How to Use a Plumbing Snake How to Use a Plumbing Snake

What You'll Need
Plumbing snake
Pipe wrench
Pliers
Rubber gloves
Eye protection
Sponge
Empty bucket

As a professional handyman, one of the most common calls I get is to unclog a drain. Unclogging most drains and piping systems in your own home can be done without spending extra dollars for a handyman like me to do the job for you. Sometimes a plunger will work for small clogs. But when a plunger isn't doing the trick, you're going to have to use a plumbing snake, also called an auger.

Plumbing snakes come in different sizes for different applications. Each plumbing system in your home is unique and you must make sure that you're using the right snake for the right plumbing system. Your local hardware store and large home improvement stores will have plumbing snakes for purchase, and places like Home Depot will have snakes or augers you can rent. Be sure to let them know what system you are unclogging and they will be able to rent or sell you the right snake for the job.

How to Use a Plumbing Snake

To use a snake on a tub drain, first remove the overflow plate located above the tub drain. Insert the cable into the overflow line. If you are unclogging a shower drain, you will have to remove the strainer on the shower floor and then run the cable into the drain. If it's a kitchen or bathroom sink drain, you may have to go underneath the sink and remove the trap. You can then run the plumbing snake through the drainage pipes.

Once the snake reaches the obstruction, you will have to turn the handle of the snake clockwise in order to get the tip of the snake into the clog. Then, twist, push, and pull the cable to break up the clog. With most drainage pipes, you will encounter bends and twists in pipes and will have to use moderate force to push past the turns.

Types of Snakes to Use for Specific Drains

Toilet Stoppage

A toilet auger is the only type of snake safe to unclog your toilet. This auger will not damage your toilet bowl and the cable is designed not to loop back on itself when it reaches the clog.

Bathtubs and Showers

When snaking a bathtub or shower, a thin cable must be used in order to make the bends in the trap and also to prevent damage to the drain line under the tub. A snake with a cable thickness of 1/4" to 5/16" is ideal.

Kitchen and Bathroom Sinks

It's best to snake sink drains from underneath the sink. You will have to remove the trap located inside and underneath the sink. Place an empty bucket under pipes to catch any water trapped inside. Insert the snake into the drain line and use the same type of snake as mentioned above for tubs and showers to unclog the drain. Sometimes, it's only the trap itself that is clogged. However, I suggest snaking the drain to make sure there is no other stoppage.

Mainline Drains

Here is a big one. Mainlines are usually 3” or bigger and will require a large drain snake to clear the stoppage. This will require a much bigger and powerful snake. Up until now, we have been discussing manual snakes or augers that you can rent or purchase. To unclog or clean out your main line, you will need an electric snake. These machines are better off rented from your local hardware store as they can be very expensive to purchase. You will have to find the cleanout plug located in your basement or outside your home where the mainline leaves the house. Be sure to get a quick lesson from the store you rent from on proper usage of the specific machine you are using.

Once you've cleared the clog and reattached any plumbing fixtures such as traps, strainers, or pipes you had to remove, be sure to run water and make sure there are no leaks and that the drain is free of debris.

Final Thoughts

Unclogging a drain or pipe can be a messy but necessary job. It can also be expensive to pay a professional to do it for you. You can do the job yourself, however, by following the simple instructions above. But please be sure to use the right snake for the job, always wear protective equipment, and follow instructions that accompany the brand of snake you rent or buy.

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