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How to Clear a Drain Clog with a Plumbing Snake

Many people have problems with clogs and blockages from time to time, and this can create a number of problems in the home. A simple drain clog can often be cleared with a cup plunger, but a more substantial clog requires a different approach. One of the best tools that you can have in your plumbing toolkit is a plumbing or drain augur, which is often referred to as a “plumbing snake.” In this article, we will examine why you should use a plumbing snake, how it works, and show four steps to use it to manually clear a drain clog. Why Use a Plumbing Snake? When the drain clogs, many people automatically reach for a store bought chemical drain cleaning product. This is typically a caustic chemical powder or thick gel that’s poured into the drain and left to melt the clog. But, it’s important to understand that these very same properties can damage your plumbing pipes. Although you may not notice it immediately, using chemical drain cleaners can cause a great deal of damage over time. This can lead to leaks, cracks, and breaks that will require a full replacement, which can be expensive. A professional plumber will always remove a clog manually without any chemicals, and it makes sense to adopt this approach. How Does a Plumbing Snake Work? A plumbing snake is an inexpensive tool that you can find at most DIY stores. There are a number of different sizes and models, and it makes sense to have one or two in your home plumbing toolkit. The plumbing snake is a flexible device with a crank at one end and a drill bit at the business end. Some powered models are also available, but the principle is essentially the same. The snake is fed into the drain until it hits the clog, the crank is turned, and the clog is broken apart. This is a simple process that we will detail below, and it will work on most types of drain clog. But, if the clog returns regularly, there may be an underlying problem, and it’s time to contact a local certified plumber for professional help. 4 Steps to Use Your Plumbing Snake So, the drain is clogged; the sink is full of dirty water, and you cannot get the clog cleared with a simple cup plunger. Now it’s time to get the plumbing snake out and attempt a manual clog clearance. But, a plumbing snake is an unfamiliar tool for many people, and it’s important to use it correctly to get the best results and avoid causing damage to your pipes. Follow these four steps carefully in order, and you should be able to remove most simple drain clogs. Step 1: Always Try a Cup Plunger First A plumbing snake is a more invasive method to clear a drain clog, and a cup plunger should always be tried first. Simply place the cup plunger over the drain hole and move it gently up and down to create a vacuum and place some pressure on the clog. Don’t make the mistake of being too vigorous because you may damage the drain. In many cases, this will be enough, the clog will be dislodged, and the water will drain away. Then you can run the faucet with cold water for a short time to flush the remnants of the drain clog out into the main sewer line. If this doesn’t work, the next option is to attempt a clearance using your plumbing snake. Step 2: Feed the Snake Now it’s time to feed the plumbing snake into the blocked drain. A typical newbie friendly snake is a ¼” plastic device with a small drill bit at one end and a cranking handle at the other. Avoid using more elaborate devices until you’re more confident with plumbing tools. Take the plumbing snake and feed it into the drain gently, this is not an action to clear the clog; we’re trying to locate the clog first. Push forward slowly, and you should feel the tip of the plumbing snake bump up against the obstruction. Step 3: Break Apart the Clog Maintain gentle pressure against the clog and start to slowly crank the handle to turn the drill bit. This will start to drill the plumbing snake into the clog to gradually break it apart without damaging the pipe. In many cases, the clog will break apart, and the pieces will fall further into the drain where they can be flushed away with water. Sometimes the clog may come out of the drain with the plumbing snake, and it will need to be placed in the trash. Brace yourself; a drain clog can be a disgusting mix of hair, grease, and food debris; it’s probably slimy, and it will smell bad. So, it’s a great idea to wear rubber gloves and safety goggles to protect your eyes. Have some trash bags and/or a bucket on hand to take the clog pieces to the trash. Step 4: Flush the Drain Clear Make sure to remove and clog debris from the snake, and don’t let it go back into the drain. Dispose of the clog debris and then flush the drain with plenty of cold water to ensure it’s working correctly. Sometimes a clog can be forced further into the drain, making it harder to reach and clear without more advanced plumbing tools. If you cannot clear a clog, it’s time to call out a professional plumber for expert help. Prevention is Better Than the Cure It’s always a better idea to prevent a clog from forming in the first place. Many clogs are caused by a build-up of grease and other materials that people place in their drain. Materials like this need to go in the trash to protect your plumbing from drain clogs. Another common material is hair; adding a hair trap to each drain is a great way to prevent hair from entering. If you’re not confident about clearing a clog, always contact a local plumber, and they can clear the clog for you. By Giovanni Longo President Flood Brothers Plumbing Giovanni Longo is a 3rd generation master plumber who has been practicing his craft and trade in the greater Los Angeles area for well over a decade and a half. A plumbing and hydraulics-engineering innovator, Giovanni’s particular world-class expertise focuses on dealing with challenging sewer system designs as well as resolving complex commercial and residential draining issues. As a certified Flood Mitigation expert, he is also well versed in a wide variety of water damage and remediation solution.