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What is a Plumbing Auger?

A plumbing auger, often called a drain snake, is a flexible tool used to dislodge clogs deep within pipes. Its coiled design navigates twists and turns, reaching obstructions that plungers can't. By inserting and twisting it into your drain, you can tackle stubborn blockages effectively. Curious about how to use one safely and efficiently in your home? Keep reading to learn more.
Morgan H.
Morgan H.

A plumbing auger is any of a family of tools, sometimes also known as snakes, used to help clear and clean clogged drains. Augers can either be manually operated, connected to a drill, or powered by electricity. An auger is usually comprised of a handle, a long coiled wire, and an extended coil of the wire on the end that is the primary piece that breaks up clogs. Plumbing augers come in several different styles, based on the type of pipe or plumbing fixture they are intended to be used in.

Augers break up clogs using different motion within plumbing pipes. The spaced coil on the end can be used to penetrate and pull out a clog, or the motion of inserting it may push the clog apart within the pipe itself. The twisting motion of rotating the auger's wire may also be used to remove debris from the pipe walls.

Pipe fittings.
Pipe fittings.

Hand augers are usually operated by a crank, or attached to the end of a drill to power movement. They are used to clean small clogs such as hair out of bathtub and sink drains. This type of plumbing auger should never be used in a drain wider than 2 inches (5.08 centimeters,) as they might knot or tangle up on themselves, and become impossible to remove from the pipe.

A plumbing auger, often called a “snake,” helps remove objects that clog drain pipes.
A plumbing auger, often called a “snake,” helps remove objects that clog drain pipes.

Closet augers are named after the water closet, or toilet. These are usually a shorter plumbing auger, built into a "J" shape that more easily feeds into the trap underneath the toilet bowl. Though most augers are made of metal, these may have a plastic cap on the end that is inserted into the toilet, protecting the porcelain of the toilet bowl from scratching or chipping when the auger is used.

Drum augers are used to clean out bigger pipes and main drain lines. They are usually powered by electricity, and may require a professional to safely operate without damaging any part of the plumbing. These augers may have blades attached to the end to break up harder clogs and remove tougher build up from the pipe walls. If a drum-style plumbing auger is used improperly, it may break through pipe walls and cause severe damage.

Some versions of this plumbing auger may have a small camera attached to the end, so the plumber can see the clogs and build up, and determine if there are any other issues with the pipe.

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    • Pipe fittings.
      Pipe fittings.
    • A plumbing auger, often called a “snake,” helps remove objects that clog drain pipes.
      By: John Takai
      A plumbing auger, often called a “snake,” helps remove objects that clog drain pipes.