No matter how careful we are to prevent leftovers from going down the sink, or hair strands from unknowingly going down the drain with the water from the shower, there will come a point where we will encounter clogs in the drain.
Sometimes, a little elbow grease and your good ol’ plunger can do the trick. But in some cases, the only way to get the blockage out is for your trusted plumber to use harsh chemicals, or detach your pipes to manually remove the nasty buildup and clean them.
On this page:
- What is a Drain Snake?
- Types of Drain Snakes
- How Do Drain Snakes Work?
- Can a Drain Snake Damage Pipes?
- Risks of Using a Drain Snake
- Why You Should Get the Help of a Plumber in Snaking a Drain
- How Plumbers Will Snake a Drain
- How Much Does It Cost to Get a Plumber to Snake a Drain?
- Getting Quotes from Competing Plumbers
But if the plunger does not work, and you are hesitant to go for the extreme methods, your best bet is the plumber’s snake.
Don’t worry, it will definitely not bite.
Also known as a drain snake or drain auger, the plumber’s snake is a very nifty tool that allows you to unclog any blockage in your plumbing system that plungers are unable to solve, without resorting to the use of acids, cleaners, and other chemicals.
But, it may not look like it but using a plumber’s snake is not as easy as it sounds. Don’t be deceived by how it looks, because misusing the plumber’s snake can have disastrous consequences.
Do you have a stubborn clog somewhere on your plumbing system, and you are considering calling a plumber to fix it? If so, continue reading this article. You will find out why this should be your first resort, and definitely not the last one.
And, you will also get to learn how a plumber’s snake works, and how it should be used to unclog pipes.
So, let’s get to it!
What is a Drain Snake?
Maybe this is the first time for you to hear about this tool, which is likely since it is not really part of the typical home repair arsenal, so allow us to give you a better picture of what a drain snake is.
A basic drain snake consists of a handle and a long, coiled auger that resembles a spring. The body, which is flexible and moves like a snake, is the part that will go down your pipes, while the handle is used to let the auger move around inside it.
A typical plumbing snake has a very long body that measures 50 feet on average, although some can be as long as 100 feet, or even more.
Types of Drain Snakes
Because of the numerous kinds of pipes present, and their equal chances of getting clogged up, different types of drain snakes with various cable sizes were created.
Here are the five types available, and where they are to be used:
- Manual cable or drain snake – reminiscent of a very long corkscrew, this is the type most people are familiar with. The manual type is also the most basic type of drain snake and can be used for most pipes.
However, they should not be used for pipes that are too narrow for its body and for toilets.
- Flat tape drain snake – unlike the basic drain snake that has a coiled body, the flat tape snake has a flat body instead. Because of this, it is best used for pipes with smaller diameters, usually those that measure less than two inches.
A unique feature of the flat tape drain snake is that instead of trapping the clog and allowing it to be pulled out, it can push the debris through the pipes until the blockage is gone and goes to the sewer system.
- Rocket nozzle drain auger – a different kind of drain snake, the rocket nozzle auger does not have a body. Instead, a forceful stream of water is released to destroy the blockage. To do that, a tube is inserted into the pipe, and the water will pass through it.
This type of auger is the most expensive and is normally used for blockages in commercial establishments, such as restaurants. Only licensed plumbers typically use this because of its price and the difficulty of operating it.
- Power drain snake – instead of using manpower, the power snake uses electric power. It either comes in a motorized handle, or the cable is connected to a drill. This allows a faster movement for the auger, which allows quicker unclogging and solving tougher blockages that manual drain snakes cannot.
- Toilet drain snake – comes in both manual or motorized types, toilet snakes work like the usual drain snake. What sets it apart is the cable – it is the most flexible compared to all other drain snakes. Mae sure to also read our article on why your toilet is backing up.
The typical drain snakes may be a general purpose tool, but it is always important to get the type most suitable for the job. Why? You will find that out in the later sections.
How Do Drain Snakes Work?
Despite the five different types of drain snakes available, they generally work the same. It starts with the lengthy cable being slowly inserted into the blocked pipe. When the tip of the cable reaches the blockage, the plumber will feel some resistance.
The plumber will work his or her way through it, until the debris gets trapped on the end of the drain snake. That is the time for the cable to be pulled out of the drain. When it does, it will bring along the clog-causing debris with it.
Doesn’t it remind you of a snake that gets its prey using its mouth?
Can a Drain Snake Damage Pipes?
You might think that because the plumbing snake normally comes with a very flexible cable, they can hardly do any damage to your pipes. After all, pipes are way sturdier compared to flexible wires, right?
This is what a lot of homeowners get wrong. Although pipes are durable, they are still immune to damage, especially the older ones that are the galvanized type. The tip of a drain snake, which is typically harder than the rest of the cable, can be spiral or have claws that can scrape the sides of a pipe as it moves along.
This scraping may seem like something that can be ignored, but in reality, it is not. Scraping along the sides of the pipes will up the risk of corrosion, or worse, the formation of cracks. And, it is not only the old pipes that are at risk; even newer ones made out of plastic can also get scratched, or even punctured.
