If you have been experiencing clogs in your drains and have been unsuccessful with plunging the drain clear, using a drain auger is your best bet to get the job done.
Drain augers are also known as snakes, and the process is simply called snaking a drain. The tool is called snake because of its coiled, spiral design. These tools work in a different manner than a plunger. While a plunger works to clear the drain with a suctioning action, snakes are inserted into the drain to trap whatever is clogging the pipe so it can be pulled out.
There are different kinds of drain snakes, and they can be manual or electric. Different snakes are used to clean different kinds of drains. For instance, kitchen sinks are cleared with specifically designed drain snakes, and there are toilet snakes that work best to remove clogs from the toilet. Although there are different types of drain snakes for different drains, the overall process of snaking a drain is the same.
Manually snaking a blockage can be a good alternative for when using liquid is not appropriate, such as if you have copper linings.
How to Snake a Drain
Here are step-by-step instructions on how to snake a drain.
- Assess the Drain. The first step you need to take is to assess the clog. Most drain clogs can be easily removed by plunging. Use a plunger and try getting that clog out. If plunging doesn’t work, try cleaning the trap (the U-, S-, or J-shaped pipe) under the sink.
- Gather the Supplies. If you have already assessed the clog, and it’s something really troublesome, you will need to use the snake. You will need a few things on hand for to reduce the mess and make cleanup easier. Gather a bucket, rubber gloves, and a drain auger or snake.
- Clear the path of the drain. Make sure you remove any hair or similar clogs from your drain that are within easy reach.
- Insert the Snake cable into the drain. Once the path is clear insert the drain snake into the drain opening and start turning the handle clockwise. Keep pushing the auger until you can feel the clog.
- The first resistance you feel will probably be the tight curve in the trap under the sink. Once the snake makes it way through the curve, the snake should travel smoothly through the rest of the pipe until it reaches the clog. Be sure that you have a gap of at least three inches from the drain opening, so that you can control the motions of the snake.
- Hook the Clog. You will know when you have reached the clog if the clog slowly moves downward as you apply pressure, unlike the pipe which won’t budge regardless of how much pressure you apply. Continue applying pressure by turning the cable clockwise. Checking from time to time to see if you have hooked any clogged matter in the tip of the snake. Work on the clog until you puncture through the other end, while periodically pulling slightly to see if you have captured anything. If you don’t seem to be able to break the clog despite continuous effort, consider that it may be a solid material that has clogged the pipes.
- Pull Out. Once you have hooked the clog, slowly pull out so that you do not lose any of the clogged material that you have now captured. Once you have pulled the snake completely out of the drain opening with the clog, remove the material into the bucket, to avoid accidentally dropping the material back down the drain. Insert the drain snake inside the drain again and continue the process to pull out as much of clog as you can. You will know that you have pulled out the last of the clogs when the snake comes out clean and free of debris from the clog.
- Final Step. Lastly, you will want to verify whether you cleared all of the clogged material or if the drain is still blocked. Run the sink water at full force for a few minutes and be sure it all goes down the drain. There is a good chance that whatever clogged matter is still remaining inside the drain will be flushed down with the water. It might be slow at first but the pace should gradually increase. However, if you think that the drain is still clogged, you might want to try snaking through the pipes directly under the sink. The snaking technique remains the same for all kinds of drains, even when it’s done directly through the pipes.
- Re-evaluate: If snaking the drain does not clear the clog, you can repeat the process or call a plumber. In most cases, following this process will solve the problem.
Preventing Future Clogs
Prevention is definitely better than the cure. Here are few tips to help you keep your drains clog-free.
- Do not dump solid waste. It’s pretty obvious, but drains are no place to be dumping your solid waste. Even the smallest objects can cause a clog. Use the trash instead. This is especially true in the kitchen. Melted butter will solidify in the pipes as it cools. Be sure food waste is disposed of in the kitchen garbage can.
- Don’t cut your hair or shave over the sink. Washing loose hair from hair brushing or shaving down the drain will easily cause clogs, and it does not apply for just sinks. Shower drains can also become clogged. Shave over a sink and use a hair catcher like this.
- Use a sink strainer. Things are bound to slip through the drains no matter how careful you are. So, your best bet is to use kitchen sink strainers. Make sure you also have one in the shower and bath tub as well. There are “hair catchers” that can be put in the shower or tub drain. These screens will stop loose hair and other materials from washing down the drain.
You can either rent or buy drain snakes. Tool rental shops rent both manual and electric drain augers. Or, you can purchase one from a local hardware store or order one from online sellers through websites like Amazon.com. Manual drain snakes are surprisingly inexpensive. These products are a must-have for every household. Snakes can help save you money in the long run by fixing the clog yourself and saving on a plumber’s service call fees.