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How to Snake a Drain Clog

Expert, step-by-step, illustrated instructions for how to clear a stoppage using a drain auger.

Inexpensive drain auger is helpful for simple drain clogs. Photo: General Pipe CleanersGeneral Pipe Cleaners

An inexpensive crank-style drain auger is helpful for simple drain clogs.

Plumbing snakes (also called augers) are made in two varieties: drain augers and closet augers (named after “water closet,” a plumbing term for toilet).

Most people are familiar with the drain auger, a long, tightly wound flexible metal cable with a corkscrew auger at one end and a crank at the other. The closet auger is a little less familiar—it’s a very short version of the snake with a rigid end that is easier to push down into a toilet. Following are directions on how to use a drain auger:



Try running the auger through the sink drain.

1Wearing rubber gloves, push the cable into the drain while turning the auger’s handle clockwise. Keep repositioning the grip as you feed the snake into the drain.

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2When you feel the auger reach the blockage, keep turning and pull back a bit to chew away and dislodge the clog.

3Push forward again to grind away and, eventually, drive the auger through the clog.


4If possible, pull the blockage out through the pipe. At this point, the job becomes messy, so have a bucket ready and pull the cable back through a heavy-duty rag.


If necessary, run the auger through the branch pipe.

5If this doesn’t work, try to find a branch clean-out (a sanitary-T fitting with a plug in one fork, located along the drainpipe that runs from the fixture to the main soil stack, often visible in a basement or crawlspace). With a large bucket under the clean-out, slowly back out the plug with a wrench. Be ready: Water and waste may gush out.

6Run the drain auger in through the branch pipe as described in steps 1 through 4. If there doesn’t appear to be a clog in the branch, the blockage may be in the main waste and vent stack or in the sewer line.

7You can try to find the main and repeat this snaking effort, or you can try running an auger down the vent stack from the roof, although it is probably a better idea to call in a plumber.

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About Don Vandervort
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Don Vandervort has developed his expertise for more than 30 years, as Building Editor for Sunset Books, Senior Editor at Home Magazine, author of more than 30 home improvement books, and writer of countless magazine articles. He appeared for 3 seasons on HGTV’s “The Fix,” and served as MSN’s home expert for several years. Don founded HomeTips in 1996.

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