Plumbing Snakes 101: Understanding What They Are and How They Work

Oct 19, 2023 | Plumbing

Plumbing snakes, also known as an auger cable, is a specialized tool used to unclog drains. They are a great way to save time and money when dealing with minor clogs. Plumbing snakes are made up of a long, flexible cable that is fed into the drain. The cable is then used to push or pull debris out of the pipe. The cable is usually made of heavy duty metal or plastic and is available in different sizes and lengths at an affordable price.

clogged drain, water

If you’re looking for detailed information about the anatomy of a plumbing snake, its applications, and the best varieties to suit your needs, you’ve landed on the right page. This blog is designed to comprehensively discuss everything that you should know when utilizing a plumbing snake.

Drain Auger Types

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There are two major types of plumbing snakes – drain augers and closet augers. Drain augers are versatile tools used to unclog sinks, showers, and tubs. They typically have a flexible cable of about 25-50 feet long that can bend and twist around the curves in your pipes. They typically have a jagged end to easily grab hair and other drain debris.

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Closet augers or toilet augers, on the other hand, are designed specifically for unclogging toilets. Toilet augers have a sturdier, thicker cable that is designed to withstand the pressure of pushing through toilet drain traps. This tool typically has a corkscrew end, making it suitable for fixing most toilet clogs.

How to Use A Plumbing Snake

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At its most basic, using a plumbing snake, or drain auger, involves manually feeding the cable into the drain until it reaches the obstruction. With a twisting or cranking motion, the cable is then used to break up the clog, or latch onto it and pull it out.

Using A Plumbing Snake When Standard Drain Cleaners Won’t Work

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Before you attempt to unclog your drain with a plumbing snake, you should try a drain cleaner or plunger. If the clog cannot be resolved with drain openers, like over-the-counter drain cleaning products, use a drain auger.

A plumbing snake or drain auger is a suitable tool if the clog is deep within the pipe, possibly caused by accumulated hair, grease, or other buildup. Given the variation in the nature and severity of clogs, there could be instances where using a motorized plumbing auger is your best option.

When to Use A Motorized Plumbing Snake

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A motorized plumbing snake, also referred to as a power auger, can be particularly effective for larger, more stubborn clogs that manual plumbing tools struggle to tackle. Unlike their manual plumbing auger cable counterparts, motorized drain snakes utilize an electric or battery-powered motor, like a drill, to turn the cable, providing extra force to break up heavy blockages.

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This added power makes them a popular choice for dealing with significant obstructions, particularly those deep within the plumbing system.

Use Caution!

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Despite their increased efficiency, caution is paramount when deploying motorized drain snakes. The additional power they provide can potentially damage pipes if not used correctly.

For instance, the force exerted by the rotating cable can inadvertently crack or puncture a pipe, especially if it’s old or worn out. Additionally, if the cable is forced too aggressively, it could become stuck or cause a pipe to burst.

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If you’re dealing with a delicate or complex plumbing system, or if you’re unsure about how to use a motorized drain snake, consulting with a professional plumber is recommended to prevent any possible damage to your pipes.

Does A Drain Snake Work for Repeated Clogging?

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A drain auger is the preferred tool for situations where there is repeated clogging. Cleaning out your drain pipes routinely will help you prevent more costly clogs.

However, as a rule of thumb, if the plumbing snake fails to dislodge the blockage or if the clogs become a recurring issue, it is advisable to consult with a professional plumber to prevent further damage to the pipes.

Fixing Your Clogged Toilet With A Toilet Auger Cable

toilet bowl, shower, bathroom

To unclog your toilet with a toilet auger cable (also known as a closet auger), start by pulling the handle of the auger upward so the cable is within the tube. Insert the bottom of the tube into the drain hole of the toilet, positioning it at the entrance of the pipe where the clog is likely located.

