What Is a Drain Snake?


If you have any kind of drain, at some point you will encounter a clogging problem. For a minute, let’s forget what caused it and whose fault it was. Your first priority is to unclog the drain so that there is no immediate or permanent damage and a drain snake is an extremely handy tool in these situations.

If you have never owned one, a drain snake is a plumbing tool resembling a metal cable or a rope. On its tip, you will notice a cutting blade, which is the component that does the heavy lifting when it comes to unclogging your drain.

Whether it is hair that is causing the clog or a piece of soap, a drain snake is a much better option than chemical cleaners. The latter are made of harmful chemicals that have the potential to cause damage to your pipes. In fact, they don’t even work that well when it comes to clearing out hair.

Some such drain snakes are also used for video inspections. All it takes is to attach a camera on the snake’s head and you will know if you are dealing with clogging due to hair or if tree roots have started growing in your pipe.

How Is It Different from a Drain Auger?

These are two different tools, but because they work in the same way, the names are used interchangeably. They are both cables that range from a few feet to about 100 feet. You get them in manual, plug-in and cordless models and many a time, using them is a lot cheaper than having to call the plumber.

The difference between the two tools is in the size of the drain that needs to be cleared. If you want to clear smaller pipes linked to your bathroom or the kitchen sink, a regular drain snake will do the trick. This is because drain snakes have a range of 1.25 to 2 inches.

But if you want to clear larger pipes that are connected to your shower or toilet, you will need a drain auger. These tools have a line range of 1.5 to 3 inches. If the clog is more than four inches, you are probably looking at tree roots in the pipe. This means you will need a hydro-jet or a mechanical drain auger to clear them out.

The cable of a drain snake also has a smaller diameter compared to the drain auger’s cable. And the tip of the drain auger is larger than the one on a drain snake.

How Does a Drain Snake Work?

A drain snake is a cable that is coiled into a drum when you buy it. A decent drain snake has a cable that is about 25 feet long. There is a spring in the shape of a corkscrew at the end of the cable, which is what removes the clogs.

  • Step 1: If you are using a manual drain snake, you must uncoil the cable from the drum and push the tip into the pipe by hand.
  • Step 2: As the snake moves into the drain, keep pushing it straight until you feel like you have encountered the obstacle.
  • Step 3: Once you are at the clog, you must twist the cable to make it easy for the corkscrew to remove the clog. This twisting action is when the sharp end of the drain snake plunges into action and cuts into the obstacle.
  • Step 4: Make sure the snake has sunk its teeth into the obstacle and pull it back with the intention of grabbing the obstacle.

It is important to remember that glasses and gloves are not optional while using a drain snake. This is not just a precaution for the sake of hygiene but also has safety elements attached to it.

Drains typically contain chemicals that were used in the past for cleaning purposes. When pulling the snake back, there is a risk of splashback which might bring toxic chemicals along with drain water.

The Bottom Line

While drain snakes are not expensive, if you don’t have one at home, you can make one with a wire hanger or a pipe cleaner too. Failing that, you can also cut a two-liter bottle in the shape of a spiral to make teeth for your makeshift drain snake.

If you have a dry/wet vacuum at home, you might be able to use its suction to get the obstacle out of the drain. Set it on the “liquid” mode and create an air seal by covering the vent. Then you must place it in an airtight manner around the clogged drain and get started.

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