If you’re dealing with a clog too stubborn for a plunger but you’re not ready to throw in the towel yet, a snake may be your best bet. A plumber’s snake, drain snake or drain auger, is a tool that reaches down into pipes to remove clogs. Snakes make up the middle ground between household plungers and the really big guns like rooters.
Snakes are more powerful DIY drain-clearers than plungers but also more difficult to use. If you use your plumber’s snake improperly, you risk tearing up your pipes or creating leaks. To avoid doing that, learn how your snake works and how to use it correctly. Here’s everything you should know about using a plumber’s snake.
How does a plumber’s snake work? (And what is an auger anyway?)
An auger is simply a tool designed for boring into something. A drill is a type of auger. A plumbing auger or plumbing snake is a long, flexible metal cable with a small, uncoiled spring on one end and a handle on the other. The auger head on the snake looks like a corkscrew. Home plumber’s snakes are usually around 50 feet long. The cable coils up when you’re not using it. Most home plumber’s snakes are hand-operated and have a rotatable handle or crank to release and retrieve the cable.
Plumber’s snakes work by entering the drain directly to physically contact and then clear away the obstruction causing the clog. You manually insert the auger head into the drain and then begin uncoiling it by rotating the handle. As the snake uncoils, it moves further through the drainpipe, until the head breaks through the obstruction.
How do you use a plumber’s snake?
- Put on some clothes you don’t mind getting dirty and lay some old towels beneath the pipes you’re working on. Depending on the nature of the clog, your snaking procedure could get messy. This is especially important if you end up removing the p-trap.
- Optional) Consider removing the p-trap. The p-trap, or p-bend, is the curving piece of pipe beneath the sink. It connects the sink to the greater drainpipe system in your home. The reason it’s curved is to prevent sewer gases from rising through the sink and into the home. P-traps are often made of PVC pipe, though they can also be metal.
You can manually remove the p-trap, either with your hands or with the help of an adjustable wrench. Once you remove the p-trap, you should thoroughly inspect and clean it out. If you’ve found your obstruction, you may not have to snake at all! Even if you don’t find anything, removing the trap often makes snaking easier.
- (Optional) Consider removing the trap arm. A trap arm is the part of the pipe between the p-trap and the actual wall pipe. It holds the p-trap in place and may curve again to reach the wall. Look for a plastic or metal nut connecting the trap arm to the wall. If you can find one, loosen it to remove the trap arm. If you can’t, then it’s possible the arm is glued in place; don’t attempt to remove it in that case. Make sure you clean out the trap arm like you did the p-trap once you remove it.
Removing the trap arm gives you the best access to the drainpipe possible. Look inside the drainpipe to look for any obstructions. If you can see the obstruction, try removing it from where you are. If you can’t, it’s time to use your snake.
- Manually thread the auger head of the snake into the pipe. Insert the head of the snake into either the drain (if you didn’t remove the trap), or the access point on the wall. If you didn’t remove the trap, consider running cold water while you snake.
Don’t push the auger into the drain with a lot of force, or you could damage the drain entrance or pipe. Be patient and make sure the head and cable aren’t too wide for the drain you’re trying to snake.
- Begin uncoiling the snake using the handle. Keep the handle of the snake as close to the entrance of the pipe as possible. The less slack the auger has, the more force you’re directing into the pipe.
Rotate the handle at a consistent pace. Don’t try to rush it or rotate too slowly. If you feel pressure at any point while the cable moves through the pipe, you may have encountered the obstruction.
- Upon reaching the obstruction, move or the rotate the head back-and-forth and up-and-down. Try to break up the obstruction as thoroughly as possible but don’t jam the auger into the walls of the pipe. If you hear scraping noises, then you should stop snaking and re-adjust.
If you think the auger might be stuck in the obstruction, consider pulling the snake out of the pipe. In some cases, the obstruction may come out with it. Continue snaking until you no longer feel resistance and the snake uncoils to its full length.
- Pull the snake out and re-assemble the sink components. Check the auger head for remains of the obstruction and clean it off. If you removed the trap arm and p-trap, then you should re-install them at this point.
- Check the sink. The snake should have successfully removed the obstruction and solved the clogging problem. If you still have a clog, then you could try repeating your snaking process. Just like plunging, however, snaking too much can harm your pipes or drains. If a thorough snaking didn’t solve your problem, it may be time to call in the pros.
Snaking is a surprisingly easy and accessible homeowner project. As long as you understand how to use your snake, you should be able to remove pesky clogs from your sink, bathtub or toilet.
For the times when you just can’t beat that clog, no matter what you try. Don’t despair! After your snake, the next step is to call Mike Diamond. We’ve got the tools and knowhow to find and break up any clog outside of Los Angeles traffic.