How To Snake A Drain: A Step-By-Step Tutorial

It’s an all too common situation – you’re dealing with a blocked drain, and you don’t know where to turn. If you have a plumber’s snake, however, freeing your drain of any obstructions can be a straightforward process. 

In this guide, we provide step-by-step instructions on how to use a snake for unclogging your drains, as well as reveal when it might be time to call in a professional plumber.

How to Clear Drain Clogs With a Plumbing Snake

plumber's auger removing hair from a drain
Clogs are frustrating, but can easily cleared with a plumber’s snake!

Clogged drains are something most homeowners have to contend with at some point or another. But with the right tools, draining blockages can be fixed without an expensive plumbing bill. 

But how? Enter the plumbing snake – or drain auger – which is an effective way to clear clogs in your pipes with minimal effort and expertise. 

This guide provides step-by-step instructions on how to snake a drain, as well as revealing which signs will tell you when it’s time to call in the services of a professional plumber. We’ll also provide safety tips to follow if you do decide to take the job yourself so you can do so without fear of doing yourself or your drains any harm.

Drain Cleaning With a Drain Auger: Key Takeaways

  • Using a drain snake is an effective and affordable way to clear a clog and avoid costly plumbing bills.
  • Snaking a drain is a relatively straightforward process with the right tools and know-how.
  • Safety considerations are crucial when using a drain snake, such as wearing protective gear, turning off the water supply, avoiding overuse, and using proper technique
  • We recommend you call a plumber if you have multiple clogged drains, strange noises or smells, or aging pipes, or see no improvement after snaking.

How to Snake a Drain: Step-by-Step Instructions

If you need to remove difficult clogs with an augur then follow these steps: 

What You’ll Need for the Job

Before you start, gather the necessary tools and equipment. You’ll need:

  • Plumber’s snake
  • Protective gloves & Glasses
  • Bucket
  • Plug Wrench
  • Old Towels or Rags
  • Paper Towels

1. Remove the P-Trap and Sink Drains

place a bucket under your p-trap
Place a bucket under your p-trap before you begin to remove it.

If you’re looking to tackle a blockage yourself, the first step is to locate the P-trap underneath your sink. A P-trap is the curved pipe that is connected to your sink drain opening, and its purpose is to create a water seal to prevent sewer gasses from entering your home from the main drain line.

As the trap holds standing water, it’s a good idea to place a bucket (and an old towel) below it before you start. Begin by using a wrench to loosen the slip nuts, then unscrew the sink drain and remove the collected water and any visible debris, such as hair or soap scum. 

When dealing with shower drains, use a flat-head screwdriver to carefully pop off any screens or drain cover and then use a plug wrench to turn the drain counterclockwise to remove it.

For tub drains, you need to access the trap through the overflow portion of the drain. As you’ll need to navigate the drain trap or trap arm, an electric snake will be more effective than a manual drain snake.

2. Insert the Snake Into the Drain Pipe

Insert the auger head a few inches into the clogged pipe and then turn the crank handle clockwise while pushing the cable down gently. 

3. Extend the Snake Cable Until You Reach the Blockage

Inserting a drain snake into a drain
Slowly feed the snake into the drain.

Keep turning the handle slowly to allow the snake to descend down the drain pipe. You may occasionally need to crank a little harder or give the snake a wiggle to help you get around any tight corners.

Keep going until the snake begins to feel resistance, which is likely the source of the clog.

4. Slowly Rotate the Cable to Grab the Clog

Once the blockage has been identified, extend the snake cable a few inches beyond it for maximum contact. Gently rotate the cable in a counterclockwise direction and move it back and forth – this will either allow the rotating tip to break it up or, if it’s a solid object, pierce the mass so you can slowly pull it up.

5. Retract the Cable

snake drain covered in hair
Slowly retract the cable to pull up the debris blocking the drain.

After clearing the clog, rotate the snake cable in a clockwise direction while slowly retracting it to make sure all debris has been cleared out.

6. Remove Debris From the Snake

Make sure you clean the snake of any clog hooked by the auger tip using a paper towel or cloth, then carefully discard it in the bucket.

7. Reassemble the Pipes and Test

If you are sure you have removed all the stubborn clogs, then reassemble the P-trap and sink drains, and tighten the plastic nuts by hand. At this point, it is best to let hot water run through the drain line for a while to help break up any remaining residue.

Turn on the cold water to check if the blockage has been cleared successfully. If everything is running smoothly, congratulations!

When to Snake a Clogged Drain

clogged sink drain backing up water
Slow draining, or backed up drains are a sign there is a clog.

If you have an obstruction, there are a few signs that indicate it’s time to use a snake. Here are some common signs to look out for:

  1. Slow-draining water in your sink, garbage disposal, bathtub, or shower drain is a sure sign that a clog is forming. 
  2. Unpleasant odors coming from your sink or floor drain are often caused by a clog that’s causing sewage to back up.
  3. If you have more than one clogged drain in your home, it’s a sign that your plumbing problems are likely in the main drain line. Using a drain auger can help remove clogs from the main sewer line.

