5 Fixes for a Drain Snake That Is Not Working

Drain snake held over sink

The Spruce / Kevin Norris

A drain snake, often called a drum auger, is the perfect tool for clearing branch drain clogs in most situations. A simple hand-operated tool, a drain snake is inexpensive and will save you considerable money over the cost of having a professional plumber visit to clear clogs, though using a drain snake can be hard work. If you have a home, you need to have a drum auger on hand at all times—in the same way that it makes sense to have a toilet plunger around for emergencies.

Sometimes, though, your drain snake does not work as well as expected. The auger cable may not go down the pipe; or if it does go down the pipe, it fails to bring up any obstructing debris. Learn the top reasons why your drain snake is not fixing your clogged pipes, along with fixes that will have your pipes running smoothly in no time at all.


Improper use of a drain snake can lead to scratching or ruining a fixture. While you can insert the snake through the sink or tub drain, inserting it by disassembling the P-trap and inserting the snake there is more similar to how a professional would handle a clogged drain.

Drain Snake Won't Reach Far Enough or Go Around Bends

You may not be using the right kind of drain snake. Your local hardware store or home center may stock only one type of drain snake. But there are several types of drain snakes available, and it is important to use the right one for the job.

  • Toilet Auger: A toilet auger is a special drain auger with a long rod and short cable that will not scratch delicate porcelain surfaces. Do not use any other type of auger with toilets.
  • Small Drum Auger: For most routine kitchen or bathroom sink drain clogs, the best choice is the drum style auger, in which the cable is contained inside a rotating canister. Stick with shorter-length cables in the 15- to 25-foot range.
  • Extra-Long Drain Auger: For clogs deeply embedded down the length of your drain or sewer pipes, an extra-long auger that is 50 feet longer or more is the only way to reach the clog.
Toilet auger reaching inside toilet bowl

The Spruce / Kevin Norris

Drain Snake Cable Doesn't Turn

When the cable doesn't rotate, the problem is likely that you are not tightening the drain auger's thumbscrew.

A cable extends from the drum portion of the auger, and at the end of the cable is a metal corkscrew designed to snag the clog. On the drum side is a handle. You push the corkscrew down the drain and then you turn and turn. And then you keep turning for what seems like forever but nothing is happening. What's the problem?

Failure to tighten the thumbscrew is a common reason behind drain snakes that are not working. You must make sure that the thumbscrew that secures the cable inside the drum or handle is securely tightened. If it is not, the cable will not rotate at all when you twist the handle. Rotation is the action that causes the drain snake to pick up the debris; pushing into the clog will not clear it.


Watch Now: How to Snake a Drain

Drain snake cable inserted and turned by handle

The Spruce / Kevin Norris

Drain Snake Won't Grab Debris

The reason is that you are attempting to auger a clog that cannot be snagged and pulled up.

Clogs that respond best to the metal corkscrew end of the drain snake are clogs that can easily be snagged. Hair clogs are easily snagged by drain snakes. Cooking fat and other soft substances will not catch the corkscrew unless that debris also happens to have hair embedded in it.

Some clogs are just so dense that an ordinary hand drain snake cannot force its way through it. In this case, you have little choice but to rent a power auger or call a plumber to do the job. However, don't give up too soon. Being patient and not forcing the auger cable may do the trick. 

Drain Snake Won't Bring up Debris

If you can't bring up any debris from the drain, it might be because you are using a dirty or otherwise clogged drain snake.

This doesn't apply if you are using a new drain snake, as the end is presumably clean. But drain snakes that have previously been used may still have the old clog still embedded in the corkscrew end. You must thoroughly clean this end for it to be effective.

Drain snake not bringing up debris with corkscrew end

The Spruce / Kevin Norris

Drain Snake Won't Go Down Tub or Sink

It's a familiar condition. Even though you think you're doing the right things, you're forcing the drain snake.

It is very hard to force a drain snake cable through the sharp bends of a fixture P-trap underneath a sink or tub. But many people try to do exactly that—force the cable straight down the drain opening, hoping to get through the trap and to the clog. Instead, you should take the drain trap apart beneath the sink, then insert the drain snake into the horizontal branch drain. It is a rare clog that you cannot clear if you begin with a clear horizontal path into the branch drain. 

If you try to force the snake cable through the drain too fast, it sometimes will kink or bend back on itself. You may even find that the cable bends completely back and comes augering out the same drain pipe you just inserted it into. Extend the snake cable into the drain a few inches at a time, gradually extending it. Once you feel it reach the clog, move even slower. It is the rotation of the cable that will loosen the clog.

Drain snake cable inserted in trap arm opening under sink

The Spruce / Kevin Norris