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.