Over time, these scratches or scrapes will weaken the pipes as water continuously passes over it. And since it will be impossible for you to tell once a pipe has sustained damage after passing a drain snake over it, you will only find it out once your pipes burst.
Even the porcelain used in toilet bowls is not saved from this risk. The scratches made on the toilet bowl by the plumbing snake will leave unsightly marks, and rust may also form. If it irks you to see those marks, you have no choice but to get a new toilet bowl.
Cosmetic damage on your plumbing system due to a drain snake is not as simple as it seems. However, this should not deter you from letting it be used on your blocked pipes, since this is easily avoidable with proper handling.
Equally important is using a drain snake that has the right size. Although the manual type of drain snake can be used for most pipes, using the right type greatly minimizes the risk of damage.
Risks of Using a Drain Snake
Scraping the pipes is not the only risk when it comes to using a drain snake. You also have to deal with the fact that there is also a potential to do more harm than good in terms of resolving the clogging.
You need to know that a drain snake will not only pull the debris out of the drain, but it can also unblock a pipe by pushing the debris deeper until it breaks down and can be pushed by the water into the sewers.
If this is a success, you have an unclogged pipe. But if it is a failure, you end up with a still clogged pipe that has a blockage that will be much harder to remove. And to solve it, your plumber may have to detach your pipes to manually remove the debris. Or worse, install new pipes.
Using a drain snake also needs precise movements. It may not look like it, but there is also a risk of getting injured, especially if the person using it has no idea how to properly handle it. Manual drain snakes can accidentally recoil, while anyone untrained can easily lose control of electric ones.
A complication of clogged pipes is the fact that there is no way to see what exactly is causing the blockage on the pipe. As a result, unclogging it will rely on a lot of guesswork, unless sophisticated video equipment is used. If it is as simple as a lot of hair, drain snakes can easily pull them out. But if not, using a plumber’s snake may exacerbate the problem.
A lot of these risks are actually avoidable, as long as the right person for the task will handle it.
Why You Should Get the Help of a Plumber in Snaking a Drain
Again, drain snakes are among the most deceiving tools around. Just looking at it, anyone will think that using it is as easy as pushing the cable inside the pipes and then later pulling it out. People think that the blockage will always attach itself to the auger, just like a magnet.
What most homeowners don’t know is that successfully unclogging a pipe with a drain snake is more than that. Skill, experience, and precision are vital in unclogging pipes with it. And, there really is no one who meets those requirements other than a qualified plumber.
Sure, internet gurus will tell you that anyone can use a manual drain snake and successfully remove a blockage on the pipe. But what they avoid mentioning is the fact that it also has risks and is not always a guaranteed success. And for the inexperienced, it can be very difficult to do.
Plumbers know how to handle and operate drain snakes, both manual and motorized ones. They are also skillful when it comes to inserting them to the drain and minimizing the possibility of damage to the pipes throughout the entire process.
However, there are still instances when a manual drain snake is not enough to unclog stubborn blockages. This is where a power drain snake will come in.
A power drain snake is not one of those devices that anyone can handle. Operating it requires proper skills and knowledge, because it deals with very powerful blasts of water that can be uncontrollable for most people. And if not properly handle, it may cause damage not just to your pipes but also to your home, as well as cause injury.
Plumbers also have so many Plan B’s in store, in the rare case that all types of drain snake are unable to unclog your pipe. Aside from using some household and kitchen basics, such as vinegar and baking soda, plumbers may also use other equipment, like a hydro jet, to destroy a blockage on your pipe.
Many of these professional-grade equipment are quite pricey and impractical for any homeowner to purchase for a single blocked drain. In fact, they will save a lot more if they have a plumber just do it for them, instead of attempting a DIY route to fix it.
And if that still does not work out, they will use stronger chemicals, but only as a last resort. Because of the risk of injury, it is always best to let plumbers who know how to handle them use it. Even a single droplet of acid or strong drain cleaners can already cause injury to anyone who gets into contact with it.
How Plumbers Will Snake a Drain
At this point, you already have a vague idea of how drain snakes work. But to satisfy your curiosity, here is a step-by-step guide on how plumbers use a drain snake to unclog any kind of pipe:
- Preparation is key. Unclogging a drain is bound to be messy, so plumbers will take some precautionary measures to lessen or at least make cleanup easier afterwards. This entails placing rags and old towels underneath the pipes they will be fixing.
Also, wearing work clothes that they will not mind getting dirty is a must.
- Although not all plumbers do it, the p-trap connected to the problematic pipe can be removed first before attempting to unclog the pipe. This pipe helps collect debris coming in from the drain, lessening the chances of a blockage.
The blockage may be found in this particular pipe, not in another pipe further along. Because of this possibility, your plumber may first remove all the trapped debris before using a drain snake. In some cases, doing so already solves the issue.
- Another component of your plumbing that can be removed beforehand is the trap arm. This allows your plumber to take a closer look inside the pipes, and hopefully get a glimpse of what exactly is causing the clogging, as well as its location.
However, not all trap arms are removable. Some plumbers secure it with glue or adhesive during installation, preventing it from becoming loose or removed. If this is the case with yours, your plumber will have to work on the blockage without removing the trap arm.
