Plumbing Snake

What is a plumbing snake?

A plumbing snake is a tool which is used to unclog drains and sewers. It consists of a long flexible cable with an auger on one end and either a handle or a motor on the other. Plumbing snakes can be either electrically powered or manual.

What's It Used For?

Plumbing snakes are typically used to unclog drains and sewers. The head of the sewer auger is fed down the drain on the end of the drain cable. Once the blockage is reached, the head of the device is rotated. The corkscrew shape of the auger will bite into the blockage and ideally the material clogging the drain can be retrieved then discarded. Alternatively the obstruction would be broken up and the drain cleared. This is not ideal as the material may travel further down the drain before causing a blockage again.

Electric Plumbing Snake:

An electric version uses an electric motor to power the head of the device. These models are more expensive and depending on the size of the motor, may be more suited to commercial use.
A good compromise may be the use of an attachment to a power drill. This type of drain snake fits as a standard attachment to a power drill and uses the drill's electric motor to power the auger.

Manual Plumbing Snake:

A cheaper solution for home use might be a manual model. This hand powered model is suitable for most smaller clogs around the home. Smaller clogs and infrequent use would normally not make an investment in an electric model a viable option. There is even a plastic drain snake available.

Plumbing Snake Rental:

Another option might be rental. If you have a bigger job to do, one for which a standard 1/4 inch cable will not be suitable, you may want to consider renting a larger device. Most tool rental companies carry them. The model you'll need will greatly depend on the job at hand (ie. the nature and location of the blockage).

However, some of the larger models aren't suitable in the hands of a novice. Because of the size and power of some of these drain augers, a beginner could do more damage than good. If this is the case, you might be better off calling your local plumber or rooter specialist to get you drain cleaned.

Read more about how to use a plumbing snake.

How To Use A Plumbing Snake

This article describes how to use a plumbing snake to unclog blocked drains step by step. A handyman (or woman) with some basic tools, a little time and a drain auger should be able to tackle most clogged drains in a domestic setting. Why call in a professional when it's so easy to learn how to use a plumbing snake?


Make sure you have a bucket and plenty of towels ready before you try to snake a drain. Lay the towels around your work area to soak up any water and protect fittings from any debris which you might retrieve during this operation.

Remove the drain cover or grill:

You will need to gain access to the drain in question so the drain auger can do it's thing. This will normally mean removing the cover from the drain.

Feed in the Plumbing Snake:

For most small jobs around the home a manual device should suffice, although there are electric models available if your job is more significant. You can even get an attachment for a power drill. Whichever type you use, start by feeding the auger head down into the drain. Rotate it a little as you feed it in.

Find the blockage:

Continue feeding in the cable, pushing the drain auger gently until you feel it come up against the blockage.

Retrieve the blockage:

Rotate the head of the plumbing snake until you can feel it biting into the blockage. Ideally you will be able to get a grip on the blockage with the auger and retrieve it back out of the drain. Place the material in the bucket for disposal later.

The idea is to try not the push the blockage further into the drain. However, in some circumstances it may be unavoidable. It this case, you can use the head to chew away at the blockage until it breaks down and is dislodged.

Wash Away any Loose Debris:

Once you have retrieved the material which was blocking the drain, run hot water down the drain for at least 5 minutes to wash away any remaining debris which was not already removed.

Read more about How To Use A Plumbing Snake.

Toilet Auger - A Different Kind Of Plumbing Snake

What is a Toilet Auger (also known as a water closet auger or just closet auger)? How is it different to a Plumbing Snake?

A toilet auger is a tool whose sole purpose is for use in lavatory fittings. How is it different to a drain auger?

A Toilet Auger Is Shorter

A Toiler Auger is shorter and stiffer than a standard plumbing snake snake. This is because most lavatory blockages occur quite close to the opening of the drain. The u-bend is quite tight and is the most common place for most material to become lodged.

It Has A Protective Sheath

A Toilet Auger is normally sheathed inside a protective rubber or plastic tube. This tube prevents the closet auger from damaging the porcelain surface of your bathroom fixture. It enables the cable to pass through the u-bend with causing scratches or other damage.

The Toilet Auger's Protective Tube Has A Bent End.

One end of the protective tube of the closet auger is bent. This mimics the shape of the drain and enables you to navigate the tight bends within most toilet drains.

Do you need one?

I would suggest it is a necessary item in any home handyman's toolkit. For a reasonably small sum, you can buy a closet auger and put it away until the next time your toilet fixture becomes blocked and the hardware store is closed.

Read more plumbing snake information.

Plumbing Snake or Chemical Cleaner

A question often asked is whether to use a plumbing snake or a chemical cleaner to clear a clogged drain. There is no right answer to this. It will depend on the situation. In some circumstances, the plumbing snake is preferred, but there is a place for a chemical drain cleaner.

When is a Chemical cleaner preferable?

A chemical cleaner would normally be used instead of a plumbing snake when the blockage is minor or incomplete. If the drainage flow is slower than normal but not sufficiently restricted to cause a problem, this is when a chemical cleaner can be useful. It can reduce the build-up of residue coating the sides of drain pipes and restore flow back to normal.

It may even be necessary to apply a chemical drain cleaner on a regular basis to keep the pipes clear from residue and draining well. This will also decrease the chance of a larger obstruction becoming caught in the drain and causing a complete blockage.

