How to Use a Drain Snake to Unclog Drains

Are you tired of dealing with stubborn clogged drains that refuse to budge despite all your efforts? Fret not, as we bring you the ultimate solution to your plumbing woes – the mighty drain snake! As a homeowner, understanding how to use a drain snake effectively can save you from the hassle and expense of calling in a professional plumber every time a clog rears its ugly head.

In this step-by-step guide, we will demystify the process of drain cleaning and equip you with the knowledge and confidence to tackle clogs head-on. From choosing the right type of drain snake to mastering the techniques that will make the task a breeze, we’ve got you covered.

What Is a Plumbing Snake?

What Is a Plumbing Snake

A plumbing snake, also known as a drain snake or an auger, is a flexible metal cable with a coiled spring or a corkscrew-shaped tip at one end. The cable is inserted into the drain and pushed or cranked until it reaches the obstruction. The tip then hooks or breaks up the clog, allowing water to flow freely again.

Plumbing snakes come in different sizes and lengths, depending on the type and location of the drain. Some are manual, meaning you have to turn a handle to rotate the cable, while others are powered by electricity or batteries. You can buy or rent plumbing snakes from hardware stores, home improvement centers, or online retailers.

When to Snake a Drain

Snaking a drain is usually the next step after trying other methods of unclogging a drain, such as plunging, using baking soda and vinegar, or using chemical drain cleaners. These methods may work for minor clogs caused by hair, soap scum, or food particles, but they may not be effective for more stubborn or deeper clogs caused by grease, tree roots, or foreign objects.

You should snake a drain when:

  • The water drains very slowly or not at all
  • The water backs up into other drains or fixtures
  • You hear gurgling noises from the drain
  • You smell foul odors from the drain
  • You have tried other methods and they did not work

How a Drain Snake Works

A drain snake works by physically removing or breaking up the clog that is blocking the drain pipe. The cable is flexible enough to bend around curves and corners in the pipe, but rigid enough to push through the obstruction. The tip of the cable is designed to either hook onto the clog and pull it out, or pierce through it and clear a passage for water to flow.

Using a drain snake requires some skill and caution, as you may damage your pipes or fixtures if you use too much force or insert the cable too far. You also need to wear gloves and protective eye wear, as the clog may contain bacteria, mold, or other harmful substances.

How to Use a Drain Snake: Step By Step Guide

How to Use a Drain Snake

One of the most common places where clogs occur is in toilets. If your toilet is not flushing properly, overflowing, or making strange noises, you may need to snake it. Here are the steps for How to Use a Drain Snake in toilets to follow instruction:

Safety Considerations

Before you start snaking your toilet, make sure you have the following items:

  • Toilet auger: This is a special type of plumbing snake that has a rubber sleeve around the cable to protect the porcelain from scratches. Do not use a regular plumbing snake for toilets, as you may damage your toilet bowl.
  • Plunger: You may need to use this before or after snaking your toilet to loosen or dislodge any remaining clogs.
  • Bucket: You may need this to catch any excess water that spills out of the toilet bowl.
  • Towel: You may need this to wipe any dirt or debris from the auger after use.
  • Gloves: You should wear these to protect your hands from germs and chemicals.
  • Protective eyewear: You should wear these to protect your eyes from splashes and particles.

What You’ll Need

  • Plumbing snake
  • Bucket
  • Towels or rags
  • Auger or plunger (optional, for initial attempts)
  • Cleaning brush
  • Mild detergent

To snake your toilet, follow these steps:

Step 1: Remove P-Trap and Access Drain

The P-trap is the curved section of pipe under your sink that prevents sewer gases from entering your home. It also traps debris and hair that may cause clogs. To access the drain pipe behind the P-trap, you need to remove it first.

To do this:

  • Turn off the water supply valve under your sink.
  • Place a bucket under the P-trap to catch any water that may leak out.
  • Loosen the nuts that connect the P-trap to the sink drain and the wall pipe using a wrench or pliers.
  • Carefully pull out the P-trap and set it aside.

You should now see an opening in the wall pipe where you can insert your plumbing snake.

