Using a Handheld Auger to Unclog Your Sink

Handheld auger held in front of sink

The Spruce / Kevin Norris

Once in a while, you get a sink clog that just won't quit. You've tried a coat hanger, a plunger, perhaps a prayer or two—all to no avail. Before you lose your wits and pour in a (usually ineffective) liquid drain cleaner, turn to the best drain-cleaning tool of all: the sink auger. It's inexpensive, easy to use, and requires no chemicals. It's just the thing for clearing clogs in sinks and bathtub drains.

The sink auger is also called a "drum auger" or "canister auger" because of its configuration. It consists of a flexible cable with a corkscrew end (the business end). The cable is coiled within a drum canister. The collar where the cable comes out has a thumbscrew or other device for locking the cable when you've reached the clog, and it's time to turn the corkscrew end into the clog to snag it and pull it out. Gross, yes, but it works! 


Do not use a standard drain snake on toilets because it can get stuck and can damage the porcelain. Use a toilet auger instead.

Materials and tools to unclog a sink with handheld auger

The Spruce / Kevin Norris

Remove the P-Trap

Remove the P-trap (the U-shaped section of pipe under the sink) to access the drain. Place a bucket under the P-trap to catch any water spilling from the trap. Loosen the slip-nuts at each end of the trap with a pipe wrench or tongue-and-groove pliers. Remove the slip-nuts and the trap.

P-trap removed from to access sink drain

The Spruce / Kevin Norris

Push the Cable Into the Drain

Auger the drain through the pipe leading to the wall (called the trap arm). Push the cable into the pipe until you feel it hit the clog. Pull out about 12 inches more of the cable, and tighten the setscrew.

Handheld auger cable pushed into sink drain

The Spruce / Kevin Norris

Turn the Auger Handle

Slowly turn the crank handle of the auger. This twists the corkscrew end of the cable into the clog. 

You might meet resistance when pushing the cable through any bend in the pipe. If so, tighten the setscrew and crank the auger slowly while pushing on the cable. A couple of turns should help the auger end get through the bends in the pipe.

Handheld auger handle turned inside sink drain for unclogging

The Spruce / Kevin Norris

Remove the Cable

Pull the cable back out of the pipe, feeding it into the auger drum as you go. It's also a good idea to wipe off the cable with a rag as you slide it into the drum. When the cable end emerges, clean off all debris from the corkscrew tip and throw it in the trash (not back down the drain!). Reassemble the P-trap and run hot water from the sink faucet to flush the drain, and make sure the water is flowing. If the drain runs slowly, auger the drain again. 

Handheld auger cable removed and wiped off with rag

The Spruce / Kevin Norris

Tips for Keeping Your Auger Clean

Wipe off the cable as needed while pushing it back into the auger drum. Rinse the corkscrew end thoroughly. Sink auger cables are steel, which can get a rusty coating on the cable, due to material and water left on the cable. If desired, you can rinse the entire used portion of the cable (while running the water while you retract the cable), then let the cable air-dry before feeding it back into the drum.