If Your Drain Snake (Auger) Won't Go Down the Drain

A handheld drain auger
Pgdp123 / Wikimedia Commons / Creative Commons

A drain snake (often called an auger) is the perfect tool for clearing branch drain clogs in most situations. A simple hand-operated tool, it is relatively inexpensive and will save you considerable money over the cost of a plumber to clear clogs. Sometimes, though, you may get frustrated when this tool doesn't work the way you want. Usually, this happens when the auger cable just won't seem to penetrate the pipe.

Here are some reasons why your drain snake cable may not move through the drain the way you want: 

Is it the right kind of drain snake?

There are three types of drain snakes available, and it's important to use the right one for the job. Trying to use a drum-style auger on a toilet is not going to work very well, usually, and you may be frustrated by your inability to even get the cable to move past the bends in the toilet bowl. 

For most routine sink drain clogs, the best choice is the drum style auger, in which the cable is contained inside a rotating canister. 

Are you using it correctly?

Make sure 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, and it won't progress down into the drain. 

Are you trying to force the snake down through a P-trap?

It's 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's a rare clog you can't clear if you begin with a clear horizontal path into the branch drain. 

Are you moving too fast?

Slowly does the trick. 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. And once you feel it reach the clog, move even slower. It is the rotation of the cable that will loosen the clog, not brute force. 

Is the clog just too big?

Although it's rare, some clogs are just so dense that an ordinary hand drain snake can't force its way through it. In this case, you have little choice but to rent a power auger, or alternately, 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.