Informational Guide

How To Use A Plumbing Snake

Leverage this comprehensive guide to help you easily snake a drain the next time it clogs up.

by Ian Haynes

Clogged drains are an age-old issue we see time and time again. There are many different ways to deal with the problem, but a plumbing snake is the simplest and best solution. This guide will explain why, when, and how to use them. 

  • Hair lodged in the pipe so water can’t flow.
  • Grease, oil, and fat are an absolute nuisance for drains as they can solidify within the pipes blocking them completely.
  • Soap, over time, can accumulate and block your pipes. This is particularly common with laundry detergent.
  • Mineral build ups can cause clogs. This is common in areas with hard water.
  • Plant and tree roots can get into your pipes and cause blogs. These are particularly difficult to fix.
  • Many flushed objects can block your drains. This includes diapers, feminine hygiene products, too much toilet paper, or accidental items getting flushed.

Ways of Unclogging Drains

There are several different ways to unclog a drain, some more effective than others. These include:

Baking soda and vinegar

⅓ cup of baking soda and ⅓ cup of vinegar combined will form an acidic compound that can dissolve different materials that block drains.

Boiling water

Pouring boiling water down the drain can dissolve the blockage. Adding detergent as a lubricant can help this process.


Generally, the first port of call is the plunger, which forms a vacuum seal and removes clogs.

Bent Wire Hangers

The hanger is bent, and the hook inserted into the drain to pull out the blockage.

Plumbing snakes

These are essentially the professional version of the bent hanger and work similarly, with a long bent pole and a metal spiral on the end. This allows you to dislodge blockages easily and quickly.


The Drain Snake Explained

A drain snake is often referred to as a plumbing snake or a drain auger, all of which are tools to remove blockages that are clogging the drain. There are three parts; the handle, a long flexible metal pole, and a metal auger on the end.

Drain snakes work on almost all of the common issues in households and are basically the tool between heavy-duty plumbing equipment and the standard domestic plunger. 

How Does a Plumber’s Snake Work?

Plumber’s snakes work by breaking through blockages. You do this by sliding the auger end of the device into the blocked drain.

Once inserted into the drain, you rotate the handle to extend the coil. Most drain snakes are around 50 feet long. This means they are effective in pretty much any drain.

Once the plumbing snake reaches the blockage, the auger will rotate within the drain. This should loosen or remove the blockage and allow the water to run again as usual.

Where to Use a Drain Auger?

  • Kitchen sinks which can easily become blocked.
  • Toilets, as the flexible cable allows it to snake around the U-bend.
  • Shower and bath drains which are often blocked with hair.
  • Washing machine drains, which often get clogged due to a build-up of detergent.
  • Sewer drains which can become blocked by household waste or when incorrect items are flushed. Drain augers are long enough to handle deep sewage drains.
  • Drain augers are also used in swimming pool drains, which have become clogged after cleaning.

How to Properly Snake a Drain

  • Gather your equipment
    Get your drain snake, a wrench, some cleaning products, and some old rags or sheets.
  • Prepare the area
    You should first prepare the area by laying down old rags or sheets to protect your floor. You may also want to change into some old clothes. Depending on the drain you are snaking, you may want to remove the trap arm. This allows you to get much closer to the drain and see if there are any obvious blockages. Do this by loosening the nut behind the trap with your wrench and then lifting it off. Note that some traps are glued and can’t be removed.
  • Safety first
    Make sure you’re wearing gloves when snaking your drain and goggles if you have them. This will stop potentially harmful substances from getting all over you. 
  • Insert your drain snake
    Slowly insert the auger into the drain. Don't use excessive force to get it in, or you could damage the device and the drain. Wiggle it back and forth and ease it in. This may take a few minutes.
  • Extend your drain snake
    Once inserted, keep the handle as close to the entrance of the drain and possible and start rotating the handle. This will extend the coil, and you can keep going until you reach the blockage.If you need to extend the plumbing snake around a corner, you need to go slowly, and you may need to move backwards a few times to get the angle right. Don't force this, or you could damage your drain.
  • Removing the blockage
    Once you meet resistance, stop turning the handle. Move the head of the plumbing snake up, down, left and right. This will loosen the blockage and you will feel it break up or move. Make sure you don't get the head stuck in the pipe, and if you hear any scraping, then stop immediately.If you can't feel the blockage moving, you should try retracting the device, and the blockage may come with it.
  • Withdrawing the plumbing snake
    Once you're done with the blockage, you should use the handle to retract the coil. Immediately follow this by flushing the drain with hot water and cleaning products to help wash it out.When using a plumbing snake to unclog a toilet, you will need to follow the steps above, but be aware of the U-bend in the drain, which may make it difficult to thread through. You need to put it in at the right angle initially for it to work. Ensure that the plastic coating is still intact on the head of the device, or you can damage the toilet. You can also wrap the head in duct tape to protect the porcelain.

People Also Ask (FAQs)

How do I determine which type of plumbing snake to use?

Plumbing snakes are fairly generic, and most will work in various situations; however, you can get specialist drain snakes for toilets, showers, or other drains. These tend to be larger or smaller depending on the job, so you should consider how long or deep the drain is before purchasing. 

How do I prevent clogging of the drains?

You can prevent drains clogging by avoiding flushing any grease or fat, emptying waste into the trash as much as possible, using a drain grate, flushing with hot water every day, and cleaning it out every week. This takes effort but will save you time in the long run.

Can a drain snake break a pipe?

Yes, in some cases drain snakes can break, primarily if not used correctly. If it breaks in your pipe and you are unable to withdraw it yourself, then you'll need to get a professional plumber involved.

How much will it cost to have a plumber snake a drain?

Depending on the clog and drain, it can cost between $150 and $400 to have a plumber snake your drain. Get a free quote below as these vary from city to city.

How much is a plumbing snake rental cost?

Your most basic plumbing snake will cost $50-75 a week, with the better devices costing around $130-200 a week.

How much do plumbing snakes cost?

A cheap domestic plumbing snake can cost you $50, but for a professional model, it can be upwards of $500. 

Where can I buy or rent plumbing snakes?

Plumbing snakes can be found in most hardware stores, or you can find them online. Retailers like Amazon generally offer the greatest variety and the most competitive prices.

What should I do if a plumbing snake got stuck in the toilet?

See if you can reach and remove the plumbing snake. If not, then you will need to get a professional plumber involved and call them to do it. This could cost you several hundred dollars, so you should be careful when you're using it.

Why won’t my plumbing snake retract?

Generally, if your plumbing snake won't retract, it's because it's stuck on the clog. This can mean it is too solid to move or something there is an issue with the coil. If it is not turning correctly, it won't remove the blockage, and it won't come out easily either. Try checking the coil is screwed in properly so that the coil turns again. If you are completely stuck, then you will need to consult a professional.


Plumbing snakes are the ultimate tool in removing clogs from all of your drains. They are a step up from your usual household remedies but still simple enough so that anyone can use them. Even if you don't get clogs very often, it's worth investing in one, so you have peace of mind in your home.

Ian Haynes is an expert writer who has successfully deployed over 500 plumbing pages and other related content. He has an excellent understanding of home plumbing issues and translates his experiences via Plumbing Lab so readers can have a better understanding of common household problems. Outside of his work, Ian likes exploring Brooklyn with his Labrador.