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How to Unclog a Drain with a Snake

If neither cleaning the trap nor plunging clears a plumbing clog, your final weapon is a drain auger (also known as a snake). This tool, a coiled spiral snake that's usually about 1/4-inch thick with a handle on one end, works the opposite way that a plunger does: You push the snake into the clog and crank it to drive the snake farther into the obstruction. While parts of the clog break up and flush through the drain, the snake helps you gain access to the clog so that you can pull it out. Some snakes can fit as an attachment on an electric drill, giving it more power to force it through the clog. Snakes are especially handy because they're long enough to reach clogs that are deep within a drainpipe.

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Your best defense against clogs is to avoid them in the first place. The following are some common-sense practices to use:

  • Use a sink strainer: A clogged kitchen sink is usually the result of garbage or foreign objects entering the drain. Use a sink strainer to prevent garbage and small items from entering the drainpipe.

  • Take care of your garbage disposer: When using a garbage disposer, run cold water at full volume while the machine is chopping up the garbage; leave the water running for a full minute after you shut off the disposer. This precaution flushes the garbage completely out of the small-diameter sink drainpipe and into the larger main drainpipe, where it's less likely to cause a clog.

  • Don't dump materials down your drain: Do-it-yourselfers often flush building materials down the drain. The most common offender is plaster or wallboard compound, which seems innocent enough going down but can harden in the drainpipes and clog them. To prevent these clogs, never dispose of leftover building materials in sink drains.

You can rent a manually operated or an electrical drain auger for a few bucks at a rental center. The equipment is easy to use, but ask the dealer for operating instructions. The basic process is as follows:

  1. Push the end of the snake into the drain opening and turn the handle on the drum that contains the coiled-up snake.

    The auger begins its journey down the drain.

  2. Keep pushing more of the snake into the drain until you feel resistance.

    You may have to apply pressure when cranking the handle to get it to bend around the tight curve in the trap under the sink. After turning the curve, the snake usually slides through easily until you hit the clog.

  3. Rotate the snake against the blockage until you feel it feed freely into the pipe.

    The rotating action enables the tip of the snake to attach to the clog and spin it away or chop it up. If the clog is a solid object, the auger head entangles the object. If you don't feel the auger breaking through and twisting getting easier, pull the auger out of the drain — you'll likely pull the clog out with it.

  4. Run water full force for a few minutes to be sure that the drain is unclogged.

    Sometimes, the clog flushes down the drain; at other times, the clog comes out attached to the snake.

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