What is a Plumbing Snake and How Do I Use It?

Dealing with home plumbing issues can be a challenge when you don’t have formal training or good DIY skills. One of the most common problems that people encounter is a slow running drain or a drain that is clogged and will not drain at all. The first approach is typically a simple cup plunger that you can place over the drain and move up and down. This changes the pressure in the pipe and it can shake a clog loose. But, this approach doesn’t work every time and it may be necessary to take things to the next level. This is when you may want to use a plumbing snake to break the drain clog apart. In this article, we will explain what a plumbing snake is, how you should use it and what to do if it doesn’t work.

A Cautionary Note

Before we begin, it’s important to highlight the potential dangers of store bought chemical drain cleaning products. These cleaners contain caustic chemicals that can burn exposed skin and they are bad for your plumbing pipes. Repeated use of these products will damage the inner walls of the pipe and this can lead to leaks and bursts. For this reason, a professional plumber will always use a mechanical drain clearance approach. For many people, the natural response to a drain clog is to pour a drain cleaner in the drain to melt the drain clog. Resist this urge, the pipes may be damaged, you may have an unexpected repair bill to pay and in many cases the clog returns.

What is a Plumbing Snake?

The formal name for a plumbing snake is an augur. It’s a tool to break apart drain clogs and it’s available in a wide variety of sizes. This is an inexpensive tool and if you’re putting together a home plumbing toolkit, it’s a great idea to have a couple of plumbing snakes in different sizes. A plumbing snake is a flexible tool with a crank at one end and a drill bit at the business end. There are different designs, some cranks are electrically powered and others are manually turned to turn the drill bit.

How is a Plumbing Snake Used?

The plumbing snake is easy to use, but most people try a couple of other approaches before they reach for the snake. If the source of the clogging issues is a clump of hair close to the drain entrance, you may be able to pull them free with tweezers. Another handy tool is a drain snake which is a flexible plastic comb that you place in the drain and twirl to pull out hair. Another approach is a cup plunger to shake the drain clog loose and then flush the broken parts into the drain.

When you need to use the plumbing snake, simply insert the business end into the drain and feed it in slowly. What you’re looking for is that moment when the end of the plumbing snake butts up against the drain clog. At this point, you apply a little pressure to maintain contact and turn the crank to drill into the drain clog. This will gradually break the clog apart and you will feel it give as it’s destroyed. Some of the clog may come back up into the sink when you’re done and this should be picked up and placed in the trash. But, it’s important to wear gloves because drain clogs will be covered in bacteria that can harm your health. Some parts of the clog will remain in the drain, but they can be flushed away with cold water and the drain should run normally again. When you’re done, clean and sanitize the plumbing snake, dry it and return it to your toolbox.

The Plumbing Snake Didn’t Work, What Next?

There are a few options to try if the plumbing snake didn’t clear the drain clog. If the snake could not reach the drain clog, it may be lurking further in the drain. A longer plumbing snake may reach the clog or you may not have the right tool for the job. A professional plumber will have access to a drain line camera to find a deeper clog. They have a hydro jetting machine that can remove tough drain clogs with pressurized water.

Another option is to make your own kinder chemical drain cleaner that won’t damage your pipes. This is easier than you might imagine and you may already have the ingredients in your store cupboard. Carefully pour a cup of baking soda into the clogged drain and follow with a cup of white vinegar. When these two ingredients mix, there will be a chemical reaction and the white mixture will fizz. Leave this in the drain for at least 20 minutes and then flush the drain with hot (not boiling) water. This process can be repeated multiple times to clean the drain and the baking soda is an effective deodorizer.

If the drain clog is limited to a single drain, then it’s likely that you’re dealing with a simple clog that you may be able to clean yourself. But, if there are multiple slow or blocked drains at the same time, it’s a sign of a more serious problem. There may be an underlying problem  in the main sewer line such as a collapse. At this point, it should be clear that a plumbing snake or homemade cleaner will not solve this problem.

What is the Solution?

If you’ve tried to clear the drain clog with a plunger, plumbing snake, or homemade safe chemical cleaner with no success, it’s time to contact a local professional plumber. They can feed a fiber optic drain line camera into the drain to locate the source of the problem. In many cases, there is a sewer line clog that can be cleared with hydro jetting. If the sewer line has collapsed, it may be possible to carry out a trenchless repair to reduce the cost and disruption to your home. It’s important to take action because the problem will not improve without direct intervention and it can get much worse.