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What Is a Drain Cleanout, and How Do You Find Yours?


  • 1 pair disposable rubber gloves

Locating Indoor Drain Cleanouts

  1. Follow the Drainage Pipes to the Main Sewage Line

    The drainage pipes inside the home run to every sink, toilet, and water-reliant appliance, like the dishwasher and washing machine, so finding a drainage pipe shouldn't be too difficult. Look for black or white ABS, cast iron, copper, or bronze drainage pipes that lead away from the sink, toilet, or appliance. By following these drainage pipes, you can typically find the main sewage line.

  2. Look for a T- or Y-Shaped Pipe Fitting With a Cap or Plug

    When the drain cleanout is installed indoors, it can typically be found on the main sewage line, located just before the main line meets the foundation of the home. The drain cleanout will be on a T- or Y-shaped pipe fitting and it will have a threaded plug with a square nut. It may also have a plastic cap covering this nut.

    However, the drain cleanout isn't always installed on the main line. There are some homes that may have alternate access points to the sewage system, so you will need to look around to find a black or white pipe with a threaded plug and a square nut.

  3. Check Bathrooms, Utility Rooms, and the Garage

    If the sewer cleanout is not on the main sewer line, then you will need to inspect alternate locations around the home. Grab a flashlight to help see better in dimly lit areas. The drain cleanout will often be close to a cluster of drainage pipes, like a full bathroom with drains for the sink, toilet, and shower. Inspect each bathroom in the home, looking for a capped black or white ABS plastic drain line.

    If the drain cleanout isn't in the bathrooms, it's a good idea to check the utility room or the garage. In some cases, current or previous owners may have had renovations completed that hid the main drain cleanout. If you suspect that this is the case, it's advised to contact a plumber to help locate the drain cleanout without causing excess damage to the home.

  4. Test the Drain Cleanout Plug

    After finding the drain cleanout, it's a good idea to test the plug to help ensure that the plug doesn't become seized from disuse. Put on a pair of disposable gloves and use a pipe wrench or a large pair of channel locks to grip the square nut on the drain cleanout plug. Gradually begin to turn the nut with the wrench, loosening it off fully. Clean away any accumulated grime from the threads, then replace the plug.

    In rare cases, the cleanout may be covered by an expandable plug that is loosened by turning a screw in the center of the plug. Even more rarely, the cleanout fitting may be covered by a rubber bonnet and secured with pipe clamps.


    When you start to open the plug and you see water or feel the pressure under the plug, it's time to call a professional. This means the stoppage in the line has filled up the piping that travels outside the house. Once you pull the plug, your drainage pit, yard, or house may fill with backed up raw sewage in that localized area.

Locating Outdoor Drain Cleanouts

  1. Walk to the Septic Tank or Municipal Sewer Line

    To find an outdoor drain cleanout, first, you will need to walk to either the septic tank, for properties on a septic system, or to the municipal sewer line. The sewer line is indicated by the nearest manhole or a curb with a large S stamped into the concrete.

  2. Estimate the Direction of the Drainage Line

    Septic systems will generally have the drain cleanout located close to the home, in line with the septic tank. Simply walk back from the tank towards the home, looking for a plastic pipe sticking up from the lawn or garden. 

    Similarly, the drain cleanout on a municipal wastewater system will typically be close to the home. It should be in line with the municipal sewer system, but because the actual drainage line is not visible, you will need to trace a broad path through the yard to find the drain cleanout pipe.

    The pipe is usually black or white in color and it's sealed with a threaded plug that has a square nut and may be labeled S, C.O., or cleanout. Though, in some instances, this plug is covered with a plastic cap or a metal lid. With this in mind, search for any objects that could cover or house a 3-, 4-, or 6-inch pipe.

  3. Move Lawn Decorations, Foliage, and Other Obstacles

    If you still cannot locate the drain cleanout, then it may be accidentally covered or purposely hidden from sight. The drain cleanout should be close to the home in an area along the main sewer or septic line, which can be indicated by drain pipe clusters in full or partial bathrooms.

    Start moving any lawn decorations that are obscuring the yard outside of bathrooms, expanding the search area as you go. Keep in mind that the cleanout could be buried in a garden or obscured by foliage. Overgrown grass can also be a problem, so you may want to mow the lawn to help make the search easier.

    In some circumstances, the sewer cleanout is completely buried in the yard, in which case you will need to estimate where the drainage line is coming in and use a long screwdriver to penetrate about 1 inch into the ground, probing for the top of the pipe. However, this method is essentially trial and error, even with a good educated guess, so you may want to consider hiring a professional to locate the drain cleanout.

