Trying to learn how to snake a drain?

When the toilet isn’t flushing, your showers’ not draining, and nothing seems to be working, you probably need to get the drain snake out.

We’ve seen all sorts of DIY attempts at unclogging drains. We’ve seen people use a coat hanger, the handle end of the plunger, and even wet vacs to attempt to unclog a toilet or drain. Despite their ingenuity, these methods won’t work and especially risk damaging your pipes and plumbing fixtures. So we’re going to tell you how to snake a drain properly and what mistakes to avoid when you do so.

What is a “Drain Snake”?

Professional drain cleaning with a self guiding electric snake

A drain snake, also called a plumbing snake or drain auger, is not an actual snake. No. It is a long, coiled hose that can run through your drain and clear stubborn clogs in your pipes.

Now, you may have seen the very basic manual drain snakes that are about 2 feet long, made of plastic, and have small prongs on either side. These are definitely not used for big clogs but can be used by homeowners who have a clog right near the top of their drain. Often sinks clogs can happen in the bathroom from hair or tissue making its way down the drain. They cost a couple of bucks and can be a quick DIY fix to help your drain flow a little faster.

For bigger clogs, you’ll need to pull out the big guns and get a legitimate drain auger. A drain auger will go further down and won’t snag on anything as it goes into the pipes like a coil and will pull out the same way using a crank. They come in both manual and electric crank, and depending on the severity of the clog, to turn the handle manually can be a lot, and an electric may do the trick.

How to Snake a Drain

First, you will need a few supplies to get started:

  • Paper towels or old towels for the cleanup
  • Rubber gloves
  • Safety Goggles
  • A large 5-8 Gallon Bucket
  • Drain Auger/Snake

Step 1: Acquire an Auger or Drain Snake

If you can’t borrow one from a neighbor or friend, head to your local hardware or home improvement store. You can sometimes rent drain augers for a nominal fee. Otherwise, if you invest in buying your own, you have all future DIY plumbing de-clogs handled. An auger can run anywhere from a few dollars for the cheap plastic ones to $50 or more for electric ones. If you buy a manual auger, sometimes they are equipped to attach a drill to the end to help bust through clogs a little faster.

Step 2: Safety First

Get your bucket handy and put on your gloves and safety goggles. This is especially important if you had unsuccessfully tried to unclog the drain using chemicals. Those could spray back out into your face, and that wouldn’t be fun for anyone. So google and gloves are key!

Step 3: Feed the Snake into the Drain

Plumber using drain snake to unclog bathtub.

Begin to slowly insert the snake into the drain. Feed it through the first few inches, without forcing it, and then start cranking the handle. The crank will allow the auger to start moving its way through the pipes.

Step 4: Break Up the Blockage

Continue turning the crank until the auger hits the blockage. If it’s a clog that can be busted up, the auger will do just that. The auger cable may bunch up when it hits the clog, or you may feel resistance. If the blockage is a solid object like a toy flushed down the toilet by a kid (happens all the time), the auger head can coil past it, then snag it on its way back up.

Step 5: Pull the Snake Up

When you run out of the coil or feel that it won’t feed through any further, start winding the snake back up. The clog will catch on the coil and come out with the drain snake. That’s what your bucket is for. The blockage may come up in pieces or in one solid piece. You can toss it in your bucket and test to see if the pipes are running clear. If they are, great! If not, start the steps over again until the drain is unclogged.

how to snake a drain infographic

Drain Cleaning Dos and Don’ts.

There is a right way and a wrong way to handle a clog. Whether you are doing it yourself or calling a plumber, know the dos and don’ts of treating a clog safely to avoid causing further damage.

Don’t Rely Heavily on Chemicals

Products like Drano® and Liquid Plumr® are incredibly harsh on your pipes and can wear away at the metal over time. These may be the first thing you reach for to unclog a bathroom drain, but relying on them every time can wreak havoc on your plumbing systems and should be avoided.

Don’t Use Makeshift Tools

Don’t use unbent coat hangers or garden hoses to reach down the drain. This is only going to make things worse and make a huge mess.

Don’t Throw Just Anything in the Garbage Disposal

You may find a garbage disposal to be super convenient and use it all the time for all your food scraps. But, there are things that you should avoid putting down the disposal at all costs. Coffee grounds, pasta, rice, bread, nuts, seeds, eggshells, potato peels, and animal bones are all a disposal back-up waiting to happen. Coffee and sticky gluten foods (even when in smaller quantities) can gum up and cause clogs in no time. Throw these items in the trash and stick to citrus rinds and fruit, vegetable, and meat scraps.

how to prevent clogged garbage disposal

Do Use Natural Remedies for Clogged Drains

There are plenty of home remedies to use in place of harsh chemicals to break up clogs. A combination of baking soda followed by distilled white vinegar can bust up small blockages in your drains. Let it sit for 10-15 minutes and rinse with hot water to flush.

Do Use a Plumber’s Drain Auger

If you must use a tool to unclog your pipes, use a drain auger like we’ve laid out above. This is your best bet to safely unclog a blockage.

Do Call a Professional for Severe Blockages

If you don’t know how to snake a drain still, or you realize the job is much bigger than you and your drain snake are capable of, call your local plumber to help. They can get you back in shape in no time.

When to Call in the Professionals

If you’re having trouble tackling your clogged drain, A.J. Alberts can come and handle any clog you’re dealing with. Whether it’s shower drains, sink drains, or maybe the kitchen sink, we will get you up and running in no time at all. And if you sign up for our Preferred Customer Maintenance Plan, you can get priority scheduling and a 10% discount on all future repairs, including future drain issues. So, sign up today!