How to Use a Drain Snake or Auger

Clogs in drains are an all-too-common household nuisance. Often, these obstructions arise from soft debris, such as hair, grease, and other particles, that get washed down our sinks or floor drains. Over time, these materials accumulate, leading to slow drainage or even complete blockages. Such disruptions can make everyday tasks like washing dishes, taking showers, or even just using the sink a frustrating experience. However, there’s a silver lining. 

With the right tools, specifically the Drain Snake and Drain Auger, these clogs can be effectively addressed. These professional plumbing tools are designed to navigate the intricate pathways of our drainage systems, snagging the clog-causing elements and restoring the free flow of water. This guide aims to provide a comprehensive understanding of these tools and a step-by-step approach to using Drain Snake/Auger to unclog a drain.

What is a Drain Snake/Auger?

A “Drain Snake” also known as Plumber’s Snake, is a professional plumbing tool consisting of a long, flexible wire which can be manually or electrically driven deep into a clogged drain to clear obstructions or unclog drains. The head of the snake is specifically designed to snag and retract debris, such as hair, grease, and other common causes of blockages, effectively restoring the flow of the drainage system.

While both the Drain Snake and Drain Auger serve the primary purpose of unclogging drains, they differ in their build and use. A Plumber’s Snake is typically a more straightforward tool, often used for minor clogs. At the same time, an Auger is more robust and can tackle more severe blockages, especially those located further down the pipeline.

Clogs in the drain are a frequent issue, predominantly caused by soft debris like grease, hair, and other particles that accumulate over time. These obstructions can lead to slow drainage or complete blockage, making using sinks, showers, and other fixtures challenging. Fortunately, with the advent of plumbing tools like the Drain Snake and Auger, these clogs can be addressed efficiently, restoring the functionality of the drainage system.

When Should a Drain Snake/Auger Be Used?

How to Use a Drain Snake or Auger

Before diving into the general scenarios where these tools come in handy, it’s crucial to understand the specific situations suited for each tool:

  1. Drain Snake: This tool is best suited for softer clogs that are closer to the surface. Examples include hair build-ups in shower drains or minor food particle blockages in kitchen sink drains. Its flexible design allows it to navigate the bends and curves of pipes easily, making it ideal for snaking out soft obstructions and unclogging sink drains.
  2. Drain Auger: The Auger, with its robust build, is designed to tackle tougher and deeper clogs. If you’re dealing with a more persistent blockage, such as accumulated soap scum, hardened grease, or small objects that have accidentally been flushed down, the Auger is your go-to tool. Its sturdy construction can break apart hard clogs and retrieve them, ensuring a clear drain.

Now that we’ve distinguished between the specific uses of Drain Snakes and Augers, let’s explore the general signs that show it is time to use these tools:

  1. Slow Draining Sinks and Showers: One of the first signs of a clog is when water drains slower than usual. If you notice that your sink or shower is taking longer to drain, it might be time to use a Drain Snake or Auger.
  2. Gurgling Sounds: If you hear unusual gurgling sounds coming from your drains, especially after flushing the toilet or using the sink, it’s an indication of a potential blockage. This sound is caused by trapped air in the pipes, which is released when water tries to flow past the clog.
  3. Frequent Clogs: If you find yourself regularly using a plunger on your drains, it’s a sign that there’s a persistent obstruction that needs a more robust solution. A Drain Snake or Auger can provide a more thorough clearing of the blockage.
  4. Unpleasant Odors: Bad smells emanating from your drains can be due to rotting debris stuck in the pipes. Using a Drain Snake or Auger can help remove this debris and eliminate the odor.
  5. Ineffective Liquid Drain Cleaners: If you’ve tried liquid drain cleaners and they haven’t resolved the issue, it’s time to resort to a more mechanical solution. Drain Snakes and Augers can physically dislodge the obstruction, making them more effective than chemical solutions in many cases.
  6. Visible Obstructions: Sometimes, you can see the cause of the clog, especially in open drains like showers. Hair, soap scum, and other debris can be visible near the surface. In such cases, a Drain Snake can pull out the obstruction.

It’s essential to note that while Drain Snakes and Augers are effective for many clogs, they might not be suitable for all. For instance, obstructions caused by tree roots or major pipe damage might require professional intervention. Additionally, if you’re unsure about the nature of the clog or feel uncomfortable using these tools, it’s always best to seek professional assistance.