  4. Mark and Test the Drain Cleanout

    After locating the drain cleanout, use a metal stake with a brightly colored flag to mark the location, so that you have a quick reference point in case of emergency.

    The drain cleanout plug should also be tested to make sure it can be removed, if necessary. Use a pipe wrench or a set of large channel locks to slowly unscrew the nut from the pipe. The nut should thread out easily, but if you see water or feel pressure in the line, tighten the nut again and call a plumber to clear the clog in the line.


Even experienced DIYers can cause significant damage to the home sewage system. This can lead to sewage backing up into the septic system, the yard, or even into the home. Save time, effort, and potentially thousands of dollars in clean-up and home restoration fees by only employing licensed professional plumbers to clear clogs and make repairs to the main drainage line and drain cleanout.


Finding your external plumbing covers

What is that pipe sticking out of my lawn? What’s the black cover with the louvers at the curb? What’s that black metal thing I always hit with the lawnmower? There’s a white plastic pipe with a cap sticking out of my driveway?! Can I cut that down so no one can see it?!

These are all questions many homeowners ask regarding external plumbing covers and/or pipes. We’re going to attempt to answer some of the most common questions and pitfalls regarding external pipe and access points for the plumbing system.

For the purposes of this blog we will be talking about areas with municipal sewers. Septic systems, while similar, have different component locations and components.

Plumbing Covers

Identification first. The drainage system, technically referred to as a house or building sewer, starts at 5 feet outside of your house and runs across your property (underground) to the municipal main sewer line located in the street. Depending upon your township, Pennsylvania typically has three configurations you will find regarding access points to the underground pipe.

The first, and most common, and nearest to densely populated areas is a vent box. This is a round cast iron plumbing cover with louvers about 6″ in diameter. Typically, they are black but often get painted. They are flush with concrete or grade and are the vent mechanism for vented house traps. They are almost always at the curb.

Picture of a sewer vent box

The second arrangement for sewers is a mushroom cap. These also black or grey and cast iron or plastic. They too are the vent for the trap. The mushroom cap is typically 6-12″ above the surrounding grade and they are usually located 5′ or more from the curb.

Picture of a mushroom cap sewer vent

Lastly is the cleanout. These can be cast iron or plastic, white or black, and flush or raised. Unlike the other two, they do not vent. They are there specifically to allow for maintenance of the sewer during a back-up. They usually have a 1.5″ nut in the center, either raised or in relief.

Picture of a sewer cleanout pipe, in white PVC

All three of these components are often misunderstood and not treated with the proper care by homeowners. Something as simple as a missing cap on any one of these could be potentially disastrous and cost thousands to fix.

Water Service Covers

The next type of cover we want to address is the water service. There are two basic types.

Curb box lids are 4-5″ diameter lids made of plastic or cast iron and are usually as the name denotes near the curb. The often say “WATER” on them and have a nut or bolt in a recessed notch to allow for removal of the lid. They are flush with grade or concrete and very often have been painted blue by a municipal water utility company or the township.

Picture of a black, round curb box

Meter box lids are the other water service cover type. The covers typically say “WATER” and “METER” on them and also have a recessed nut for securing them. They can be located anywhere from the curb to right outside the house, depending on when they were installed and the specifications of the local water authority.

Picture of an old looking, cast iron water meter box

In both cases these covers contain the access to the main house valve. This is an essential emergency valve and ALL homeowners should know where it is. Some are located in tricky locations. If you have an emergency and it takes the plumber or water company 30 minutes to find this valve, the damage done while locating it could be significant. Knowing where it is will save you the cost of paying your plumber to find it, as that time could be better used applied to the plumbing service needed.

Gas Covers

Lastly, the gas valve cover. This looks almost identical to the water cover but is smaller and usually says “GAS” on it. There is less of a need for homeowners to know about this due to detailed maps kept by your local gas supplier as well as location detection devices they stock on most trucks. The only involvement a homeowner really should have in this case is if the cover is missing. Then, the gas supplier should be called.

Picture of a gas valve cover, labeled Gas

Know your system

Some plumbing covers do’s and don’ts:

DO: Know where your plumbing covers are.

DO: Be able to advise the plumber in an emergency, “Hey, there is a cleanout next to the flowers” or some such.

DO: Be aware of these items and if the lids are intact and tight.

DO: Ask a plumber before you cut down any pipe in the lawn or change the type of lid on them. This could lead to them wasting time (and your money) looking for something that has the wrong lid on it.

DON’T: Allow grass, debris, or an unknowing concrete or landscape contractor cover them. This will save him time and you money or damage.

DON’T: Place permanent things over or near them.

