How do you unclog a drain if a snake doesn't work?

Thursday, April 16, 2020 - 3:12pm
How do you unclog a drain if a snake doesn't work?
This post was written with the expertise of Deluxe Plumbing and Heating, a plumber near me in Bethlehem, PA.

We have all been in a situation where we had to struggle against a stubborn kitchen sink, bathtub, toilet, or floor drain clog. All plumbing systems get clogged up now and then, there really is no way to avoid it. I know I have probably used almost every technique from the hot water and baking soda to the drain snake. 

A drain snake, or often called a drum auger, is definitely the perfect tool when you have to clear away drain clogs in most situations. It is a simple hand-operated tool that should get the job done. Drain snakes are not that expensive and will save you a lot of money when compared to the cost of having a professional plumber come to clear the clogs. If you are a homeowner, like me, you need to invest in a drum auger so you can have It on hand whenever the time comes. The clique of, “It is better to have it and not need it, than to not have it and need it,” is so true in this situation. It is the same way that it makes sense to have a toilet plunger around for emergencies. 

But sometimes, your drain snake may not work as well as you thought. The auger cable might not be able to go down the pipe completely or if it does go down the pipe, it could fail to bring up the debris. So what do you do when using a drain snake doesn't work? How do you clear the clog if the hand-operated drain snake doesn't get the job done? There are some situations where even using an auger will not fix your problem. Let you tell you why this might happen and fixes that will get your pipes running smoothly in no time. 

You Aren’t Using the Correct Drain Snake

According to HomeDepot, there are a bunch of different types of drain snakes available for different situations. It is very important that you are using the correct one for the job. 

  • Toilet Auger: This special auger with a long rod and short cable will not scratch delicate porcelain surfaces. Do not use any other type of auger with toilets.
  • Small Drum Auger: For most routine kitchen or bathroom sink drain clogs, the best choice is the drum style auger, in which the cable is contained inside a rotating canister. Stick with shorter-length cables in the 15- to 25-foot range.
  • Extra-Long Drain Auger: For clogs deeply embedded down the length of your drain or sewer pipes, an extra-long auger that is 50 feet longer or more is the only way to reach the clog.

The Thumbscrew Isn’t Tight Enough 

A cable extends from the drum portion of the auger, and at the end of the cable is a metal corkscrew designed to snag the clog. On the drum side is a handle. You push the corkscrew down the drain and then you turn and turn. And then you keep turning for what seems like forever, but nothing is happening. What's the problem?

When you fail to tighten the thumbscrew is a common reason behind drain snakes that are not working. You must make sure that the thumbscrew that secures the cable inside the drum or handle is securely tightened. If it is not, the cable will not rotate at all when you twist the handle. Rotation is the action that causes the drain snake to pick up the debris; pushing into the clog will not clear it.

The Clog You Are Augering Can’t be Snagged

Clogs that respond best to the metal corkscrew end of the drain snake are clogs that can easily be snagged. Hair clogs are easily snagged by drain snakes. Cooking fat and other soft substances will not catch the corkscrew unless that debris also happens to have hair embedded in it.

Some clogs are just so dense that an ordinary hand drain snake cannot force its way through it. In this case, you have little choice but to rent a power auger or call a plumber to do the job. However, don't give up too soon. Being patient and not forcing the auger cable may do the trick. 

The Drain Snake is Dirty

If you are using a new drain snake, this will not apply since the end is presumably clean. But drain snakes that have previously been used may still have the old clog still embedded in the corkscrew end. You must thoroughly clean this end for it to be effective.

You Are Forcing the Drain Snake

It is very hard to force a drain snake cable through the sharp bends of a fixture P-trap underneath a sink or tub, but many people try to do exactly that—force the cable straight down the drain opening, hoping to get through the trap and to the clog. Instead, you should take the drain trap apart beneath the sink, then insert the drain snake into the horizontal branch drain. It is a rare clog that you cannot clear if you begin with a clear horizontal path into the branch drain. 

If you try to force the snake cable through the drain too fast, it sometimes will kink or bend back on itself. You may even find that the cable bends completely back and comes auguring out the same drainpipe you just inserted it into. Extend the snake cable into the drain a few inches at a time, gradually extending it. Once you feel it reach the clog, move even slower. It is the rotation of the cable that will loosen the clog.

According to Mr.Rooter, the only thing to do when you can’t get the drain snake working is to call a professional plumber. But like anything, it usually takes some time to get the clog out. So just take your time and don’t get too frustrated.

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