Step 2: Extend Cable

Insert the tip of your plumbing snake into the opening in the wall pipe. Make sure you have enough slack in the cable so you can easily maneuver it. If you are using a manual snake, hold the handle with one hand and use the other hand to feed more cable into the pipe as you crank the handle clockwise.

If you are using a powered snake, press the trigger to activate the motor and feed more cable into the pipe.

Step 3: Snag Obstruction

As you extend the cable, you may feel some resistance or hear some scraping noises. This means you have reached the clog. Try to hook or pierce the clog with the tip of your snake by moving it back and forth or rotating it. You may need to apply some pressure, but do not force it too hard, as you may damage your pipes or fixtures.

Step 4: Retract Cable

Once you have snagged the clog, slowly pull the cable out of the pipe. You may need to crank or press the trigger in reverse to retract the cable. As you do this, you may see some water, dirt, or debris coming out of the pipe.

RELATED ARTICLE: Why Is My Toilet Overflowing? Cause and Prevention

This is normal and means you have cleared the clog. If the clog is too large or stuck, you may need to repeat steps 2 and 3 until you can pull it out.

Step 5: Clear Drain Snake

After you have removed the clog, you need to clean your plumbing snake before storing it. To do this:

  • Wipe any dirt or debris from the cable and tip using a towel or paper towel.
  • Rinse the cable and tip with water to remove any residue.
  • Dry the cable and tip with a towel or paper towel.
  • Coil the cable and store it in a dry place.

Step 6: Continue Clearing Pipe

If you have cleared one section of pipe, you may need to clear other sections as well. To do this, repeat steps 1 to 5 for each section of pipe until you reach the main drain line. You can also use a plunger to help loosen any remaining clogs in between sections.

Step 7: Test Drain Flow

After you have cleared all sections of pipe, you need to test if your drain is working properly. To do this:

  • Reattach the P-trap to the sink drain and the wall pipe using a wrench or pliers. Make sure the nuts are tight and there are no leaks.
  • Turn on the water supply valve under your sink.
  • Run some water down your sink and observe if it drains quickly and smoothly. If it does, congratulations! You have successfully snaked your drain. If it does not, you may need to snake your drain again or call a professional plumber for assistance.

Step 8: Clean Drain Snake

After you have tested your drain flow, you need to clean your plumbing snake again before storing it. Follow step 5 to do this.

When to Call a Professional

Snaking a drain can be an easy and effective way to unclog drains, but it is not always a DIY solution. You may need to call a professional plumber if:

  • You do not have the right tools or skills to snake a drain
  • You encounter a clog that is too deep, too large, or too hard to remove
  • You damage your pipes or fixtures while snaking a drain
  • You notice signs of a more serious plumbing problem, such as sewer backup, water leaks, mold growth, or foul odors

A professional plumber can diagnose and fix your drain problem using advanced tools and techniques, such as video inspection, hydro jetting, or trenchless pipe repair. They can also advise you on how to prevent future clogs and maintain your plumbing system.


Using a drain snake can be a practical and economical solution for unclogging drains and pipes. By following the step-by-step guide on how to use a drain snake and safety considerations, you can confidently tackle common clogs in toilets and sinks.

If snaking a drain does not work or causes more problems, you should call a professional plumber for help.


Here are some frequently asked questions about snaking a drain:

  • How do I know what size of plumbing snake to use?

    The size of plumbing snake you need depends on the type and location of the drain you want to unclog. Generally speaking, smaller snakes are suitable for smaller drains, such as sinks, showers, or tubs, while larger snakes are suitable for larger drains, such as toilets, floor drains, or main sewer lines. You should also consider the length of the snake, as it should be long enough to reach the clog but not too long that it gets stuck in the pipe.

  • Can I use a drain snake on any type of drain?

    Drain snakes are designed for various types of drains, including sinks, toilets, showers, and tubs. Just make sure to use the appropriate snake for the specific drain you are working on.

  • Are there any alternatives to using a drain snake?

    Yes, you can try using a plunger or a chemical drain cleaner for minor clogs. However, if these methods don’t work or the clog is persistent, a drain snake is a more effective option.

  • How often should I clean my plumbing snake?

    After each use, it’s essential to clean the drain snake thoroughly to prevent any buildup of grime or bacteria. Additionally, store it properly to keep it in good condition for future use.

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