How Does a Plumbing Snake Work?

How Does a Plumbing Snake Work?

How Does a Plumbing Snake Work

A plumbing problem can be anything from an inconvenience to a disaster ranging from a small drop in water pressure to a complete flooding. A plumbing snake, sometimes called an auger, is a tried-and-true instrument for when a regular plunger fails to extract the desired result. Although it may sound intimidating, this simple tool is effective against a common problem in the home: the dreaded clogged drain. No matter your level of expertise, knowing how to use a plumbing snake effectively can be a lifesaver when it comes to unclogging pipes.

What is a Plumbing Snake?

Don’t worry, we’re not talking about live reptiles here. A plumbing snake is a flexible auger used to dislodge clogs in plumbing. It comes in various forms — from handheld manual versions to powerful electric models that can tackle more extensive blockages. The “snake” nickname comes from the tool’s appearance, resembling a coiled serpent ready to slither through pipes.
But how does it work? Understanding this can make the difference between a clean and efficient fix, and a costly and messy repair job.

Mechanism of a Plumbing Snake

If you’ve tried using chemicals without success and still can’t unclog a drain, a plumbing snake may be just what you need. To unclog or re-establish its passage in the pipe, this straightforward instrument uses a series of pushing, pulling, and twisting motions. A coiled spring, hooks, or blades are incorporated into the snake’s head design to firmly grasp and dislodge the obstacle.

Electric vs. Manual Snakes

If the job at hand is small or the obstruction is within arm’s reach, a manual plumbing snake is the way to go. As the user feels the clog’s resistance, they turn a handle to extend and retract the snake. Power augers and electric snakes, on the other hand, can reach farther and deliver more consistent force, making them ideal for tackling more stubborn obstructions further down the pipe system.

Benefits of Using a Plumbing Snake

Why should you reach for a plumbing snake over other methods? Several advantages make this tool a valuable asset in your home maintenance toolkit.


Affordable Alternative

A plumbing snake is an affordable initial investment when weighed against the expense of hiring a professional plumber. It can save you a ton of money on repairs over the years if you use it correctly and take good care of it.

Environmentally Friendly

The chemicals used to clear clogged drains aren’t always the safest options, as they can be damaging to the environment and your pipes. If you’d rather not flush chemicals down the drain, a plumbing snake is an eco-friendly option.

Versatility in Handling Various Clogs

A plumbing snake is not a one-size-fits-all tool. With various heads available, it can tackle different types of blockages, from hair and grease to more solid materials. This versatility means that, in many cases, the snake is the only tool you’ll need to clear the clog.

Step-by-Step Guide on Using a Plumbing Snake

To operate a plumbing snake effectively, there is a bit of technique and knowledge required. Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you approach your next plumbing issue with confidence.

Step 1: Preparation

Before you start, turn off the water supply to the affected area. Get the appropriate size and type of snake for the job. For small clogs near the surface, a 25-foot manual snake should suffice. If the clog is further down, an electric snake with an extendable cable might be necessary. Put on gloves and consider eye protection, as using a plumbing snake can sometimes be messy.

Step 2: Insertion and Maneuvering Techniques

Always start slow when feeding the snake into the drain. For sinks and tubs, remove the stopper, cover the overflow opening, and guide the snake down the drain, rotating the handle clockwise as you push. When you feel resistance, you’ve likely reached the clog. Work the snake back and forth and up and down to dislodge the blockage. Remember, patience is key — don’t force the snake, or you may risk damaging the pipe.

Step 3: Safety Precautions

Keep your movements controlled, especially if using an electric snake. Jerky or sudden motions can lead to the snake getting stuck or cause injury. Always read the manufacturer’s instructions and safety guidelines. Keep your hands, and any loose clothing or hair, away from the cable when it’s in motion.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

Avoid these common pitfalls to ensure that your snake doesn’t become a problem itself.

Using the Wrong Size Snake

A snake that’s too small won’t do the trick, while one that’s too large can damage your pipes. The size of the snake should be appropriate for the width of your pipes. For most homes, a 1/4-inch snake will suffice, while larger commercial pipes may require a 1/2-inch snake or more.

Overuse Leading to Pipe Damage

Using a plumbing snake too aggressively or for too long can cause damage to the interior of your pipes. This can lead to leaks and necessitate more extensive repairs. If you encounter extreme resistance, it’s best to stop and consider calling a professional to avoid further harm.

When to Call the Professionals?

While a plumbing snake can be an effective tool for many blockages, there are cases where it’s best to leave the job to the professionals. If you’ve tried using a snake and the clog persists, or if you notice multiple drains clogging at once, it could be a sign of a more significant issue in your plumbing system. In these cases, it’s best to call a licensed plumber who can assess the situation and provide the appropriate solution.

Get Your Pipes Flowing

Whether you’re a homeowner or just someone looking to learn more about plumbing, understanding how a plumbing snake works can be beneficial. With proper use and precautions, this tool can save time and money by quickly resolving clogs without harmful chemicals or costly repairs. Remember, it’s always best to approach any plumbing issue with caution and, when in doubt, seek the help of a professional.

At Mainline Plumbing, we offer reliable and efficient plumbing services to keep your home running smoothly. Contact us for all your plumbing needs and our team of experts will be happy to assist you. Remember, prevention is always better than a costly repair job! So make sure to regularly maintain your pipes and drains to avoid any unexpected clogs.

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