- The plumber will then insert the end of the drain snake either via the drain, the opening of the pipe created when the p-trap was removed, or through another access point that is connected to your plumbing.
Doing this carefully is a must to avoid damaging not just the pipes but also the drain itself. And to help prevent scraping the insides of the pipe, your plumber will usually allow cold water to flow down the drain as the cable is being inserted. Do note that this is only done if the p-trap has not been removed.
- Once the auger has been inserted, it will start to be uncoiled with the help of the handle. Your plumber will turn the handle at a consistent pace, but not too fast nor too slow. One way to determine if the pace is right is by feeling the slack of the auger. If the plumber feels that the auger is too loose, it means that there is a need to apply more force.
- Once the tip of the drain snake reaches the obstruction, the plumber will rotate the handle in different directions to allow the auger to penetrate it or break it down and allow it to go down to the sewage with the flow of the water.
Forcefully pushing it into the obstruction should not be done, since doing so can cause damage to the pipe. And if any scraping noise is heard, it means the auger is hitting the pipes itself. The plumber has to stop first and adjust the position of the auger.
- The plumber may start pulling out the drain snake when he or she feels that the tip of the auger has gotten stuck in the blockage. Doing so may allow the auger to pull the obstruction with it.
But, this is not always the case. Sometimes, the auger has to penetrate the blockage deeper to trap it and allow the blockage to be pulled with it. This is why a plumber will continue uncoiling the drain snake until it fully extends. Once it does, it is very likely that the auger has fully penetrated the blockage.
- Afterwards, the plumber will start pulling out the drain snake, bringing with it the clog-causing debris. All the removed components will also be reconnected to your plumbing system.
- Once everything is put back into place, the plumber will allow water to run to see if it is able to flow down the pipes without any hint of obstructions. But if this is not the case, another round of snaking the drain may be needed, or using other equipment may be needed to solve it.
Although snaking is considered a simple process, it is actually not. If plumbers sometimes cannot unclog a drain with a drain snake, how much harder would it be for an ordinary homeowner?
At least with plumbers, they immediately have other possible solutions in mind as soon as a drain snake fails in removing the blockage. There is no need to do a lot of trial-and-error by following different methods suggested on the internet, hoping that at least one of those will eventually work.
How Much Does It Cost to Get a Plumber to Snake a Drain?
If you are wondering about how much it would set you back to hire a plumber to solve a clogged drain in your home, you should prepare a few hundred dollars for it. And if it is an emergency case, note that you have to pay extra on top of their repair charge.
On average, fixing a clogged drain with a plumber’s snake ranges from $100 to $300 in general, usually around $214 to be specific. The price will depend on the severity of the clogging and the difficulty in removing it. Also, some plumbers will charge a separate service fee for it.
But if your plumber determines that the blockage is located in the main sewer line, it will be a lot harder to snake and can set you back by as much as $800.
More often than not, plumbers will charge a flat rate to snake a drain. They will only go for an hourly rate if the issue on your plumbing system is a lot more complicated and take more time to address.
Some plumbing companies also allow drain snake rentals for homeowners who would rather try to fix the issue themselves. They can rent these professional equipment for a few days, weeks, or even months, with the rental costing $35 to $45 per day. Average rent per day will be cheaper the longer the equipment is borrowed.
Looking at the rates, it might seem like you will save money if you just rent a drain snake than hire a plumber. But, you have to factor in the fact that you will do all the work and while using costly professional equipment. So, you will have to pay as much as a few thousand dollars if you break or damage it while under your possession.
Hiring a plumber and paying a few hundred dollars, versus renting professional equipment and with the risk of paying thousands of dollars in case it breaks? It is obvious which one is the more practical option here.
Getting Quotes from Competing Plumbers
Because snaking a drain is generally considered a simple task, plumbers will compete with each other to get such a project. As a client, this is perfect for you. It means you get to receive very competitive rates or offers from the plumbers you get in touch with, without much bargaining involved.
But to get the best rate, you have to contact other plumbers, compare quotes, and let them know that you are also considering others for the same task. This means having the time-consuming task of going from one office to another and talking with each one of them about your plumbing issue.
But, why spend hours going around your neighborhood, not to mention using up a lot of gas while driving around, in search of a qualified plumber with fair rates if you can actually do all that and more on your computer?
If you use our service, you just have to fill out our form and wait until you hear back from plumbers who are interested in working with you. There is no need to step out of your house to hunt for a qualified plumber.
Not only will accomplishing the form only take you a few minutes, you can get up to four quotes from plumbers for free!
And if you get offers that leave you unsatisfied, don’t worry – we have a ‘no obligation’ clause. You are not required to hire the services of any of those four plumbers that sends in their quotes. This means whether or not you hire a contractor using our service, we will not charge you for it.
There really is no sense in waiting, unless you want your clogged pipe to get a lot worse and spend thousands to get not just a clogged piped cleaned out but also to have your entire plumbing repaired.
So, find a qualified plumber today that will give you the best quote. Use our service to do just that without sweating!