How to safely open a drain cover, step by step

Overflowing Drain highlights importance of workplace safety

If you’re dealing with a blocked drain near your property, you’ll want to get it fixed right away. Letting a drain remain blocked for a prolonged period of time can be both dangerous for your health and for your home.

However, opening a drain cover can be complicated if you don’t have the necessary tools to wield it open. Attempting to open a drain cover without proper technique can even lead to personal injury. 

In this guide, we’re going to go over how to open a drain cover safely, what tools you’ll need, and when to call in the specialists. 

Signs of a blocked drain

Blocked drains can be a nightmare for homeowners. If a drain near your property has become blocked, it probably won’t take long for you to notice. 

Unfortunately, it’s not always the job of the local council to fix blocked drains. According to the Citizens Advice Bureau, it is the responsibility of property owners to repair and manage any blocked drains within the boundaries of a property

Common signs of a blocked drain include: 

  • Sinks within your property taking a long time to drain 
  • Strange gurgling noises coming from your toilet and plumbing system
  • Foul odours. Do note that foul odours are often one of the last signs to show up when you have a blockage problem in your drain, so don’t hesitate to check whether everything’s functioning smoothly.

What causes a blocked drain?

Blocked drains can be caused by a number of factors. Foliage, dirt, and a buildup of waste or sewage can all contribute to a blocked drain.

In mild cases, you should be able to lift the drain cover yourself at home and clear away any foliage, leaves, soil, and any other blockages. But how to lift a drain cover safely?

How to open a drain cover safely

If you’re going to attempt to open the drain cover yourself, here is a step-by-step guide on opening the drain.

NOTE: Drains are made of cast iron and are incredibly heavy. If you have sustained injuries, muscle weakness, back problems or are currently pregnant, we highly recommend letting an expert (or another family member) lift the drain. Lifting drain covers can cause serious injury to the back and spine, so make sure to follow the instructions carefully and take all necessary safety precautions. 

How to lift a drain cover: step by step

Step 1: Gloves and masks

You’ll want to protect your hands with gloves before you get started. If you suspect there’s a blockage and that you’re going to be met with foul odours once the drain is open, you can also wear a face mask.

Step 2: Clear the area around the drain
Over time, foliage and dirt can accumulate around drain covers and manholes, making them difficult to prise open. To make lifting the drain cover easier, you’ll want to go around the edges of the drain with a clearing tool (such as a scraping tool or the sharp end of a screwdriver) and clear away any soil, leaves, litter or other foliage. 

You’ll also want to clean the key holes if they’re blocked: the keyholes are typically two diamond-shaped indents in the manhole cover, which you’ll be using to prise open and lift the drain cover. 

Step 3: Loosen the drain cover

Before lifting off the drain cover, you’ll need to loosen it up a little. For this, you’ll need a wide-based hammer, as well as a tea cloth or towel. 

Why do I need a tea cloth or a towel? Using a hammer can actually damage the drain cover; at worst, crack it. When you’re loosening the drain cover, it’s a good idea to place a tea towel or a towel over the area that you’re going to be hitting, to protect the integrity of the cover.

The best way to loosen a drain cover is by using a hammer in each corner of the drain (or around the drain if it’s a circular manhole.) You should only need to tap each corner 2-3 times gently to adequately loosen the drain cover.

Step 4: Lift the drain cover using drain keys

If your manhole cover has keyholes, you should be able to lift the drain by using one key in each keyhole. If you don’t have drain keys, you should be able to find these in your local DIY shop or on online retailers such as Amazon. Make sure to measure the keyhole to ensure the keys will fit.

Now, all you need to do is insert the keys into the keyholes and lift.

Step 5: How to lift a drain cover safely

When lifting your drain cover, always push with your feet instead of pulling with your arms. When you pull with your arms, you’re putting unnecessary pressure on your lower back, and this can result in spinal injuries. 

If the drain cover is extremely heavy, you should get someone to help you lift it. 

Step 6: Clear the drain

If your drain is mildly blocked with leaves, foliage or soil, you can easily tidy this up with some scraping tools or the sharp end of your screwdriver. Many mild blockages can be fixed and prevented by simply maintaining your private drains every few months. 

When to hire specialists 

In some cases, lifting a drain cover yourself is only going to make matters worse. If you suspect a severe blockage, sewage problem or leak, you should call a drain repair service and leave the problem to the experts. 

When you should call a drain repair service:

If the drain cover won’t budge

If you’re unable to lift the drain cover yourself, it’s a good idea to call in specialists who specialise in drain repair services. Specialists trained in drain repair and will be able to lift the drain cover safely, while also helping you identify and fix any blockages. Forcing open a stuck drain cover can cause injury, so if it won’t budge, call an expert. 

If you suspect a leak

It’s a bad idea to try to lift a drain cover if it’s already leaking. In fact, lifting it off can cause foul-smelling liquids to spill out onto the street in front of your property. If you suspect leaks, contact a drain repair service as soon as possible. 


If you suspect that there’s a problem with sewage, call a drain repair service right away. Problems with sewage can pose a significant risk both to you and your property, so you’ll want to get it fixed right away. 

Lifting a drain cover safely: Dos and Don’ts 

  • Don’t try to open a drain cover if you’re pregnant or injured – drains and manholes are made of cast iron and are incredibly heavy. 
  • Don’t try to use a crowbar to lift a drain cover. Crowbars are designed to loosen the drain cover, not lift it entirely. You can use a crowbar to help detach a stubborn or rust-damaged drain.
  • Do clear the area before attempting to lift the drain cover. 
  • Don’t try to open the drain if you can see that it’s overflowing. If a drain is overflowing, it’s a good idea to call drain service repair specialists right away. 

Bottom Line

When it comes to lifting a drain cover, you’ll probably want to enlist the help of a family member to make the process easier. 

Don’t forget to call drain repair services if you suspect that there’s a serious leak, sewage problem, or blockage problem in your drains. 

Have an Emergency? Our drainage experts are available 24/7

Call Now Button