As removing p-traps and running an auger is a time-consuming task, we recommend you try using baking soda and vinegar or a chemical drain cleaner from your local hardware store first. Most localized clogs are found in the trap, and can often be broken up easily.

How a Drain Snake Works

bathroom sink drain backing up (1)

Drain augers are long, flexible cables that can be inserted into a drain to break up and remove blockages. The cable is made of coiled steel and is available in different lengths and thicknesses, depending on the size and location of the clog.

At the end of the cable is a small, pointed head that can grip onto both hard and soft debris and break it up as the cable is rotated. The cable is inserted into the drain and pushed through until it reaches the clog. Then, the cable is rotated using a handle, which helps the head to grab onto the blockage and break it up.

Drain snakes work well for clogs that are too deep or too tough for plungers or drain cleaners. They can be used on most types of drains, including sinks, showers, and even clogged toilets, as well as on main sewer lines.

It’s important to note that while a drain snake can be a highly effective tool for clearing clogs, it can also cause damage to your pipes if not used correctly. 

Safety Considerations When Using Drain Snakes

Using a drain snake can be a safe and effective way to clear clogs, but it’s important to follow these safety considerations to prevent injury and avoid damaging your plumbing system:

  1. Always wear rubber gloves and safety goggles to protect your hands and eyes from bacteria and debris.
  2. To prevent your kitchen or bathroom turning into a SeaWorld enclosure, make sure you turn off the water supply to the area you’re working on.
  3. Only use a snake when it’s absolutely necessary, as overuse can damage your pipes or drain stopper.
  4. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions and avoid pushing too hard or too fast – it’s surprisingly easy to damage your pipes if you’re too heavy-handed.
  5. If you’re unsure about how to use a drain snake or you’re uncomfortable with the process, it’s best to call a professional. Attempting to clear a clog on your own can lead to further damage and costlier repairs. 

When to Call a Professional Plumber

plumber running an electric drain snake
A plumber has the tools and the know-how to effectively tackle stubborn clogs.

While snaking your drain is a relatively simple process, there are some situations where it’s best to call in an expert. Here are some signs that indicate it’s time to seek help from a pro:

  • If you have multiple clogged drains in your home, it’s a sign that the problem may be deeper in your plumbing system. A plumber will use specialized equipment to locate the source of the clog and clear it efficiently.
  • If you’ve tried using a drain snake or other DIY methods to clear your clog and you haven’t seen any improvement. 
  • If you hear strange gurgling noises or smell unpleasant odors coming from your drains, it’s a sign that there may be a blockage in your main sewer line. While it is possible to clear a main line yourself, it’s a messy job. A pro will use video cameras and other specialized equipment to locate and remove the blockage.
  • For older homes with aging pipes, it’s a good idea to call in some help as it’s all too easy to exacerbate the situation.

In general, if you’re unsure about how to snake a drain or you’re uncomfortable with the process, it’s best to call a professional. Doing so could save you a lot of time, money, and hassle in the long run.

Tips for Snaking a Drain

If you’re planning to use a drain snake to clear your blocked drain, here are some tips to help you get the job done effectively:

  • To avoid damaging your pipes, start with a small cable and work your way up to thicker cables as you gain experience. 
  • Insert the cable into the drain slowly, and avoid forcing it down. 
  • Rotate the cable slowly and avoid using excessive force, as this can cause the cable to break or damage your pipes. If the cable gets stuck, avoid yanking it and instead try rotating it in the opposite direction.
  • Always place a bucket underneath the P-trap before removing it to catch any debris or water that may spill out.
  • Dispose of any debris that you remove in the trash or compost, rather than flushing it down the toilet or sink.
  • After clearing the clog, run water down the drain to make sure that it’s flowing smoothly. 
  • Prevent clogs from forming in the first place by using a debris or hair trap and clean your drains regularly with baking soda and hot water.

By following these tips, you can successfully clear your clogged drain with a drain snake and avoid damaging your plumbing system.

Wrapping Up: How to Use a Drain Snake

Clearing a blockage can be frustrating, but using a drain snake can make the process quick and easy. Remember to follow our step-by-step instructions, safety considerations, and tips to avoid costly plumbing bills and keep your plumbing system in top shape. 

If you’re unsure about how to clear your clogged drain or clogged toilet, or you’re uncomfortable with the process, call a plumber.

We hope this article was helpful! Let us know in the comments if you have any questions or share it with your friends on social media to help them clear their drains too.

About the author

An accomplished plumber with more than 15 years of experience in the industry, David "Fitz" Fitzgerald began as an apprentice and steadily worked his way up to become a fully licensed and certified master plumber.

With extensive training in all aspects of plumbing. David is well-versed in the installation, repair, and maintenance of plumbing systems, including pipes, fixtures, and appliances, and is able to troubleshoot and solve even the most complex plumbing issues.

He loves to share his wealth of knowledge and looks forward to engaging with the community here on No Hassle Plumbing.

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