Unclog a Drain Using a Snake when Drano Doesn't Work

Edited by Nerissa Avisado, Anonymous, Eng, Lynn and 4 others

Just as into each life - some rain must fall; into each life – some drains will stall. When your drain is clogged, and the plunger doesn't work, people usually resort to dumping drain cleaner (or some other potent combination of chemicals) into the drain, praying for a miracle. However, this approach isn't always successful. When the chemicals fail, unclogging the drain will mean either paying for professional services or learning to use a snake. Keep reading to learn how to use this tool that in crucial moments, is a miracle worker.

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Getting to Know the Snake

If you've made up your mind to tackle this problem yourself, the first thing you need to do is purchase a plumber's snake or auger. Used to dislodge difficult clogs in the plumbing that can't be loosened with a plunger. A plumber's snake, also called a "toilet jack" or "electric eel", is a slender, flexible auger. It is a length of coiled wire with spaces between the coils on one end, while the other end is attached to a crank or a grip with a trigger that will automatically release the coil. Basically the snake works in three ways.

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  • As the wire moves down the pipe, the crank to which it is attached makes the wire rotate so the auger end (with spaces between) burrows into the clog the way a corkscrew would. Once the auger has latched onto the gunk blocking the pipe, the object can be retrieved it when the wire is wheeled up.
  • There are times that the auger will break the object into smaller pieces so that it can drain naturally. This is what usually happens when the clog is made up of Styrofoam or plastic objects.
  • Sometimes the clog is caused by mineral deposits, chemical residue, or solidified fats that narrow the drain's inner diameter. These are scraped off as the auger rotates down the pipe.

Types of Snakes or Augers

Plumber's snakes or augers can be classified according to the size of the drain they'll be used to unclog, and the length needed to reach the clog. In general, plumber's snakes can fall under the following classifications:

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  1. 1
    Hand Augers or Spinners.
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    These are used for clearing sinks or bathtubs, never toilets because toilets have wide drains. This type of snake is designed to be used on pipes with a diameter less than two inches.
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  2. 2
    Closet Augers.
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    These are relatively short coils, used predominantly with toilets because it's easy to feed them through the "J" shaped pipe usual in a toilet's plumbing. The end of this auger is fitted with a plastic booth to prevent it from damaging the porcelain finish of the toilet bowl.
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  3. 3
    Drum Augers.
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    These are designed to deal with heavy-duty clogs. These have removable and interchangeable blades, so that fixtures with the necessary diameters can be attached based on the clog that needs to be removed. These snakes can cut through tree roots and other hard objects. Samuel Blanc invented the first electric auger of this style, the Roto-Rooter, in 1933. It has become the standard for most professional augers used today. Drum augers need skilled handling and are best left to trained plumbers.
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Getting Started

For home use, it's unlikely you'll need anything longer than a 10-foot snake for getting rid of clogs in sinks and bathtubs. Follow the steps below to unclog the drain in your sink or bathtub.

  1. 1
    Get your materials together.
    You will need a plumber's snake with a trigger, if possible, and a bucket, well-fitting rubber cleaning gloves, old newspapers, rags or towels.
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  2. 2
    Bring the snake close to the drain and push the snake cable into the clogged drain by rotating the handle clockwise or pulling the trigger.
    Simply push the cable and pull it out repeatedly without turning the crank until you meet with some resistance. That's when the work starts. Rotate the crank or pull the trigger to bore through dirt.
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  3. 3
    Keep pushing until you feel resistance; this may mean the snake has reached the clog.
    However, it may also mean the coil has come up against the pipe's curve. Continue pushing. If this is merely the pipe's curve, your wire will slide past it.
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  4. 4
    If it seems like you have reached the clog, push and snake for a few seconds.
    Stop the rotation and push a bit more. If the snake's end has caught any of the clogged material, you may feel the object give way slightly. Snake for just a few seconds, then pull the coil up slightly.
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  5. 5
    If it seems the clump is stuck to the snake, continue pulling up.
    If you can pull the entire length of the snake up without reversing the rotation, just keep bringing the coil back in because you might get the clump out. If you can't pull the snake up freely, slowly do a reverse rotation while making sure the coil doesn't get tangled.
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  6. 6
    If you don't get the clump when you pull up the end of the snake, go right back in and push the snake down until you meet with resistance again.
    This time, once you meet this seemingly immovable object, prod and push at it. This may break the object into smaller pieces.
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  7. 7
    If the clog is stubborn, try to continue prodding at it to break through.
    You can also snake for a couple of seconds and then reverse. Keep up this alternate action. DO NOT KEEP ON SNAKING FOR LONGER THAN A FEW MINUTES WHEN THERE IS A STUBBORN CLOG. Remember that as you continue to release the snake, you are releasing more wire. Your snake may get all tangled up.
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  8. 8
    If the clog you encountered starts giving way, continue to press forward until you are able to break it up completely.
    Then bring up the snake slowly, wiping dirt off of the coil as it comes up. This is what you need the bucket and the rags for.
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  9. 9
    Pour water into the drain to test if the issue has been resolved.
    If your drain is still clogged, you may need to use the snake again, but with a different strategy. Using the length of wire you were able to push into the pipe, you will have a fair idea of where the clog is. If that pipe is exposed and easy to access, you may want to start snaking from there.
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Tips and Warnings:

