Too much toilet paper, feminine products, flushable wipes (that are not meant to go down the toilet) invasive roots—any of these can all play havoc on your sewer system. Sludge builds up when fats accumulate in the drain and the sludge coats the inside of the pipe then hardens causing materials to stick and reduces the diameter of the drain creating a backup or clog. No one appreciates their sewer system more than when it is backed up and you feel the pressing need to do laundry or use the toilet.
If you notice that your sink is slow, you may be able to use an enzyme cleaner like Bio-clean to address build up that occurs inside the pipe. This is a great maintenance product to keep the pipes clear. If they are backing up though, you need the more immediate assistance of Powers Plumbing and a sewer machine or snake. The machine is called a snake because it is mechanically pushes a long thin cable through to clear the pipe or cut through roots. The cable is sized for the job. A 1-1/2-inch drain needs a thinner cable and a larger drain uses a larger cable. Cutting heads on the end allow for root cutting. The plumber or dispatch will ask you if you have a clean out. The clean out is the entry point for the cable to get to the drain line. As the cable rotates inside the pipe and is pushed forward by the plumber the mechanical action of the forward motion, in addition to the rotation of the cable can usually either break up the material that is clogging the drain, or move it forward to the next larger pipe size in the sewer system. Either way it helps the waste go down the sewer pipe.
When the plumber pulls something back it means that a remnant of the clogged material was left on the end of the cutting head which gives the plumber a clue as to the cause of the clog. However, the process followed is mostly by feel and not by sight because his location is at the clean out and the entry point to the pipe. This pipe in the photo was too far gone. It was completely clogged with only a small hole through the center of the build up. Drain maintenance is important to keeping your system functioning properly. For more information see this article.