DON’T: Drive on them unless they are on a driveway or other drivable surface. The concrete supports the lid to the plumbing covers and driving on them in grass or stone will likely break them.


In short, awareness of these covers can save time, money, and damage. The time it takes to notice and protect these things will pay dividends in the event you need them. Many, many times we come out and a customer spends $1,000 on clearing, replacing, or finding plumbing components they have allowed to be covered or filled with dirt/debris.


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Do You Know about Your Sewer Cleanout – Why it’s Important and How to Locate It?

Mike Williams, , Plumbing Tips,

Sewer cleanouts aren’t the subject of everyday conversation, but they sure are when something goes wrong, aren’t they? In fact, most homeowners don’t know where their cleanouts are located or even what they do. Since backed up waste water in a home is such a terrible thing to contemplate, much less experience, we thought we’d take homeowners through a sewer cleanout – why it’s important and how to locate it. When they become the topic of everyday conversation, homeowners will know how to advise their fellow sufferers.

What is a Sewer Cleanout?

Plumbing pipes run all through a house. They come together in a main pipe system called a stack. From there, the sewage runs out of the house and into the county sewage system or a septic tank. Stuff happens, though, such as clogs of a dozen different types stopping a pipe from allowing waste water through. A sewer cleanout allows a snake or a hydrojetting tool to disperse the clog and get things running again.

And They’re Important for What Reason?

Waste water isn’t only smelly and unpleasant, it forms a health risk as well. When it seeps into the floors and baseboards before it’s cleaned up, waste water stays there, unless it’s cleaned immediately by professionals. That is a continued risk to the health of all who live in the house. Moreover, if the health department finds out about it, then the homeowner will be fined and instructed to get it cleaned up.

Additionally, dangerous gases build up in piping. Without a sewer cleanout with a proper cap on it, those gases could get into the air around the house or inside the house.

Where are Sewer Cleanout Pipes Located?

Not all plumbing is done to code, or in some places at least just enough to pass code. While most cleanouts are located outside the home, some (especially in older homes) are located inside. That could put the cleanout in several different places, including on the drain stack in the basement. A few pipes coming into the stack usually bend somewhere, and the cleanout on the stack is a better way of getting at the clog than removing a fixture like a toilet to get at the clog. Each stack has a roof exit, where a cleanout could be located. There are also cleanouts located outside the house in a line each 100 feet until they get to the main sewer line. The pipes will generally be either cast iron or PVC (plastic) piping with a cap of either plastic, brass or cast iron on top.

Anything Else We Should Know?

Absolutely. First, if you have a sewage problem, turn off the water immediately and stop using water fixtures like the washing machine and toilet. Second, find the sewer cleanout outside the house. Clear it of grasses, landscaping, dirt and debris and keep it clear. If homeowners can unscrew the cap, then they can get in there with a snake to unclog the line. If the homeowner can’t open the cap, then plumbers might need to be called. They will have the right wrenches with which to open the cap. They will also have a long enough snake or perhaps a hydrojetting tool if hydrojetting is required.

Hundreds of people every day need to unclog their sewer cleanout, but they haven’t a clue. Plumbing is usually a dank, dark, wet subject that homeowners don’t want to contemplate. Occasionally, though, you’ll need to know where the sewer cleanout is located. We hope this explanation helps. Bay Area Plumbing is available 24/7 for all of your plumbing needs. If you need help with a blockage, then please feel free to contact us for more information and help.

©2021 Bay Area Plumbing, Inc., Tampa, FL State Certified License CFC1425599 | Privacy Policy


Three Warning Signs That Your Sewer Line is Clogged

​​1) Multiple drains are backed up.

Solution: Check these plumbing fixtures:

  • ​Toilets
  • Bathtubs
  • Showers

​Are all of their drains making a gurgling sound as they back up with water?

Chances are, you have a main sewer line clog.

2) ​Water backs up in odd places when using plumbing fixtures.

Do these three things:

  • Flush your toilet. Does water start gurgling up your tub or shower drain? That means water is trying to leave, but is blocked by a sewer line clog. So, it goes back up into the lowest point, which is usually a shower drain.
  • Use your washing machine. Does your shower drain or toiler start to overflow with water? Again, that means water is trying to leave, but a clog is blocking it and forces it to go elsewhere.
  • Run your bathroom sink.​ Does your toilet water rise or bubble up? Most likely, you have a sewer line clog.

​​​3) There's drainage at the sewer cleanout.

"What the heck is a sewer cleanout?" you might be thinking. Well, it's a white pipe with a rubber cap or, in older homes, a metal "mushroom" cap, which provides access to the sewer line, so clogs can easily be cleaned out.

