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What is a Drain Snake?

By J. Beam
Updated May 16, 2024
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A drain snake, also called a plumbing snake or drain auger, is a device used to unclog drains. It has a long, flexible metal cable with a corkscrew auger attached to the end. Either powered by hand or electrically, a drain snake is rotated in a downward spiral into a drain until it reaches a clog, then the corkscrew auger ideally displaces the clog as if “chewing” away at it. There are several different types of plumbing snakes for home and commercial use.

One variable that distinguishes a commercial drain snake from a home-use snake is the length and diameter of the cable. Commercial drain cleaning services have very large motor powered augers that use various sized cables. The largest cable is used for cleaning and removing clogs from main drains, which are significantly larger around than the drainpipes under a kitchen sink. The commercial version has a high-powered motor that rotates the cable through sludge much easier than smaller, home-use drain snakes and can reach a further distance.

Most homeowners use a smaller drain snake primarily because of price compared with frequency of use. Since many professionals recommend cleaning a home’s main drain at least every other year, purchasing a drain snake for 300 US dollars (USD) or more makes little sense to a homeowner. One that is ½ inch (1.3 cm) in diameter and 50 feet (15.2 m) long is sufficient for removing nuisance clogs and is considerably less expensive than a commercial model. Many people prefer using a drain snake for small clogs over pouring chemicals into their drains.

The least expensive drain snake for home use is a hand-powered model, but there are also other powered models. Some are electric, while others are designed to attach to a handheld power drill. Be careful not to use a power drill attachment on full speed when running the snake through the pipe. When snaking a drain, it is best to try to catch the clog on the corkscrew auger and pull it slowly back up through the drain if possible, rather than forcing it loose and sending it further into the drain where it could become lodged again. Before using this device, prepare the area with plenty of old towels since it can often get messy.

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Discussion Comments

By anon149525 — On Feb 04, 2011

Bends are where the powered models come in handy. You can usually make the manual snakes work, but it's harder to keep pressure on the cable while turning.

It's easier to use the manual snakes if you've got a helper keeping the remaining cable untangled while you turn. Using a powered snake, it's relatively easy to keep pressure on the cable while the motor does the work of turning.

By anon123398 — On Nov 01, 2010

How do I get the darn thing to slide through the bends of the pipe? It just hits it like a wall and won't push through. I'm going in through the overflow and get nowhere with this.

It should not cost $300 to have a plumber handle this in 10 minutes.

By anon57563 — On Dec 24, 2009

instead of snaking from the sink drain, unhook and snake from below where the sinks meet the downpipe.

By solkeys — On Nov 09, 2008

I have two bathroom sinks where both drains meet at one spot. Now if my sink gets clogged and I try to snake it, the snake will go down and come back up in the other sink. What can I do?

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