How to Use a Plumbing Snake

A plumber using a snake in a bathtub.

A plumbing snake is typically used as a last resort to unplug household drains. These handy devices work by digging their way into the obstruction and ultimately pulling it out. Some snakes can even be used with an electric drill for added power, which is useful for stubborn clogs. If you have a sink that is giving you trouble, here is a guide on how to use a plumbing snake to remove the plug.

Step 1 - Prep Sink

Clear the sink of anything that is over the drain. This includes any screens or hair traps as these will interfere with the snake. Remove these items — and make sure they are clean — and set them aside for later.

Step 2 - Use the Snake

Grab the snake by the handle and slide the other end into the drain. You should rotate the snake in a clockwise direction as you push it further into the sink. If you feel some resistance, use both hands to keep pushing it deeper. Another trick is to keep the handle of the snake as close to the drain opening as possible. This gives you better control over the device and makes it easier to detect when you have passed the clog.

Step 3 - Keep Rotating Until You Hit Resistance

A toilet surrounded by tools.

As you continue to lower the snake, you will eventually hit the clog. The clog might feel rock solid at first, but you need to keep twisting the snake until it pushes beyond the obstruction. You will know you have gone beyond the clog when the snake frees up and is easier to rotate.

Step 4 - Work the Clog

A plumbing snake is made to either break up the clog or snag it for removal. If it feels like the snake is getting harder to twist, remove it and see if it successfully captured the clog. If not, keep twisting until the clog is completely broken up and you feel no more resistance. It is a good idea to keep twisting the snake even after you have broken through to ensure all of the pieces are removed.

Step 5 - Remove the Snake

You want to remove the snake as slowly as possible so that clog does not detach and fall back into the sink. The snake will be filled with dirt and grime as you pull it out, so have a few old rags on hand to clean it up as you go. Dump any dirt or clogged materials into a bucket for disposal later. Keep pulling the snake out of the sink until it is completely removed.

Step 6 - Test the Sink

A plumber holding tools.

Run some warm water down the sink to ensure the clog has been fully removed. You might notice some difficulty draining at first, but the water should flow freely after a few seconds. If the water does not run smoothly, you will need to repeat the process with the snake until the clog is completely removed. It is possible that the clog was pushed further down the drain or was not broken up adequately. If the snake can no longer reach the clog, then it is time to call in a plumber to safely remove it.

Step 7 - Prevent Clogs

There are many ways in which you can prevent clogs from happening in the first place. For starters, avoid putting anything solid in the sink. These objects can easily get lodged in the pipe and attract more debris, eventually forming into a clog. You can also invest in a screen or hair trap that will prevent clogs from happening further down the line. If you do get a clog in a hair trap, you simply remove it by hand and clean it off to unplug the sink. It is generally recommended to install such traps in all of the drains of your home, including sinks and bathtubs.