If you have a stubborn clog in your home's plumbing and have searched for ways to remove it, you may have run across a tool known as a drain bladder. These tools are sometimes used by plumbers to remove tough clogs after a pipe snake has been ineffective. Can drain bladders remove stubborn clogs? Are they safe for your home's plumbing? Read on to find out more about drain bladders and when they should be used.
What Is a Drain Bladder?
A drain bladder is an inflatable balloon that's made of rubber or canvas. One end of the bladder attaches to a garden hose, and the other end is sealed by a compression spring. You place the drain bladder in the drain and fill it up with a garden hose, causing it to inflate and entirely block off the drain. Once the pressure in the drain bladder is great enough, the compression spring expands and causes the water inside the drain bladder to come rushing out at high-pressure into the clog.
Do Drain Bladders Work?
Drain bladders are effective at clearing stubborn clogs that a drain snake has difficulty grasping. Drain snakes are normally excellent when used to remove common clogs such as hair, but they struggle with grease clogs — grease that's stuck on pipe walls is very difficult for a drain snake to remove.
For tough clogs like these, the bladder is an effective drain cleaning tool. The high-pressure water quickly erodes stuck-on grease, fully opening the drain and allowing water to flow through it normally again.
What Are the Downsides of Using a Drain Bladder?
While drain bladders can be effective, there are a few situations in which they should never be used.
First, they shouldn't be used in fixtures where the clog is very near to the fixture's drain. If you can't insert the garden hose at least six inches into the fixture's drain, then the drain bladder is likely to break the fixture. These fixtures are not meant to withstand the high-pressure that a drain bladder can produce. For this reason, you should never use a drain bladder to unclog a toilet or in a sink with a P-trap — instead, either remove the fixture so you can access the pipe or try another drain cleaning method.
Another problem is that drain bladders run the risk of causing water damage. When the drain bladder expands, it fully seals the pipe and prohibits water from coming back up. A tough clog will likewise prevent water from flowing further down the pipe. If there's a vent, clean-out, or junction to another drain in your home between the clog and the drain bladder, all of that high-pressure water released by the drain bladder is going to end up traveling through it instead of dislodging the clog — it's the path of least resistance. Because of this, you need to ensure that there's no other pipe between the drain bladder and the clog. If you're unfamiliar with your home's plumbing, use a different drain cleaning method.
Finally, the expanding drain bladder or the extremely high-pressure water released from it can break pipes that are corroded. Additionally, if the drain bladder is placed near a junction in your home's plumbing, there's a chance that the high-pressure water will break the junction apart. Both of these scenarios will also cause water damage to your home.
As you can see, using a drain bladder to unclog your home's plumbing carries some significant risks even though they can be effective in some circumstances. If you're not sure how the pipes in your home are laid out or if you don't know how to use a drain bladder, avoid the potential risks and have your stubborn clog cleared out by a professional drain cleaning service.