How to Use a Plumbing Snake

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Plumbing Snake

If you have a sink, shower, or tub drain that won’t clear with plungers, you may want to try using a snake. This tool is often more effective than plungers and will usually resolve your problem quickly. If not, you can always hire a plumber.

What is a Snake in Plumbing?

A snake is a long, flexible metal cable with an auger or spring attached at one end and a handle at the other. It coils and uncoils as you twist the handle to guide it down your clogged pipe. A snake consists of a coiled steel wire on a handle that you crank to drive deep into the pipe. This breaks up clogs and allows you to flush them away with water or grab onto them so they can be pulled up and out of the drain.

Drain snakes typically include a long wire that’s usually 1/4-inch thick and an auger attached at one end. A handle on the other end coils and uncoils the wire.

How to Use a Snake for Plumbing

If you have a clogged drain, sink, or toilet, a plumbing snake is an affordable and effective way to get the job done. It’s also better than using chemical drain cleaners that can eat away at your pipes and the clog itself.

Start by pushing the end of your snake into the drain opening and cranking the handle on the drum that contains the coiled-up snake. Keep doing this until you feel pushback.

Next, bend your snake around a tight curve in the trap under your sink until it slides easily through. This usually gets the snake in close enough to hit a clog. After hitting the clog, continue to rotate the snake against it until you’re ready to pull both the clog and snake out.

You’ll need to place something on the bottom of your snake’s enclosure to give it comfort and absorb any released or spilled fluids. Newspaper is often a low-cost option, but you can also use pine bark, cypress mulch or orchid bark.

When to Use a Snake to Clear Pipes

A plumbing snake is an effective way to clear pipes of blockage. Here are some instances to use a snake:

  • Unclog a toilet
  • Unclog a sink drain
  • Unblock the shower drain
  • Clear a sewer line
  • Removing debris or blockage from other pipes

How Much Does a Plumbing Snake Cost?

A snake is a low-cost way to unclog your sink, toilet, or drain. Simple, short snakes for bathroom or kitchen sinks cost around $20 – $30, while bigger and longer snakes used for toilets and sewer lines cost around $100. There are even motorized snakes for commercial plumbing jobs, which cost at least a few hundred dollars.

There are many ways to save money on your snake’s care. One is to purchase your snake’s food in bulk. This will require you to allot some freezer space, but it can save you more than half the cost of buying individual foods.

Similarly, you should consider purchasing your snake’s heating and lighting equipment in bulk. These items can be purchased in good working condition for a fraction of the price you’d pay new.

How to Make a Plumbing Snake Turn Corners

For drains with S-shaped pipes or U-shaped pipes, you’ll need to be able to turn the snake within the pipes to reach the blockage. As you insert the snake, you may notice it stops when reaching a turn in the pipes.

To get a snake past corners, simply rotate the snake coil clockwise until it slips past the corner. Since snakes are made of rigid coil, it can force itself past corners with a little effort from a plumber.

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Casey Loeber

Casey Loeber is the founder of His mission is to share the best information online about plumbing jobs and help plumbers lead fulfilling careers.

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