An unfortunate part of homeownership is the occasional blocked drain. Sometimes your sink gets backed up because someone didn’t scrape their plate properly. Other times your three-year-old decides it’s a wonderful idea to flush an entire apple down the only toilet in the house. Some of these situations can be handled on your own by snaking the drain or using an auger while other times, you’ll need to call in a professional.
Drain Snake and Augers
A drain snake and an auger are functionally the same. A cable is fed into the clogged line and a twisting action is used to either break through the clog or pull the clog back out. The main difference between a snake and an auger is size.
- Snakes are smaller, usually for lines 1.25-2 inches in diameter.
- Augers are larger, typically for lines between 1.5-3 inches.
- Snakes work well for small drains like the kitchen or bathroom sink.
- Augers work well for larger pipes like your toilet or shower drain.
- Pipes larger than 4 inches don’t typically clog, but if they do, they usually require replacement or the use of a mechanical auger.
How to Snake/Auger a Blocked Drain
The first step most people take in handling a clogged drain is to bring out their trusty plunger. If your plumber doesn’t do the trick, it’s probably time to purchase a snake. With a few simple steps, you should be able to have your drain cleared in no time.
- Purchase Equipment
Before you can do anything, you’ll want to purchase the snake or auger required for the job.Home improvement stores have many options from flimsy plastics snakes for small jobs to sturdy metal coils and even electric augers.If you’re not sure what to purchase, an employee should be able to help you decide what will work best for your job. Don’t forget to also purchase rubber gloves and a bucket if you don’t have them.
- Insert Snake into Drain
Don your gloves and get the bucket ready, then insert your snake into the drain you’re trying to unclog.Slowly feed the snake a few inches into the pipe, then crank the handle to begin pushing the auger down.
- Feed Snake down to Clog
Continue cranking the handle to allow the auger to descend down to and past the clog.Bends in the plumbing may require you to crank harder or jiggle the wire.Keep turning the handle until you get to the blockage.Once you reach the clog, the auger will either break through it or grab hold of it.If it’s something solid, the auger will dig into the obstruction and eventually resist turning.Once the snake has a good hold on the clog, you can give the wire a shake to help loosen it, then turn the handle to wind it back up.The clog should come back out with it, either in pieces or as a solid chunk.
- Snake a Second Time
Repeat the process a second time to ensure that you got most of the clog out of the way.
- Run Water
Once you believe you’ve gotten all of the clog removed, run water through the pipes or flush the toilet.Hopefully, at this point, the water will be flowing smoothly.If not, you can try to snake the drain another time.If water is still not flowing, it's time to call in a professional.
Avoid the Use of Chemicals
Commercially available drain chemicals are usually not recommended by plumbers – and not because it takes away from their business. The caustic chemicals cannot clear drains where little or no water is able to flow through, because it can't penetrate through the mass. The chemicals themselves will deteriorate PVC and the fixatives used to connect different sections of pipe. Repeated use of these chemical products will cause extensive damage to your plumbing system beyond what it would cost to pay a plumber to manually clear a clogged drain.
Call for Help
If you’ve exhausted all DIY options for unclogging your drain, it’s time to call in a plumber. It’s not a good idea to leave it or hope for the best because plumbing problems can quickly morph into water damages. It’s even worse when this water comes from a drain because wastewater backup can be dangerous. There are a couple of easy guidelines to follow when deciding if it’s time to call in a professional for your clogged drain.
- Is the clogged drain making a mess? If yes, time is of the essence, and it’s best to call in a professional who can address it with no fuss.
- Is the blockage affecting every drain in the house? If it is, the clog is in a main drain and needs to be handled by a professional.
- Does the drain need to be used right away? If you’re dealing with a clogged toilet in the spare bathroom, you can probably afford to take some time to see if you can handle the job on your own.
Depending on the location and severity of a clogged drain, they’re often something that can be handled by yourself with the right tools and techniques; however, it’s always a good idea to recognize your limits and call in a professional when the situation calls for it.