How to Use a Sewer Snake

If your plumbing system has a clog and you decide to fix it yourself, you’ll most likely need to use a sewer snake. This tool is a favorite of many DIY enthusiasts and even professional plumbers because it’s handy and highly effective in removing blockages. If you want to learn more about this humble tool, this guide is for you.

What Is a Sewer Snake?

A sewer snake is a tool that consists of a coiled spiral piece of metal (usually steel) that’s about a quarter of an inch thick and is attached to a handle. The metal looks like a snake, which is how it got its name. It’s used to break blockages apart and make them easier to flush through the pipes, and it can also be used to pull clogs up the drain so they’ll no longer cause obstructions.

Sewer snakes are also called augers, and they’re available in several types. One is the cable auger (aka plumber’s snake), which has several feet of snake around a spool with a hand crank. Another type is the closet auger, which uses a shaft instead of a spool to hold the coiled metal. It has a bent tip at the end that lets it fit through the toilet trap (a curved pipe that leads from the bowl to the drain pipe). Still another type of auger is the electric-powered model, which is meant for larger clogs or for those that are located far away from your sink, drain, or toilet.

The electric-powered auger is targeted to professional plumbers and is usually expensive, but you can rent it from your local hardware store. However, for ordinary clogs, you may find that a cable or closet auger is enough.

When Should I Use It?

If you have tried using a plunger on a clogged drain, sink, or toilet but to no avail, you’ll most likely have to use a sewer snake. Small clogs can easily be removed by a plunger, which creates a type of vacuum that dislodges clogs and clears the pipe. However, for stubborn blockages that don’t easily break loose, or for those that are located several inches or feet down the pipe, you’ll definitely need to have a sewer snake on hand.

How Do I Use It?

To use a cable auger, take the following steps:

1. Align the end of the snake into the drain and push it inside. Turn the hand crank so the snake goes down the pipe.

2. Keep turning the handle until you feel that the snake has reached an obstruction. Once it does, rotate the snake so it attaches itself to the clog.

3. Keep on rotating the snake so it breaks the blockage apart.

4. If you feel that the snake has encountered a solid object and can’t break it apart, turn the hand crank to pull up the snake. It will probably bring up the clog along with it.

5. If you feel that the snake has chopped up the clog, or if the clog was attached to the snake when you pulled it up, flush water down the drain. See if it drains properly; if it doesn’t, repeat steps 1 to 4 until the clog is removed.

To use a closet auger, take these steps:
1. Place the end of the snake into the toilet bowl. Remember to keep the tip up so it will fit through the trap.

2. Turn the hand crank to release the snake. Make sure to keep the auger’s shaft steady.

3. Keep on cranking to release the entire length of the cable, which is around three feet or so.

4. Once you’ve released the entire length of the snake, pull it back up by turning the hand crank and pulling the shaft at the same time.

5. Flush the toilet to see if it’s still clogged or not. If it still doesn’t flush correctly, repeat steps 1 to 4 until your toilet flushes freely.

What Should I Remember When Using a Sewer Snake?

You’ll most likely have to deal with dirty water (among other gross things) when using a sewer snake. If the blockage is caused by a toy, toothbrush, or any other solid object, you may also have to pick it up to remove it from your drain or toilet.

Because of these, you have to make several preparations to protect yourself from contamination. Before removing the clog, put on rubber gloves (to safeguard your hands) and a pair of goggles (to protect your eyes from splashes of dirty water). If you have long hair, make sure to tie it back so you won’t have to keep on brushing it away from your eyes. Don’t forget to wear work clothes so you can move around freely and you won’t ruin a good outfit with dirty water.

If you don’t yet have a cable or closet auger at home, just make a quick run to the local hardware store to buy one. If you’re planning to rent an electric-powered auger, ask the rental agent to demonstrate how to use it properly. Don’t hesitate to ask any questions you may have in mind.

One important thing to remember: if you’ve done everything you could but your sewer snake still can’t dislodge the clog, it’s time to get the help of a professional plumber. Don’t attempt to disassemble the pipes unless you know what you’re doing; if you do so, you might end up with a bigger problem than a clog. Professional plumbers have the skills, experience, and equipment to deal with blockages and other problems, so don’t hesitate to give them a call.

Final Note

Most clogs are avoidable. So, to ensure that you won’t have to use a sewer snake every now and then, take the right steps to prevent clogs from forming. Use a sink strainer to prevent objects from entering the drain, and don’t pour oil (which can harden and form blockages) down your sink. As much as possible, avoid flushing tissues and sanitary napkins down your toilet to keep it from clogging.

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