  • Never dump solid things, no matter how fine, into the drain. This includes stubblef from shaving.
  • Use a drain screen in all the sinks and tubs.
  • Do not throw grease or used oil into the drain. Grease and oil can solidify and harden trapping other miniscule solids until you have a great big clog that will be hard to resolve.
  • If you have put grease down your drain, run hot water to wash it down. Hopefully, it won't solidify.
  • Avoid throwing solids and fats, even if you have a garbage disposal unit, into your sink. Some of the garbage the unit grinds becomes residue that will gradually build up along your pipes.
  • Use home remedies to clear your drains once a month to make sure they never clog.
  • Don't use the wrong auger. A small auger used on a toilet, for instance, may become tied up in knots and end up damaging the bowl.
  • Always look for a drain trap. It might be easier to work from that end.

Questions and Answers

The clog is behind the wall, should I run the snake behind the wall or will it get stuck?

Put Draino in the drain and it didn't go down, before that I took the pipes lose to the wall and ran a small plastic snake in and that didn't work. I have a longer metal snake should I use it? The water is looking rusty

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The rust only means that the water has been there for some time and that the pipes are possibly made of metal. Drano Gel Max might have not reached the clog itself. Please note, a metal cable is recommended, as it allows different thicknesses and lengths.

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If adding more water to the pipe and trying the plunger didn't work:

  • Assess the possible clog material to give you an idea on the attack you'll take.
  • Assess the number of cross pipes before the clog (your cable or snake may take the wrong turn and avoid the clog).
  • Assess the material of the pipe (you may damage thin plastic pipes with a thick metal cable or snake; in your case, I understand it's a metal pipe.
  • Assess the distance to the clog to determine what length of snake you'll need.
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Take the appropriate cable or snake with the required length, material, and thickness. The thinner the snake is, the easier it is to push through, but the harder it is to control.

As soon as it becomes hard for you to push in, it is either a turn in the pipe or the clog. Push in as far as you can, add more Drano Gel, and wait for several hours, depending on the strength of the clog.

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Sometimes, it takes me several days to clean a sawdust clog. I usually use a thick metal cable, the one that cranes use, and push it in with full force, trying to move it to the sides as well every several hours.

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If several days pass and you still cannot clean it, you might want to call the plumber or disassemble pipes surrounding the clog.

I have a clogged garbage disposer drain.

I used Drano Gel max about 5 hours ago…still nothing. I know the clog is in the cross pipe which runs straight from the disposal to the larger drainpipe. We tried the plunger first, that didn't work. Now the clog is in there and I don't know what to try next? Please help with this clogged garbage disposal drain pipe.

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If you are using the standard double-sink piping, then in order to clean this clog, you will have to detach the garbage disposal unit and run the snake in the pipe leading to the cross section.

Make sure the snake will run down the pipe when it hits the cross section. You can either turn it or push it from above with another snake, although that doesn't work very well.

You can also try cleaning the clog from the trap, or the clean-out hole located further down the pipe that goes down from the cross section at the U-turn. Go in both directions from there, both back to the cross section and further up the pipe.

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You may want to disassemble the appliance with two basins if you cannot push through the clog, depending on the clog material, size, and the state of the pipes.

How do we prevent blocking? We put the snake about half way down.

We have removed the toilet and are using a snake to try to unclog the toilet to prevent backing up of the water, but it doesn't seem to be working. It seems like the snake can't get past the blockage. If it did the water would have receded. But it hasn't yet.

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Recent edits by: Nuance, franceck, Jen M

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