Different Types of Drain Snake/Augers

Drain augers, commonly known as drain snakes, come in various types, each designed to tackle specific plumbing challenges. Understanding the different types can help you choose the right tool for the job:

  1. Hand Spinners: These are compact, handheld devices suitable for clearing clogs in smaller drain lines, like those in bathroom sinks or bathtubs. They have a rotating handle that spins the cable, allowing it to navigate through the pipe and dislodge the obstruction.
  2. Toilet or Closet Augers: Specifically designed for toilets, these augers have a protective sleeve to prevent the porcelain from getting scratched. The curved design helps the cable navigate the unique bends of a toilet trap.
  3. Medium Drain Machines: These are motorized units ideal for larger drains like those in kitchens or laundry rooms. They can handle tougher clogs and are often used by professional plumbers.
  4. Large Drain Machines: These heavy-duty machines are designed for main sewer lines and larger drain pipes. They come with powerful motors and longer cables, capable of tackling significant obstructions like tree roots.
  5. Drum Augers: These are motorized plumber’s snakes where the cable is encased in a drum. As the drum rotates, the cable spins and advances into the drain, making it effective for deeper clogs.
  6. Sectional Machines: Instead of a drum, these machines use individual sections of cable connected together. This design allows for more flexibility, making it easier to navigate through multiple bends and turns in the pipe.
  7. Power Augers: These are electrically powered drain snakes, offering more force than manual models. They’re especially useful for stubborn clogs located further down the drain.

Understanding the types of drain augers available can help you make an informed decision based on the nature and location of the clog. However, if you’re unsure which type to use, consulting with a plumbing professional is always a good idea.

How To Use a Drain Snake/Auger

Using a Drain Snake or Auger can be an effective way to clear clogs in your plumbing system. Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you navigate the process:

  1. Safety First: Before you begin, ensure you’re wearing appropriate safety gear. This includes wearing gloves to protect your hands and safety glasses to shield your eyes from any debris.
  2. Prepare the Drain: Place a bucket or towel beneath the drain to catch any water or debris that might come out during the process.
  3. Choose the Right Tool: Based on the type and location of the clog, pick the appropriate drain snake or auger. For instance, use a toilet auger for toilet clogs and a hand spinner for minor sink obstructions.
  4. Insert the Cable: Gently feed the head of the snake or auger cable into the drain. Ensure you’re turning the handle in the direction of the arrow (usually clockwise) as you push it further.
  5. Navigate the Clog: Once you feel resistance, you’ve likely reached the clog. Continue turning the handle while applying gentle forward pressure. This action will help the cable break up or latch onto the obstruction.
  6. Retrieve the Clog: After navigating through the clog, slowly retract the cable, turning the handle in the opposite direction. The obstruction should either break apart or come out attached to the cable.
  7. Check the Drain: Once you’ve removed the clog, run water down the drain to ensure it’s flowing smoothly. If the water still drains slowly, there might be residual debris, and you may need to repeat the process.
  8. Clean Up: After successfully unclogging the drain, retract the cable fully and clean it thoroughly. This step is crucial to ensure the longevity of your tool and to prevent any potential bacterial growth.
  9. Dispose of the Debris: Safely dispose of any debris you’ve retrieved from the drain. Avoid flushing it back down, as this could lead to another clog.
  10. Store the Tool: Once cleaned, store your drain snake or auger in a dry place to prevent rusting.

Remember, while using a Drain Snake or Auger can be effective, it’s essential to handle the tool with care to avoid any damage to your pipes. If you’re unsure or if the clog persists after multiple attempts, it might be time to seek professional assistance.

When to Call Professional Plumbers For Help

While drain snakes and augers are effective tools for many common clogs, there are situations where professional intervention is necessary. Recognizing these scenarios can save you time, effort, and potential damage to your plumbing system:

  1. Recurring Clogs: It might indicate a deeper, more persistent issue if you’re frequently dealing with clogs in the same drain. Continuous snaking might provide temporary relief, but a professional can diagnose and address the root cause.
  2. Multiple Clogged Drains: If several drains in your home are clogged simultaneously, it could signify a blockage in the main sewer line. Addressing such clogs requires specialized equipment and expertise.
  3. Water Backflow: If water starts backing up in odd places, like water emerging in the bathtub when you flush the toilet, it’s a sign of a severe blockage that needs professional attention.
  4. Tree Root Intrusion: Over time, tree roots can infiltrate sewer lines, causing significant blockages. Removing these roots and repairing any damage is a job for professionals.
  5. Unidentifiable Clogs: If you’ve tried snaking and the clog remains, or if you can’t identify the nature of the blockage, it’s best to call in an expert. They have cameras and other diagnostic tools to inspect and pinpoint the issue.
  6. Old or Fragile Pipes: If your home has older plumbing or if you’re aware that your pipes are fragile, using a drain snake or auger might cause damage. In such cases, professional plumbers can use gentler methods to clear clogs without risking damage.
  7. Unsuccessful Snaking: If you’ve attempted to use a drain snake or auger multiple times without success, it’s time to call for help. Persistent attempts might lead to pipe damage or push the clog deeper.
  8. Unpleasant Odors: Persistent bad smells from drains, even after clearing a clog, might indicate a more significant issue, such as a broken vent or sewer line.

In all these scenarios, a professional plumber can not only address the immediate issue but also provide insights into maintaining a clog-free plumbing system. Remember, while DIY methods can be effective, there’s no substitute for the expertise and equipment that a professional brings to the table. Roto-Rooter Plumbing & Water Cleanup provides professional drain cleaning services as well as deals with every kind of clogging issue in the drain as well as the plumbing system