Other minor blockages can be cleared using a plunger. A plunger has the advantage of being less dangerous to use than a chemical drain cleaner and being easier to use than a drain auger or sewer snake.

So When Should You Use A Plumber's Snake?

A plumbing snake is more appropriate when the drain is blocked completely (or nearly so). In this situation most domestic chemical cleaners wont be strong enough to penetrate the blockage and to break it up. Also because of the reduced flow it might be difficult for the cleaner to reach the blockage in sufficient quantity to do any good anyway.

This is when a drain auger comes into it's own. By using a plumbing snake or sewer auger you will be able to reach the blockage and retrieve it or at least break it up and restore the flow. A chemical cleaner may then be applied to remove additional residue and maintain the flow.

Read more about how to use a plumbing snake.

Plumbing Snake: Types and Uses

Plumbing Snakes come in different shapes and sizes. In this article, I will discuss what the different varieties of plumbing snakes are and what they can be used for. They range in size and price from a simple hand powered drain auger for occasional use to heavy duty motorized models for use by professionals on the big jobs.

Hand Powered Plumbing Snake

The Hand Auger

A Hand Auger, sometimes known as a Hand Spinner, is a hand powered plumbing snake suitable for clearing obstructions from basin, bathtub and shower drains. They consist of a length or cable (normally 1/4") with a handle to rotate the device and an auger end at the other.

The Toilet Auger

The Toilet Auger or Closet Auger is a special type of plumbing snake designed specifically for use in unclogging toilet fixtures. The cable is short (it's reach is about 3 ft) and is hand powered using a small handle. The a section of the cable is normally coated to prevent damage to delicate porcelain surfaces.

Both the Hand Auger and Toilet Auger are suitable for use around the home by home handymen (or women).

Motorized Plumbing Snakes

Hand Held

Similar to the Hand Auger discussed above is the powered hand held auger. The main difference is that this drain snake is powered by a small electric motor. The motor can be built into the unit, or the unit may come as an attachment to a power drill.

Drum Auger

A Drum Auger is a heavy duty plumber's snake suitable for use by professionals. This electrically powered auger stores it's cable on a drum and normally has removable blades. This type is good for removing large obstructions like tree roots and has much greater cable length and therefore greater reach.

Learn more about what a plumbing snake is.

Rooter - When A Plumbing Snake Isn't Enough

When to trade in your plumbing snake for a rooter...

I recently had a plumbing emergency. During a recent heavy down poor, I found out that we had a clogged drain when water from the roof started overflowing the guttering. Thinking that the guttering had filled with leaves, I was up on a ladder in the midst of the storm checking for blockages in the guttering but finding none. I finally tracked the problem down. Roots had got into the stormwater pipes and reduced the flow to a trickle.

But first a little background. We recently moved into this house. It's about 40 years old but has been well maintained and is in good condition. There are a few things that need to be done but nothing major.

One of the jobs that needs to be done is to put some gutter guard over the gutters to stop them filling up with leaves and other materials which fall from the large trees in our area. Until I get around to putting up the gutter guard, I have been making sure I clean out the leaved regularly. But they build up again quickly. This is why I assumed it was the leaves when the getters overflowed.

What I've since found is that all of the stormwater is carried by clay pipes. What this means is that the roots from the large trees have discovered the moisture and forced their way between the gaps in the pipes and clogged the drain.

During the storm, once I had worked out where the blockage was, I was out there with my plumbing snake trying to clear what I thought were leaves causing the blockage. What I soon worked out (from the material I was pulling out) was that it was roots which were preventing the water flow.

I've come to the conclusion that I will need to get a plumbing contractor to come in and perform a pipe inspection. I suspect my options will be to call in a rooter service or to replace the clay pipes with pvc plumbing. Another option I've considered is a hydro jetting service, but I suspect hydro jetting wont be able to clear the blockage.

I will write more about the differences between a rooter and a plumbing snake in an upcoming post.

Which Plumbing Snake?

What type of plumbing snake is suited to which type of job? With a variety of makes, models and types of plumbing snakes available, it's important to choose the right drain auger for your job. This article will discuss the various jobs you may need to tackle using your plumbing snake and the type which is best suited to each job.

Clearing Clogged Toilets:

A water closet auger (also called a closet auger, toilet auger or toilet snake) is a special kind of plumbing snake specifically designed for clearing clogged toilets. It is shorter and more rigid than other drain augers, it is bent to allow access into the u-bend of the lavatory and it has a protective cover over the rod or cable. The protective cover is intended to prevent damage to delicate porcelain surfaces of most toilet fittings.

Clearing Clogged Basin or Shower Drains:

A hand auger (or hand spinner) is another kind of plumbing snake designed to clear clogged basin or shower drains. It consists of a cable with a handle at one end and an auger head at the other. It is normally longer than a closet auger and therefore has a longer reach. It is normally not quite as rigid. A variation is a model that fits on a power drill. Instead of turning the auger by hand, the motor of the power drill turns the auger head.

Clearing Tree Roots From Blocked Sewers:

A heavy duty sewer snake or plumbing snake is required for this job. It consists of a much longer, thicker cable, and is powered by its own electric motor. Some also have a drum the hold the cable. These larger models have a detachable auger blade designed for cutting through tree roots and other major obstructions. Care should be take with these more powerful units as plumbing can easily be damaged. If in doubt, a professional should be called in to handle these larger jobs.

Read more about plumbing snakes and drain snakes.

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