How to Snake a Drain

snake a bathtub drain
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If you've tried unsuccessfully to clear a clogged drain with a plunger, do what a plumber would do and use a drain snake. Drain snakes come in a variety of types and sizes. Most sink clogs can be cleared with a standard 25- or 50-foot drain snake, while toilet clogs are a cinch if you have a toilet auger. For very long drain runs in the house, a mini-rooter might be necessary, and for 4-inch sewer drains you'll need a full-size sewer auger.

Regardless of the type, all drain snakes use cables with special ends for snagging or cutting through the source of the clog.   

How to Snake a Toilet

A toilet stoppage is probably the most common of all household clogs. If the stoppage is in the toilet itself or in the drain close to the toilet, you should clear the clog 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 so that it won't loop back on itself when it hits the stoppage because this is what is designed for.

How to Snake a Tub Drain

Tubs and tub/shower combos are snaked through the overflow drain of the tub. To clear a clogged tub, first check to make sure that there is no collection of hair stuck 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, the tub stoppage is likely to be farther down the drain, and you can snake the tub drain through the overflow. Use a standard drain snake with a 1/4- or 5/16-inch cable. Heavier cables may be hard to get through the bends in the trap under the tub and could damage the drain pipe.

How to Snake a Shower Drain

A drain for a standard shower (not a tub/shower combo), usually has a 2-inch drain going straight down into a trap below the shower base. While this is bigger than a tub drain, it's still a good idea to use a standard snake with a 1/4- or 5/16-inch cable, so the cable goes through easily. Most 1/4-inch drain snakes come with a 25-foot cable, which is plenty long to clear a shower stoppage. Shower clogs are usually caused by a buildup of hair and soap scum and easy to clear.

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 directly into the drain pipe. If the stoppage is close to the machine, such as in the trap or standpipe, you can use a small standard snake and run it down the standpipe and through the trap. If the stoppage is farther down the line, you should feed the snake through the clean-out, and you may need a mini-rooter with a 50- or 75-foot cable.

How to Snake a Kitchen Drain

Kitchen drains may include a clean-out on an outside wall (in warm climates only) or inside the sink base cabinet or in the basement or crawlspace area underneath the kitchen. If so, it's best to snake the drain from the clean-out.

A standard 25- or 50-foot drain snake should do the trick. If the stoppage occurred before the clean-out, you may have to disconnect the P-trap under the sink and feed the snake directly into the drain pipe.

How to Snake a Bathroom Sink Drain

Many lavatory drain stoppages are due to hair clogs around the pop-up stopper assembly. You may be able to reach the clog with needlenose pliers or a metal coat hanger with a hook on the end. Failing that, disconnect the P-trap and check it for clogs. If you find nothing in the trap or pop-up area, then the stoppage is farther down the line and can be snaked from under the sink. A standard 25-foot drain snake takes care of most bathroom sink stoppages.

How to Snake a Main Drain

A main drain, or main sewer drain, is typically 3 or 4 inches in diameter and requires a sewer auger to clear most stoppages.

Using a standard snake or, in some cases, a mini-rooter, can lead to problems, such as the cable doubling back on itself or tying itself into knots inside the drain pipe. This happens because the cable isn't stiff enough and the extra room in the large-diameter pipe allows the cable to wind up into knots. Full-size sewer augers have 5/8- or 3/4-inch cables that are very rigid so they don't twist or get stuck easily. Sewer augers 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 operating the machine from the rental company; they can be dangerous if not used properly.