When a plunger is not enough to clear a clogged toilet, the next option is a toilet auger—sometimes called a closet auger. Like a standard drain snake, the toilet auger has a cable that rotates by a handle. But this tool is specially designed for toilets, with a hollow tube attached to an elbow fitting covered by a rubber sleeve that protects the toilet bowl from scratches.
It is certainly possible to clear a toilet clog with an ordinary drain snake, but all too often you will leave disfiguring scratches in the bottom of the bowl. A drain auger, on the other hand, will not scratch the porcelain of your toilet. For that reason, it is never recommended to use an electric snake to clean a toilet stoppage.
What Is a Toilet Auger?
A toilet auger is a specialized form of drain snake. Like other types of drain snakes, it has a handle that rotates a flexible metal cable that can bore through drain clogs. With a toilet auger, the cable runs through a metal tube which is protected at the bottom with a rubber sleeve that keeps the metal from scratching the toilet bowl's porcelain surfaces.
How to Unclog a Toilet
Toilet Auger vs. Toilet Plunger
When a toilet becomes clogged, the first course of action is to try using a toilet plunger. This tool is similar to a standard cup-style plunger used on an ordinary sink, tub, or shower drain, but it has a center flange that allows you to seal the tool against the drain opening in the toilet for plunging. Very often, this tool alone will free whatever clog is causing the problem. But it is best suited for clogs that are found in the toilet's built-in trap, and it doesn't work very well on clogs that are found past the toilet itself, in the branch drain that leads to the main soil stack.
For major clogs that lie past the toilet itself, the toilet must be lifted to get access to the piping.
Can reach clogs up to main soil stack
More expensive than toilet plunger
A single-use tool—only for toilet clogs
Best for clearing clogs in toilet's trap
Less expensive than toilet auger
Some types are convertible, can be used for other drains, too
Parts of a Toilet Auger
A toilet auger is a very simple hand tool, consisting of a metal cable with a rotating handle on one end; a long tube with a smooth angle on the bottom, through which the cable fits; and a rubber sleeve that prevents the metal tube from scratching the porcelain toilet bowl.
Any drain tool can pick up bacteria from drain pipes, and this is especially true of any tool used in a toilet drain. Make sure to wear gloves when using a toilet auger, and rinse off the tool when you are finished using it.
How to Use a Toilet Auger
Insert the Toilet Auger Cable
Pull the auger handle up all the way so that the end of the cable is close to the bottom curved end of the auger tube. This curved elbow portion will make feeding the cable into the toilet easier, and the rubber or plastic sleeve will protect the toilet from scratches. When properly inserted, you should not be able to see the end of the auger cable; you will see only the tube and sleeve
Always wear gloves when handling the toilet auger cable.
Crank the Handle
The toilet auger, like any drain snake, works by rotating the cable so it moves into the drain opening by a screwing action. In the case of toilets, most clogs occur in the first section of the drain, in the trap configuration built into the porcelain body of the toilet. The toilet auger has enough cable to reach past the toilet, sometimes as far as the main soil stack. But if the clog lies beyond that point, such as in the main sewer line, you will need a different solution.
Use one hand to hold the toilet auger housing and keep it in place. With the other hand on the handle, crank the auger to gently work the cable into the toilet drain. Work slowly and patiently, because too much force can cause the cable to double back on itself rather than move through the drain. To get the cable all the way into the toilet, you may need to reverse the direction of the cranking motion a couple of times.
Crank in one direction until the cable will feed no further, then switch to the other direction and continue to gradually feed the cable until the auger handle is tight against the top of the auger tube. Rotate the cable several times once it has reached its full extension. You may be able to feel when the cable reaches the clog, evident by the resistance.
Extract the Cable
Once the cable has been forced through the clog, pull the toilet auger cable out of the toilet by rotating the handle and pulling backward. When the tip of the auger is tight against the tube, remove the entire tool from the toilet bowl.
Flush the Drain
With the cable removed, flush the toilet to see if the clog has disappeared. In most cases, the clog now flushes onward through the toilet and into the drain system. Flush the toilet several times to make sure it has cleared completely.
Repeat the snaking process, if necessary.
Buying vs. Renting
Drain augers are available for rental at home improvement centers and tool rental outlets, but the tools are so inexpensive that it makes more sense to buy one. A couple of rental fees will nearly pay for the tool.
Keeping a Toilet Auger
After each use, rinse, wipe the auger cable dry (it may rust otherwise) and store it away. Occasionally wiping the cable with a cloth moistened with light machine oil will also keep it from rusting.
When to Replace Your Toilet Auger
A toilet auger will last for decades with correct use and care, but if the rubber sleeve becomes cracked or broken, or if the cable becomes so rusted that it no longer feeds smoothly through the sleeve, then it's time to replace the tool.