How to Properly Use a Plumbing Snake

A man uses a plumbing snake.
  • 0.5-1
  • Beginner
  • 50-125
What You'll Need
Plumbing snake
Work gloves
Clean rags or towels
What You'll Need
Plumbing snake
Work gloves
Clean rags or towels

A plumbing auger, plumber’s snake, or plumbing snake, is a very useful tool for extremely clogged drains. Before you purchase or rent a plumber’s snake, try to unclog your drain by stuffing some baking soda down the drain followed by some white vinegar and then some boiling water. This is a common remedy for smaller clogs in sinks and tubs. For bigger jobs or those in the toilet that the plunger can’t fix, it’s time to pull out the auger. The snake is a cable that is fed down the pipes to access and break up blockages deep in your plumbing. Here is how to use a plumber’s snake correctly.

Step 1 - Prepare the Area

To begin, you may want to wear gloves or have a small towel handy. Make sure that you have enough space in the area to move freely as you work. If you don’t, remove any obstacles. Remove the drain valve from sinks or the overflow valve from tubs so the opening is large enough to accept the auger.

Step 2 - Begin the Feed

A sink drain.

Insert the end of the cable into your drain, whether that is a sink, tub, or toilet. Hand feed the cable into the drain as far as it will go until you begin to feel resistance. At this point, you’ve reached a bend in the plumbing, and this is where the plumbing snake becomes very useful. Leave about 6 inches of the cable showing between the drain and the end of the snake housing.

Step 3 - Crank the Auger

When the end of the cable reaches a turn in the plumbing or bumps into a blockage, turn the thumb screw to lock it into place. This will keep the cable from pushing back into the housing. Next, start cranking the handle to turn the drum inside the housing. This, in turn, will spin the cable causing the auger to push through the clog.

Step 4 - Push the Cable

Although you don’t want to damage your porcelain surfaces during snake usage, you will want to apply enough pressure to keep driving the cable forward rather than just spinning in place. As you crank the handle apply steady pressure to the cable.

Step 5 - Work the Cable

A man examines plumbing.

As you crank the handle and the cable feeds deeper into the drain, you will need to work the thumb screw. To do this, crank the handle a few times while you push forward. When you get close to the drain, loosen the thumbscrew, manually pull out about 6 inches of cable, tighten the thumbscrew again, and continue cranking. Repeat this process as you feed the cable further into the plumbing.

Step 6 - Clear the Blockage

When you reach the blockage, continue with the same technique. The snake will grind through the clog. and you should feel the tension release once the blockage is cleared. At this point, any water in the sink, tub, or toilet should drain. If there isn’t standing water but you think you’ve cleared the blockage, pour some water through the drain to ensure its functioning properly.

Step 7 - Remove the Snake

To remove the snake, simply pull it back while allowing it to rewind into the housing of the plumber’s snake. You may want to wear gloves at this point or use a rag to grip the cable as you pull it out.

Now that you know how to use a plumber’s snake, anytime there is a serious clog in your drains you will be able to clear it in no time.