How to Unclog a Drain with a Snake

woman callingof or emergency plumber

Whether it’s a clog in your bathtub or a back-up in one of your drains, any blockage in your plumbing is no fun. Besides the odd smells and the inconvenience, it could also lead to your home becoming a health hazard. Unfortunately, clogged plumbing is an inevitable part of having a plumbing system in your home—you can’t escape it. That’s why you must learn how to snake a drain.

Regardless of the type, drain snakes—also called plumbers’ snakes—are made of a long flexible cable with special ends for snagging or cutting through the source of the clog. Snaking a drain, therefore, is a phrase that means removing a stubborn clog out of your plumbing so that your sink, tub, or shower will drain the way it’s supposed to.

Removing a clog can be a drag, but you can easily do it with the proper tools and techniques without having to call your plumber.

Pros and Cons of Snaking Drains

Snaking your drain, like most things in life, has its pros and cons. Here are the most common ones:

Pros of Snaking Drains

Snaking your drain has several advantages that you can enjoy. Some of them include that it’s:

  • Affordable. Whether you make your snake or choose to buy one, a snake is a very inexpensive piece of equipment.
  • Easy to use. You don’t need any special skills to use a snake.
  • Effective. One of the biggest pros of using a snake to clear your drain is that it’s very effective. It (almost) always gets the job done.
  • Green.

Cons of Snaking Drains

While using a drain snake to unclog your drains has its advantages, it also has its cons, some of which are it:

  • Can’t clear some types of clogs. Some clogs may need a tool that can grab them to dislodge them effectively. A snake can’t do that.
  • May leave some debris. Especially if the drain snake is smaller in diameter than the pipe you’re cleaning, it can leave some material clinging to the pipe walls. This could cause more buildup of the stuff that blocked your drain in the first place.
  • Can’t always clear clogs. While a drain snake is a great tool for clearing clogs, some blockages may be too dense or extensive for the drain pipe.

Types of Drains

The first step in learning how to snake a drain is to understand the different types of drains you have in your home. Some of the most common types of drains include:

  • Main drain
  • Tub drain
  • Shower drains
  • Bathroom sink drains
  • Washing machine drains
  • Kitchen drains

Before you start snaking your drain, follow the pipes to understand how they go and how you’ll need to maneuver your drain snake.

How to Snake a Drain

So how do you snake a drain?

Here are a few steps you can take to ensure that you succeed at unclogging your drain using a drain snake:

Gain Access to the Drain

To gain access to the drain line, you can start by removing the appropriate covering part. You can use a regular wrench, pipe wrench, or tongue-and-groove pliers, depending on the drain type. If applicable, remove the cleanout plug from the drain line.

To get access to your drain:

  • For a sink drain, remove the drain stopper or the P-trap.
  • For a tub drain, remove the overflow assembly.
  • For a washing machine drain, remove the washer drain hose from the drain standpipe.

Prepare the Snake and Begin Snaking

Woman washing hands in sink With rubber gloves on, loosen the set screw on the drain snake. Doing so allows you to pull out the cable freely. Insert the snake into the drain and slide the cable in until it meets resistance. This could be the clog itself or simply a bend in the pipe. Tighten the set screw to clamp down on and apply just enough pressure to keep it from turning.

If it’s a bend, crank the snake handle clockwise while applying moderate pressure on the cable to work it into the drain. Continue until you feel the cable move past the bend.

Continue Snaking

Once you’ve passed the bend in the pipe, loosen the set screw and feed the cable by hand until it meets resistance again. If you feel like the drain snake has reached the clog, hook onto the clog by turning the snake. You can then pull the snake back up by loosening the set screw and pulling the cable back into its housing. It’s advisable to run the snake through a rag to keep the cable and housing clean. Repeat the process to ensure you’ve cleared your drain of every bit of debris.

Flush the Drain

Reinstall whatever you had removed and flush the drain with a full flow of water. For a washing machine drain, you can run a small rinse and drain cycle. Watch the drain carefully to ensure that the operation was a success and that the water is draining.

When to Call a Professional Plumber

If you’ve tried snaking your drain and find that the blockage persists, it’s time to get professional help. KC’s 23 ½ Hour Plumbing is always on standby to help you with your drain cleaning—any time of day or night. We use Endure drain cleaner and hydro-jetting to ensure your drains are completely clean for those tough-to-clean drains. So, go ahead and get in touch and let’s talk drain cleaning.