the rods – and especially their threaded end-connectors – with water from a hose or pressure washer. Allow to dry before storing them for the next use.
  5. Flush your toilet and run plenty of hot water down sinks to help wash away any debris remaining in the drain.


  • Don't leave an open manhole cover unattended and never climb into a manhole or tank – you could quickly be overcome by toxic fumes.
  • Always wear protective clothing when dealing with drains – thick rubber gloves, overalls, goggles and a face mask are recommended.

With a set of drain rods, you can quickly deal with clogged manhole drains yourself without needing to call a plumber.

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