How to Use a Plumbing Snake: 4 Tips for Fixing Drains

a plumbing snake with a red handle

A drain clog happens when hair, dirt, skin flakes, soap scum, and other substances accumulate, reducing water flow. They can also be caused by people trying to flush down something that wasn’t meant to go down a water pipe. Whatever the cause, it is bound to happen to you at some point, so you better be prepared. Undoubtedly, a plumbing snake is the most important tool to have for this job.

a plumbing snake with a red handle

While it’s never a joyous task, unclogging a drain using a plumbing snake doesn’t have to be a dreadful experience either. Here are some tips to make it easier.

Four Tips for Fixing Drains Using a Plumbing Snake

running water in a sink

1. Use Boiling Water

A plumbing snake is a long and flexible type of auger designed to eliminate blockages from drainpipes. They work by breaking up and removing the mass that’s producing the clogging, clearing the pipe of any obstruction. However, a plumbing snake can sometimes need a little help getting the job done. Simply flushing the drain with boiling water can do the trick if the obstruction is not too extreme. The hot water will soften and separate whatever substances are causing the clogging, making it easy to immediately break it up using the plumbing snake.

In order to do this, simply boil a full tea kettle of water. Once it’s boiling, pour the entire amount slowly and gently down the clogged drain. Afterward, push the snake into the drain opening, turning the handle in order to unroll the coiled-up snake. You will feel resistance when you reach the clogged area. By now, the mass should be softened and separated enough to make it easy to push through it. Once the tip has attached to the clog, you should rotate the snake vigorously, spinning away and chopping up any obstructing matter.

Remember: This tip only works on metal pipes. The joints in PVC pipes can be softened or melted by boiling water.

2. Get a Plunger

Also called force cups, plungers consist of a rubber suction cup that is attached to a shaft. Although it was patented in 1987 by Emanuel Torti, this helpful tool has been the best friend of plumbers for well over a century. It provides a surprising amount of suction force, helping clear blockades that can’t be broken or pushed through. This modest-looking tool is capable of producing great results when used in combination with a plumbing snake.

Using a plunger is as simple as putting it on top of a sink or bathtub drain and pumping away. However, better results can be obtained by placing a strip of duct tape on top of the overflow drain. This will prevent air and water from escaping through the overflow, ensuring they go down the drain. After some pumping, there will be a relieving of pressure, usually accompanied by noise, that indicates the clogging has shifted its position. Once that happens, use the plumbing snake to break up and remove any remaining matter.

Remember: Regular plungers don’t work very well for unclogging toilets. Get a flange or toilet plunger instead.

3. Make a Natural Drain Cleaner

Sometimes you will need something stronger than boiling water and a plunger to unclog a drain. While commercial drain cleaning surely is an option, it’s not without its downsides. Besides being extremely toxic and bad for the environment, it’s a rather expensive product. Fortunately, there are a few ways to make a more natural drain cleaner using household ingredients.

The easiest way to get a homemade drain cleaner is also the more effective one. Baking soda and vinegar are the only ingredients you will need. Simply siphon half a cup of the soda into the drain. Try to get it as far down as you can. Once that is done, pour one a half cups of vinegar directly into the drain. Cover the drain immediately as this will cause a fizzing and bubbling chemical reaction. Wait a minute or two and uncover the drain. Pour another cup of vinegar down and immediately push the snake into the drain opening.

Remember: You can also use Alka-Seltzer instead of baking soda. However, the effect may not be as powerful.

4. Build a Mini Plumbing Snake

All department and hardware stores have a wide selection of plumbing snakes available for purchase. However, in cases of emergency or low funds, it’s also possible to build a small but functional one. While big and nasty clogs may require a full-sized professional snake, small ones may only need the nudge a mini snake can give them. Besides being cheaper and more practical, homemade mini snakes will take up much less space than full-length ones.

To make it, you will need a few feet of 1/8 inch stainless steel cable and a pair of needle-nose pliers. Using the pliers, simply take an end of the cable and bend various wires away from its center, creating several hooks. Try to have wires pointed in every direction, making it more likely for them to hook matter from all angles. This tool will prove especially helpful to snag and pull out hair, dental floss and other such things.

Remember: While a homemade mini snake is a great idea for eliminating light obstructions, a full-length, professional snake is advisable for more serious cases.

Conclusively, it can be said that using a plumbing snake is something everyone should know how to do. While it’s not the most pleasurable thing to do, unclogging a drain is one of those things that give you a sense of accomplishment and self-sufficiency. Apart from that, it will save you time, money and many potential problems. Although fixing a drain using a plumbing snake may not be easy the first time, the four tips that were given should greatly help. However, you should always remember to be careful, or you will be risking causing further damage to your pipes.

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