How to Snake a Drain

Learn the Right Way

Pulling hair from a drain
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When faced with a difficult stoppage many do-it-yourselfers will wonder how to snake a drain. The answer to this common question depends on which type of drain you are going to snake. If you are looking up how to snake a drain then most likely plunging did not work. Plunging a drain is usually the first thing to try because it is the quickest and easiest way to clear a stoppage. When a plunger is not enough to clear a clog the next step is to use a drain snake.

A quick word about drain snakes is necessary before I outline the instructions for how to snake a drain. One of the most important things to do when snaking a drain is to use the right machine for the type of stoppage. Using the wrong size or type of snake in the wrong application can cause damage to the snake, the fixture, or even yourself. Each and every plumbing fixture is different so under each drain type I will list what kind of snake you will need. If you rent a snake make sure to tell the rental company what you will be using it for and where you are snaking the drain from so they can recommend the right machine for the job.

  • How To Snake A Toilet: A toilet stoppage is probably the most common of all the stoppages. If the stoppage is in the toilet itself or in the drain close to the toilet then you can clear the stoppage with a toilet auger. It is not safe to use any other type of snake in a toilet. A toilet auger can be pushed all the way up into the throat of the toilet before going through the toilet trap so it will not scrape the insides of the toilet bowl. Also, the cable of the toilet auger is stiff enough to not loop back on itself when it hits the stoppage because this is what is designed for.
  • How To Snake A Tub: Tubs and tub and showers are snaked through the overflow. If your tub is stopped up the first thing to do is to make sure that there is no hair in the cross-hairs of the tub drain. You may need to remove the tub stopper to access the cross-hairs. If the cross-hairs are clean then the tub stoppage could be further down the line and you can snake the tub drain through the overflow. When snaking a tub drain make sure you use a thin cable, preferably a thickness of 1/4" to 5/16", in the snake. A cable that is any thicker could have a hard time making the bend in the trap under the tub and could damage the drain line under the tub.
  • How To Snake A Shower: A straight shower drain, not tub and shower, usually has an 2” drain going straight down into a trap below the shower. Even though this is a bigger drain than the tub it is a good idea to not use anything more than a 1/4" to 5/16" cable in your snake to clear the stoppage. Most good 1/4" drain snakes come with 25’ of cable length which is more than enough to clear a shower stoppage. Shower stoppages are usually caused by a buildup of hair and soap scum and are cleared easily in most cases.
  • How To Snake A Washing Machine Drain: Many washing machine drain lines have a clean-out near the washing machine that can be used to run the snake into the line and clear it out. If the stoppage is close by like in the trap or standpipe then a small top snake can be used. This would be done by running it down the standpipe and through the trap. If the stoppage is further in the line then a larger snake can be used at the clean-out. This would require a mini-rooter or medium sized drain machine with a length between 50 and 75 feet long about a 3/8" sized cable.
  • How To Snake A Kitchen Drain: Kitchen drains usually have a clean-out on the outside wall and most of the time can be snaked out from there. A mini-rooter or medium drain machine can go up to 75’ or so and clear most kitchen drains clogs. If the stoppage in the kitchen is before the clean-out it may be necessary to disconnect the trap under the kitchen sink and snake out the drain line from under the kitchen sink.
  • How To Snake A Lavatory Drain: Many lavatory drain stoppages are right inside the pop-up area. Disconnect the trap and make sure the line is clear. If you find nothing in the trap or pop-up area then the stoppage is further down the line and can be snaked from under the sink. These drain lines are usually 1 1/2" so this can be snaked out with either a small snake or medium sized snake once the trap is removed.
  • How To Snake A Main Line Drain: Mainline drains are 3” or bigger and will require a large drain snake to clear the stoppage. Putting a small or medium sized drain cable down the main drain could cause problems such as doubling back on itself and tying itself into knots while in the drain because there is so much more room in the large pipe. Usually, large drain snakes are ¾ or bigger and are very rigid so then cannot get stuck easily. Sewer drain snakes can be rented and are great for pushing or cutting through most stoppages including those caused by annoying tree roots. Make sure to get a quick lesson on using the large drain snake when you rent it because they can be dangerous if not used properly.