How to Use a Sewer Drain Snake

Man clearing the drains
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A sewer drain snake is used to clear a main line stoppage. If you have confirmed that you have a main sewer line clog you may wish to attempt to clear it yourself. Fortunately, like other drain snakes, a sewer drain snake can be rented for the day from a tool and equipment rental location.

Keep in mind that clearing a main line stoppage is not an easy task. It may be easier to call a professional plumber in this situation. Consider calling around to compare the price of renting the machine, plus your time, versus hiring a plumber.

If you don’t have a sewer clean out it is not advisable for you to rent the machine and clear the stoppage yourself. If you do have a clean out the following instructions will help you use a rental machine to clear the stoppage.


Sewer drain snakes should only be used by a trained professional as they can cause injury as well as damage. Tree roots, collapsed lines, and other obstructions can all cause the blades to get hung up and the cable to snap.

How to Properly Snake a Sewer Drain

  1. Locate the main line clean out and remove the cap. Check for standing water in the pipe. If there is standing water you will want to run the drain machine cable toward the street. If there is no standing water and the toilets are stopped up you will run the cable toward the house.
  2. Position the drain snake as close as possible to the cleanout. This will help so it will not tangle as easily. The less slack you have on the cable the safer you will be.
  3. Put on a pair of leather gloves that will not get grabbed by the machine while it's turning. It is best to get the gloves from where you rent the snake because they will know what pair is the most appropriate to use with the particular machine.
  4. Pull the head of the cable out and put it into the cleanout. Feed a few feet of cable into the pipe before turning on the machine.
  5. Put both hands on the cable about shoulder-width apart. Holding on tightly to the cable is very important as letting it go can cause it to kink and injure you. Many machines will come with a spring that you run the cable through so the cable can not jump out and get tangled up. If your machine does not, keep two hands on the cable at all times.
  6. Make sure the machine is switched to the forward position and turn it on. Slowly feed the cable into the drain while holding it steady. Be ready to back the machine off quickly in case you hit a tough clog that can cause the cable to kink.
  7. As soon as you reach a tough spot slowly ease the cable back a few feet. Feed the cable forward again until you feel resistance. Do not attempt to force the cable through as this can tangle the snake cable up. Note: It is a good idea to have someone inside the house listening to the toilet to make sure the snake did not go the wrong way which can happen with a two way clean out. If the cable can be heard banging on the bottom of the toilet you will have to pull the cable out and start again.
  8. Continue to move the cable back and forth a few feet at a time until the clog has cleared. After the stoppage has cleared, feed another 10 feet to 15 feet of the cable into the drain to ensure that it is completely unclogged.
  9. Pull the cable back out of the pipe and check the toilets and tub drains to ensure that everything is running well before closing the cleanout. Flush the toilet multiple times to make sure the stoppage is truly clear before returning the machine.