What is A Plumbing Snake?

plumbing snake

A plumbing snake, also called a toilet auger, is a long flexible metal cable (usually rubber-coated) with a crank handle on one end. Sometimes there is a small bowl or cup attached to the other end of the snake so that when it runs through a drain it can be used to clear debris from the clog and retrieve it. A plumbing snake is often used to clear an obstruction that is caused by tree roots or some other object lodged in the drain and cannot be removed using any of the methods described below.

How do You Use a Plumbing Snake?

The homeowner tells me he thinks there’s something caught in his shower drain; I say, “Let me take a look,” go outside and work my way around behind the bathroom, get down on one knee and stick my hand into the pipe above where the bathtub wall meets with the house foundation, feel around for something solid as far up as I can reach all while feeling confident that everything else has been tried before this point (and likely will be again). Then I remove whatever it was and then do the smart thing, which is to tell the owner that he should try a drain snake.

Does a Plumbing Snake Fit in the P Trap?

If you’re not sure if the plumbing snake will fit in your P-trap, try it. Otherwise, you can use a plunger or an object to jam into the drain cover and loosen the clog.

Plumber’s snakes are often used in households with plumbing problems that include clogged toilets, sinks, and showers. A drain snake or drain auger is also used in industries with high water usages such as hotels and hospitals where a p trap is comoon.

If the drain snakes fit in the drain, they will most likely retrieve any obstruction that is caught up there, however, sometimes a blockage can be so far down into the pipe that even a plumbing snake won’t reach it and at this point, so it is advised to call in a licensed plumber.

While a drain snake is not heavy enough to remove some objects like tree roots or big chunks of food garbage, plumber’s snakes can get almost anything else out of the line. Heavy grease buildup or matted hair cannot be removed by snaking; neither can long, skinny things like pennies. But if I’m dealing with a toilet overflow caused by heavy paper towels being flushed then a plumber’s snake can assist to clear that p trap issue.

How to Use a Plumbing Snake in a P Trap?  

There may be a trick is to put just enough pressure on the joint so that it compresses enough to allow for insertion of a drain snake and then release that tension just enough so that it does not spring back and pinch or impale you in any way when you start cranking with the snake inside the trap.

Then, after retrieving whatever material was trapped there (usually tree roots), release all tension from this fitting again so as not to upset its seal and use rubber gloves if necessary because it will be full of gunk. Remember to rotate the handle of the plumber’s snake.

What Causes Drains to Clog?

In many cases of drain clogs in residential sinks and bathtubs, hair is the culprit. Hair can go down the drain opening by itself since it’s so slender and lightweight, or sometimes it is pulled down with facial soap or body wash as people are rinsing. Bathroom hair traps usually have small holes which do not permit large amounts of water (or soap) from passing through them; therefore, when these grates get filled up with wet hair they begin to overflow into the sink in a circular pattern around their perimeter.

This overflowed water has nowhere else to go but back down the drain, so it flows down carrying a lot of hair along with it. Hair traps are inexpensive to replace and sink drains can be easily cleaned without removing them by simply pouring some liquid dishwashing detergent down the centre of the clogged drain opening followed by several large glugs of hot water or some boiling water from the kitchen kettle; this will dissolve any hair that is embedded in the toilet trap.

Household plumbing snakes or augers vary in size but most are 1.5 metres long. If you’re trying to clear a blockage from under your kitchen sink, for example, you’ll need a much shorter snake; if you’re working beneath the bathroom vanity where there’s not much clearance between the underside of the countertop anding the floor, you’ll need a longer plumber’s snake.

How do You Use a Snake to Clear a Kitchen or Bathroom Sink Drain?

Toilet plumbing snakes are used in much the same way as hand augers; either method can be used for clearing drains of all types:

  1. Flush the drain completely first – it’s important to make sure with an inspection mirror to see if there are any obstructions such as clumps of hair (or something else) that might get pulled back into the pipe when you attempt to remove whatever it is. The homeowner should also run water down the drain opening at least twice more after flushing and before attempting any further action. If there is so much standing water in the sink bowl that it won’t drain at all, the proper course of action is to remove the kitchen sink trap as described in an earlier article
  2. Insert the snake (or drain auger) into the drain opening with a twisting motion until it begins to turn freely inside; then rotate the crank clockwise while pulling out gently on the cable. If you’re removing something soft like hair or facial soap from a bathtub trap, usually this will be enough leverage to pull whatever it is free. Sometimes if the hair has gone down into a shower trap from above it can take a little more work to get rid of it completely. It’s not uncommon for me to have to retrieve whatever I’m trying to get out of either drain several times before I finally succeed in getting it all out; be patient and keep at it.
  3. If the snake cannot reach whatever’s clogging the drain, then you might have to remove the actual trap in order to get some more leverage with which to work. The homeowner should be aware that there may still be a lot of water in the pipe below where he has removed the plumbing fixture; this is why plumbers always carry a wet/dry vacuum with them when they clear drain as it explains what a wet/dry vac does for a plumber and how it can help make his job easier and less messy while allowing him to take care of other things that need attention during or after clearing drains such as changing light bulbs or doing some minor electrical work.
  4. If you’ve managed to completely clear a drain of any clogging material but it still will not drain, the next step is to attempt to snake it again; however, this time you’ll need to put one end of the cable into another fully open opening on your property such as the kitchen sink or bathtub faucet (for example). Then begin pulling out gently on the cable while rotating the crank clockwise as before; this should help pull whatever is causing the blockage further down toward its outlet where hopefully it will be dislodged and can go through easily. Please note that if you’re attempting this with your main home water supply rather than some relatively small appliance like a garbage disposal or a kitchen sink sprayer, you must be very careful not to have the unexpected result of pulling out one of your main water supply pipes. You should only attempt this if you’re sure that the blockage problem is just in whatever sub-drain it happens to be and that there aren’t any other obstructions further down the line such as an underground tree root (that’s why I always carry a wet/dry vacuum plumber tool with me whenever I go clear drains).

Note: it may be best to seek professional advice from a plumber in your local area.

Related Plumbing Resources

Plumbing Quotes

A plumber is a dedicated expert hired to repair and maintain all elements of the water supply including pipes, fittings, and apparatus. Read more…


Plumber Call Out Fee

One of those tradies that are vital to so many aspects of your house is a plumber. It might be routine maintenance, a major renovation project, or an emergency that simply cannot wait. Read more…


What is a Tradie

A skilled manual worker in a specific trade or craft is known as a “Tradie” (trade specialist). Read more…

Air Conditioning

What is a Soakwell?

Soakwells consist of a pot or container filled with a porous material such as perforated pipe, allowing rainfall to soak into the soil. Read more…