Slowly push the handle down, which will extend the cable further into the pipe. Once you feel resistance, it’s a sign you’ve reached the clog. Turn the handle clockwise while pushing downward to break up the clog or hook it.

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If the resistance continues, consult a professional plumber so you don’t mess up your toilet or septic tank. If the resistance lessens, it means you’ve broken up the clog successfully. Finally, slowly pull the auger out of the toilet, being careful not to splatter any water or waste. Flush the toilet a few times to ensure the clog is completely gone. Always remember to clean your auger after each use to maintain its effectiveness.

5 Tips for Using A Plumbing Snake

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  1. Assess the Situation: Before you begin, take a moment to assess the severity of the clog and the type of drain that is affected. This will help you to choose the appropriate type and size of plumbing snake for the task at hand.

  2. Use Protective Gear: Always use safety glasses and gloves to protect your eyes and hands from debris and harmful bacteria. You may also want to wear an apron or old clothes, as the process can sometimes get messy.

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  3. Feed the Cable Slowly: When using the plumbing auger, feed the cable into the drain slowly and steadily. Rushing the process can cause the cable to kink or get stuck.

  4. Use the Right Technique: Once the cable has reached the clog, use a cranking motion to break up or hook the obstruction. If you’re using a motorized snake, be sure to use it on a low-to-moderate setting to avoid damaging your pipes.

  5. Clean the Plumbing Snake After Use: To ensure your plumbing snake is ready for the next use, always clean it thoroughly after each use. Rinse the cable with water and use a disinfectant to clean it. Dry it properly before storing to prevent rust.

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While a plumbing auger is an excellent tool for minor clogs, it is essential to know when to call in the professionals, so you don’t make the problem worse.

When to Call a Professional Plumber

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If you’ve exhausted your efforts with a plumbing auger and the issue persists, seeking professional help is the most advisable course of action. Professional plumbers and general pipe cleaners come equipped with in-depth knowledge and specialized tools that most homeowners don’t have. Their experience enables them to quickly pinpoint the source of the clog, saving you precious time and further inconvenience.

When it comes to tools, professional plumbers often have access to more advanced equipment such as hydro jets, video inspection cameras, and larger motorized drain snakes. These powerful tools can be highly effective in dealing with stubborn blockages that manual plumbing snakes might struggle to clear.

Why Should I Hire A Professional Plumber?

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Beyond unclogging drains, professionals also play a crucial role in preventing potential damage to your pipes. Amateur attempts to clear clogs can inadvertently lead to pipe damage, resulting in costly repairs or even full replacements. Professional plumbers, on the other hand, are trained to navigate the intricacies of various plumbing systems, minimizing the risk of damage.

In the long run, hiring professionals can prove to be more cost-effective. By accurately diagnosing and resolving the issue, they can prevent further complications that could escalate repair costs. Therefore, while it might seem economical to handle plumbing issues yourself, remember that the potential for error and subsequent damage may lead to more hefty expenses down the line. Hence, if your plumbing auger isn’t doing the trick, don’t hesitate to call in the professionals.

About Maryland Sewer & Plumbing Service, Inc.

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If you reside in Maryland and require trustworthy and competent plumbing repairs, services, or installations, our locally owned company is your go-to solution. Established in 1985, we have a robust legacy of over three decades on our side, equipping us with the skills and expertise to handle a diverse range of residential and commercial plumbing quandaries swiftly and efficiently.

No matter the complexity or simplicity of your plumbing needs, our team of highly trained and certified professionals is committed to providing you with top-tier, reliable services around the clock. We understand that plumbing issues can strike unannounced at any hour, which is why we offer 24/7 availability to ensure that your home or business is always running smoothly.

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From sewer clean-outs to fixing leaks and installing new fixtures, we’ve got you covered. To experience our high-quality services, book your desired sewer or plumbing service today by visiting our website. We pride ourselves in our prompt response times, transparency in pricing, and unwavering commitment to customer satisfaction!


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