A culvert is one of the best ways to manage drainage on a driveway, especially when you are dealing with large amounts of water runoff. The culvert pipe safely carries water under the driveway, thus protecting the driveway from damage and erosion.
On the downside, culverts need regular maintenance to prevent clogging. Here are some tips on how to clean and maintain a driveway culvert. We also discuss the best ways to keep the culvert from clogging and thus reduce how much maintenance and cleaning you need to do.
What You'll Learn Today
- What Happens if You Don’t Clean a Driveway Culvert?
- 4 Ways To Clean A Driveway Culvert
- How to Keep Your Driveway Culvert from Clogging
What Happens if You Don’t Clean a Driveway Culvert?
The water passing through the culvert carries with it lots of stuff including silt, debris and small rocks. Some of these materials remain in the culvert and build up over time. In addition, leaves, sand, weeds and grass also find their way into the culvert.
If you do not clean your driveway culvert, it can quickly become clogged. This will reduce how much water flows through the culvert and, in extreme circumstances, it could completely block water flow.
A clogged driveway culvert is the genesis of many drainage problems. If runoff doesn’t drain through the culvert, it will flood some other area of your home. The water could also find an alternative path over your driveway and damage it.
If the culvert is located close to the street or a neighbor’s home, it can also cause flood damage that you could be liable for.
4 Ways To Clean A Driveway Culvert
1. The Tire Method
You’ve probably seen one of those viral videos of someone pulling a tire through a culvert pipe. Here’s a video if you’ve yet to see it.
You can try this method at home if you can get an old tire and a long chain. It is particularly useful if your culvert is fully or almost fully clogged with debris.
The first step is getting the chain through the culvert. To do this, secure the chain to a long piece of narrow pipe, metal or stick then push it through the culvert until it emerges on the other side.
Once the chain is through, tie it to the tire. Now you pull the tire through the culvert. For small driveway culverts, you might be able to do this by hand, maybe with one or two other people helping.
But if the culvert is too clogged, you may need the pulling power of a truck. Tie the chain to the truck and gently step on the gas.
As the tire passes through the culvert, it pushes out mud and debris. You can then use a shovel or water pressure to fully unclog the culvert.
Tip: Be careful if you have a PVC/plastic culvert as it can get damaged by the tire. The tire method works best on concrete and corrugated metal culverts.
2. Use a Shovel or a Culvert Cleaning Tool
For regular cleaning where the culvert is not too clogged or the debris is mostly at the culvert entry and exit, a regular shovel can work. It’s also a safer option for plastic culverts. Make sure you have a shovel that can fit through the culvert pipe.
Use the shovel to clear out debris as deep as you can. Then go to the other side of the driveway and clear the remaining debris from the other end.
If your driveway is extra wide and your shovel cannot reach deep inside the culvert, you can extend it by attaching a piece of pipe or a metal rod to it.
Alternatively, get a culvert cleaning tool. That’s right, there’s a tool specifically for cleaning culverts. Here’s a popular one on Amazon. They come in different widths ranging from 8 to 18 inches, so you can order the one that will fit through your driveway culvert.
Culvert cleaning tools typically don’t come with a handle. We recommend buying a telescoping pole or a long metal pipe.
3. Use Water Pressure
At a high pressure, water is powerful; powerful enough to unclog or clean a driveway culvert.
If you have a pressure washer, you can use it to clear the culvert. Direct the stream of high pressure water through the pipe from the upstream side of the culvert. This allows the water to flow towards where it is supposed to drain.
For regular cleaning, even a garden hose with a high pressure nozzle attached might be enough to clear small amounts of debris.
4. Hire a Pro
If you don’t have the time, ability or tools to clear the culvert, you can always hire someone to do it for you. Check your local area for a company that offers culvert cleaning services. You can even have them come regularly to ensure the culvert doesn’t clog.
Some landscaping or home maintenance companies may also include culvert cleaning as part of their services.
How to Keep Your Driveway Culvert from Clogging
As with most things at home, prevention is always the best way to save yourself a headache and money. Instead of waiting until the culvert is chock full of debris, it’s better if you keep that debris out.
This will not only save you the cost and effort of unclogging a blocked culvert, you also won’t have to clean the culvert as often.
Block Debris and Dirt from Going In
The best way to keep a culvert clean is to keep it from getting dirty in the first place. Of course, it’s not possible to keep a culvert squeaky clean forever. No matter what you do, some debris will eventually find a way in.
The goal is to keep as much debris as possible out of the culvert. You can do this by constructing some sort of culvert inlet cover that lets water through but blocks debris.
One idea is to install a mesh cover over the inlet of the culvert. The mesh should be fine enough to trap most kinds of debris. But it may not prevent silt and fine sand from passing through and building up in the culvert.
Another idea is to spread a mixture of coarse and fine aggregate around the mouth of the culvert. As water passes through, the aggregate traps the debris and sediment while allowing water to flow through.
We also came across someone using a ‘two bucket system’ to trap dirt and mud to prevent it from clogging the culvert. Here’s a video.
Prevent Erosion Around The Culvert
One of the reasons your culvert may be clogging up is erosion around the inlet. This deposits soil and rocks inside the culvert and damages the area around the culvert. Over time, it could even damage the driveway as the water gradually erodes the base materials.
One of the ideas we’ve mentioned above, placing aggregate around the inlet, is a great way to reduce erosion while also filtering water going into the culvert. Also add rocks at the outlet end to prevent erosion there, too.
In addition, plant vegetation around the culvert opening to slow down runoff and keep soil from being carried away. A mixture of grass and shrubs works great.
Sometimes, the erosion could be coming from further up. Check other areas within your property where runoff is causing erosion. Take steps to reduce or eliminate erosion by redirecting the water, slowing it down or planting vegetation.
Clean The Culvert Regularly
No matter what you do, some debris and dirt will still get into the culvert. Regular cleaning is important to keep the culvert from clogging.
How often you clean the culvert depends on how quickly mud and debris builds up inside. So carry out regular inspections, especially when it is raining. Check how well water is flowing through the culvert.
For regular cleaning, a culvert cleaning tool or a shovel works great. You can also use a garden hose to flush dirt out of the culvert. If the culvert is heavily clogged, use the tire method or a pressure washer.
Consider a Wider Culvert
Your culvert could be clogging because it is too narrow. This causes increased erosion around the inlet and dirt builds up more quickly inside.
If there is a lot of stormwater going through the culvert, consider upgrading to a wider pipe. Generally, driveway culverts are 12 to 15 inches wide.
Alternatively, consider installing a second culvert right next or close to the first one.
Check the Slope of the Culvert
Another possible reason for a driveway culvert clogging is poor water drainage through it. The upstream end of the culvert should be higher than the outlet end. This allows water and debris to flow naturally through the culvert.
If the slope is not steep enough, more dirt and debris will settle in the culvert instead of flowing out. So check the slope of the culvert and consider whether you need to adjust it.
Looking for more cleaning guides? Then check out this guide on cleaning tire marks.