A Quick Primer on Jetters and Nozzles

Make sure you understand what to look for before making your next purchase.

A Quick Primer on Jetters and Nozzles
When it comes to buying jetters and nozzles, it’s important to understand the pressure and flow capabilities of the machine, along with the intended purpose of different nozzles and how they relate to your specific needs.

Jetters are among the fundamental tools of sewer and drain cleaning. The right jetter will help make you efficient, effective and profitable, so choosing wisely based on your own specific needs is critical.

In general terms, larger-diameter pipes require higher flow, while smaller pipes require higher pressure, especially if you’re cleaning heavy grease or clearing tree roots.

A smaller cart-mounted jetter with a 1.5 hp electric motor generates about 1,500 psi at 1 1/2 to 2 1/4 gpm and is ideal for interior lines up to 4 inches in diameter. For lines up to 6 inches in diameter, a 13 hp unit (with a gas-powered engine) that generates 3,000 psi at 4 gpm should do the trick. And to clean lines ranging from 3 to 12 inches in diameter, you’ll need an even larger trailer-mounted unit with a gas engine that ranges from 19 to 40 hp and produces anywhere from 2,000 to 4,000 psi at about 12 gpm. Even larger mainlines and storm drains might require 25 gpm at 3,000 to 4,000 psi.

It’s also important to understand pressure ratings and how they’re measured. On some jetters, pressure is rated at the pump. On others, it’s rated at the end of the hose. Regardless of which point pressure is measured at, keep in mind that pressure drops as the hose run increases, and a more powerful unit may be needed to compensate for longer runs.

And if you’re looking at a bigger trailer-mounted jetter, you also have to consider your vehicle’s towing capability. A unit with a full 600-gallon water tank will add 4,800 pounds for just water alone, so you’ll need a truck that can handle the weight.

Other trailer jetter features include:

  • Safety shut-offs that automatically turn the machine off when it runs out of water or runs low on oil
  • Manual or power hose rewind
  • Pulse action that vibrates the hose to help it work around bends and through tough clogs (also an option on smaller jetters)
  • Remote-control operation
  • A pivoting and telescoping hose reel that makes it easier to align the hose with clean-outs, manholes and the like
  • Weatherization kits that prevent internal systems from freezing up
  • Hot-water capability for thawing drainlines and more effective cleaning of grease clogs


Without the correct nozzles, a jetter will never deliver peak performance.

Jet trajectory is critical to nozzle selection. Jet angles in the 30 to 45 degree range are ideal for cleaning pipe walls. Jet angles in the 0 to 10 degree range are primarily designed for thrust to propel a nozzle up the line and punch through a blockage. These angles are also the most efficient for moving debris. A jet in the 15 to 20 degree range can clean the pipe wall, propel the nozzle and move debris, but using two nozzles for each job would be more efficient. Many newer nozzles combine angles to perform multiple functions simultaneously.

Beyond angles, nozzles are broken down into three tiers based on efficiency for moving water:

  • Tier 1 — steel housing with orifices drilled out in different locations and sizes, and at different angles, which can mean poor flow dynamics and less efficiency.
  • Tier 2 — better flow dynamics than Tier 1 nozzles. They have replaceable inserts for longer life, and flow straighteners for better performance.
  • Tier 3 — higher capacity and more effective cleaning by directing flow more efficiently for less energy loss.

It’s important to know what you’ll be cleaning and to select nozzles that are designed for that specific task. Part of that equation is making sure your nozzles have the right tips.

Tips are small, replaceable inserts that screw into holes in the nozzle. Tips are typically made from four different materials:

  • Stainless steel — commonly used by sewer and drain cleaners. They can better tolerate rough handling, and require the use of clean water (filtered to 25 microns or better) at pressures of less than 20,000 psi.
  • Carbide steel — since it’s harder and won’t wear as fast, carbide steel is ideal for sewer contractors who use dirty, unfiltered water that’s propelled at high flow rates below 20,000 psi.
  • Ceramic – like carbide, ceramic tips are best for contractors who use dirty, unfiltered water below 20,000 psi.
  • Sapphire — predominantly for extremely high-pressure hydroblasting jobs like cutting concrete at 40,000 psi or more.

Manufacturers make a wide variety of jetters and nozzles designed for everything from general cleaning and flushing to very specific tasks like root cutting or concrete removal. Check out the enclosed Buyer’s Guide for manufacturer’s info, and take the time to find the equipment that suits your exact needs.


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