To find the sewer cleanout, look around the sides, front and rear of your house, possibly near the bushes. If you have a home that was built before 1978, you may not have a sewer line cleanout.

Once you find the cleanout, screw off or pull off the cap. If the sewer water is flowing up and out of the pipe or standing in the pipe, this confirms you have a sewer line clog.

The first thing you'll want to do is shut off your main water supply to your home. To do that, look for the water shut off valve, which is usually located:

  • in the basement
  • near the water heater
  • in the garage
  • in a water meter box located outside your home, near the street.

Second, call a professional plumber, who can clear sewer lines.

There's usually a two-step process most professional sewer line cleaners take to clear a sewer line clog:

  1. Run a drain auger (also called a "plumber's snake") through the sewer cleanout to clear the clog. If this does not work, the plumber could:
  2. Use a fiber optic sewer line camera to look down the sewer line and figure out what to do next.

The clog could be caused by the wrong items being flushed, old pipes​ not being able to handle the traffic (especially if you have company over). Or, if you have an older home with mature trees on your property, there is a chance that the roots have grown into the pipes underground, causing the backup. These answers are usually not easy to identify under a fiber optic sewer line ​camera is used. 


Cap sewer access

Make sure your clean out cap is on.

illustration of sewer clean out device

The cleanout WHAT?
You may not know that you have a sanitary sewer cleanout. Almost all buildings do. It allows access to the sewer line in case there’s a problem. It’s usually located somewhere between your residence and the street. The cleanout cap is simply the part that keeps it covered.

Why is it important?
If your cleanout cap is missing or defective, it allows storm water and other debris to enter the sanitary sewer system. This has several harmful effects such as:

  • When storm water enters the sanitary sewer system, it makes the entire system work harder, which can reduce its capacity and raise operating costs, resulting in higher charges to customers.
  • Even worse, the unwanted storm water and debris can cause sanitary sewer overflows and sewer backups into buildings. This could mean very messy—and costly—clean up and repairs.
  • In addition, when a sanitary sewer cleanout is not properly covered, it often gives off a foul odor.
How to remove a stuck / corroded sewer drain clean out cap (metal or plastic)

What to Do With a Leaking Clean-Out in a Drain Pipe

Sewer clean-outs are handy whenever you have a sewer main clog or when you have a tough stoppage to clear. One thing to keep in mind is that clean-out caps can leak just like any other plumbing fitting. It's a good idea to know where all of the clean-outs are located in your home so you can check them periodically.

Why Check for Leaking Clean-Outs?

While crawling under a house recently, I came across three clean-outs and all three caps were leaking. Even though these leaks were minor, this isn't something you want to ignore (this is a sewer line, after all). Since the clean-outs are usually located in the basement or crawl space under the house, it isn't a problem you are likely to notice. One way to catch the problem early is to check the clean-outs as part of your routine plumbing maintenance.

Why Clean-Outs Leak

Clean out plugs are threaded—for one very good reason: they must be removable to provide access to the pipe. That's the sole purpose of a clean-out fitting. But the threads are also the downfall of the clean-out, in terms of holding liquid, that is. Threaded fittings have to fit really well to be liquid-tight, and when it comes to cheap plastic clean-out plugs, the tolerances simply aren't close enough to do the job in many cases. Old brass clean-out plugs can leak, too, for the same reason.

Beware Leaky Clean-Outs

While it's a good idea to check for leaky clean-outs, that doesn't mean you should always remove a clean-out that seems to be leaking. Why? Because if something is leaking out of the clean-out, there's a good chance the drainpipe is full of wastewater (and you know what's in wastewater). Drains are designed to get rid of waste without pressure; they're not designed for holding lots of water and the pressure it can impose. (And that's one reason why the threads on clean-out plugs don't have to be as tight as those on water supply piping.)

If you remove a clean-out that's leaking, and the drain happens to be backed up, you could unleash a terrible, swift, and stinky stream of wastewater into your home. Best to play it safe. If all the drains, including the toilet, are working normally and not at all slow, there probably is no backup, and it's ok to remove a clean-out. Just do it slowly, and check for extra liquid coming out as the plug unthreads. Also, stand to the side before you make the last few turns on the clean-out plug, just in case there's a gusher.

How to Seal a Leaky Clean-Out

Clean-out plugs usually can be sealed with plumber's tape, or pipe thread tape, (commonly known as "Teflon tape," although there's no such product of that name) or with pipe dope, or pipe joint compound. Simply wrap the threads of the clean-out plug a few times with the tape, or wipe on a liberal coating of pipe dope, and reinstall the plug. Remember to wrap the tape clockwise (when viewed from the underside of the cap) so the tape doesn't bunch up when you thread on the plug.


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