General Pipe Cleaners
A service technician cleans a drain.

The Lucrative Side of Drain Cleaning

June 28, 2023
Now is the time to look into adding drain cleaning to your plumbing services.

In this “post-Covid time,” contractors are now more than ever looking to diversify their portfolio in a competitive plumbing market. Plumbers are continually receiving requests to clean drains, and they know how many jobs they are referring to other contractors. That’s why turning to drain cleaning could be a good revenue generator. But what are some things contractors need to know and/or can do to head in that direction?

Most plumbers that do any service work at all have closet augers and a small machine of some sort. So, it depends on how much business and what range of services they want to incorporate. “We recommend that drain cleaners have five items in their truck. A closet auger, a small drain machine, a medium drain cleaning machine, a large drain cleaning machine, a high-pressure water jetter and a camera system,” says Dave Dunbar, National Sales Manager, General Pipe Cleaners.

In addition, the basic rule of thumb is that contractors should have more options as opposed to less, because in the drain cleaning world one size does not fit all. A cable designed for 1¼- to 2- inch lines will either break or cause damage in a larger line. For any specific job, the proper cable size will be necessary in order to enjoy the functional limits of the machine. Also, until the contractor surveys the scene, they can't be sure what machine or combination of machines will be necessary to correct the problem. For all these reasons, contractors need to err on the side of more machines as opposed to less. 

Although this additional equipment will take up more space in their truck, it will enable contractors to handle most emergencies, and charge whatever the going rate for drain cleaning is in their area.

However, these advertised fees are not the main source of income from adding this equipment to their truck, says Dunbar. When you begin taking service calls for drain cleaning, you open up a world of possibilities for additional business. “One example would be pipe replacement of re-lining jobs, which can be so lucrative that I’ve met plumbers who have put multiple drain cleaning trucks on the road just to gather leads for replacing pipes,” says Dunbar. “The fact is that most professional drain cleaning companies don’t make the bulk of their money from the locally advertised drain cleaning fees, but rather from pipe replacement and re-lining. It can be a compelling reason for getting into the business,” says Dunbar.

Buyer Need to Know

Contractors should take the same precautions when purchasing drain cleaning equipment as they would with any other kind of capital investments. “This equipment will make them a lot of money if it is effective and durable,” says Dunbar.

According to Dunbar, when it comes to snake-style drain cleaning machines, for example, contractors should keep in mind that it is the cable that does all of the work. The machine itself is just a delivery system for the cable. Buying the highest quality cable, or snake, will pay off in safety, effectiveness and durability. The same concept holds true when purchasing high pressure water jetter hose, and pushrod for video inspection systems. Buy quality merchandise for the parts of the equipment that suffer the most wear and tear.

Also, when it comes to jetter technology, for example, a little “Did You Know?” couldn’t hurt. “After a minimum level of psi has been achieved by the high-pressure water jetter, we find that gallon per minute flow is more important than additional pressure. There have been several manufacturers marketing 4000 PSI machines to the drain cleaning industry lately, but our opinion is that this is a marketing initiative that does not actually improve effectiveness,” says Dunbar.

New Tech

Flexible Shaft technology has entered the drain cleaning industry over the past five years, and is becoming more and more accepted. These devices utilize a high-speed wire rope spinning within a plastic sheath, with a chain knocker or cutting tool at the front end. These machines were initially used to prepare and mill pipe in preparation for a re-lining process, but contractors quickly found that their high-speed cutters could effectively remove roots, paper, grease and scale. Because they are lighter and safer than snake style machines, they have gained popularity, especially with contractors who already do pipe re-lining.

This is another example of the synergy that is building between drain cleaning services and pipe repair. “Because there is a tremendous amount of fresh water leaking into the sewage treatment system, the Environmental Protection Agency has recommended that plumbers repair or replace all leaky pipes. This will lead to a trillion-dollar opportunity for the industry over the next 20 years,” says Dunbar.

And speaking of COVID. Remember the great toilet paper shortage? “During the COVID-19 crisis, toilet paper was often unavailable for long stretches. During that time, people used whatever was available. These substitutes contributed to an increased number of drains being clogged,” says Dunbar.

And yes, flushable wipes will continue to generate business for professional drain cleaners and plumbers. Couple that with the fact that over the past several years municipal codes have been enacted that require the use of low volume flush toilets, we have our perfect storm, so to speak. Since most of the infrastructure in this country was designed and built on the assumption that every flush would deliver more than three gallons of water to the system, every decrease in the amount of volume per flush sands particulates a shorter and shorter distance down the pipe. In addition, the country’s sewage treatment infrastructure is getting older, leading to more subsidence and corrosion, which is disrupting the flow of sewage and resulting in more drain cleaning opportunities.

So yes, for both environmental and economic reasons, now is the lucrative time to add drain cleaning to your plumbing services.


Safer, Stronger

General Pipe Cleaners’ Flexicore Cable is the strongest, safest, and because its cables are safer, stronger, and more durable than the competition, this will save the contractor time and money. Also, the Gel-Rod push rod for the Gen-Eye pipe inspection system is designed to be more durable than any other on the market. Contractors can push it further down the pipe, and it is less likely to kink or break, which can cause loss of income and missed opportunities.

Because drain cleaning equipment is being inserted down a septic sewer, it needs to be cleaned and maintained after every use. If a contractor commits five minutes per machine for preventative maintenance after every job, his/her equipment will last significantly longer. “For example, we know a contractor in Indianapolis who has had our large snake-style machines since 2003, and by consistently putting five minutes of preventive maintenance into each machine after every use, he is still using the original cables,” says Dunbar.

Lastly, most rental companies offer drain cleaning equipment for the hour, day or week. “If contractors only have and occasional drain cleaning job to perform, it may be more cost effective to rent,” says Dunbar. “However, if the problems are chronic, it probably pays to buy your own equipment. If you own your own drain cleaning machines, you can integrate them into your preventative maintenance program, which is always superior to emergency management.”

General has independent sales reps that offer training and service after the sale, in addition to the dozens of training videos available free on

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