How to Use a Drain Snake to Clear Clogged Sinks and Showers

Learn how to use a drain snake to remedy pesky plumbing clogs yourself, saving you time and money.

drain snake used in shower drain
Photo:

Better Homes & Gardens / Image Studios

Project Overview
  • Total Time: 30 minutes
  • Skill Level: Beginner

Is your bathtub or sink draining slowly? Are you plunging your toilet more frequently these days? You might be tempted to reach for a liquid drain cleaner as a quick fix, but these can actually wreak havoc on your pipes and septic system. Instead, there's a safer solution that’s sure to clear that pesky clog

You might think stubborn clogs warrant a call to the plumber, but this is one home repair you can likely accomplish yourself. And there’s a good chance that learning to properly snake your own drain could save you hundreds of dollars in plumbing repairs.

Drain snakes are not a one-size-fits-all tool, so you'll need to choose the right one for your situation. Here's everything you need to know about how to snake a drain.

Common Types of Household Drain Snakes

Drum Auger

Drum augers feature an internally housed wire snake protruding from one side. The snake feeds out of the housing and locks in place while the user rotates the auger to agitate the wire within the drain. Many models feature a corkscrew-style hook on the end for grabbing and removing clogs. 

Toilet Closet Snakes

A toilet closet snake is a wire snake protruding from a long pole. The tool features a spinning handle on one end and a rubber-coated curve at the other end for feeding into a toilet without scratching the porcelain surface. 

When to Use a Drain Snake

A household drain snake is ideal for clearing soft clogs in sinks, bathtubs, and showers, and can reach up to 25-foot-deep clogs. However, if your home features old plumbing, like galvanized or cast iron, a drain snake can damage the inside of the pipe. The metal snake and corkscrew end can scratch and pull away material, adding to the clog and potentially compromising the pipe. 

If you’re uncertain about whether you should snake your drain, consider calling a professional. Plumbing service calls aren’t cheap, but they’re relatively affordable compared to significant plumbing repairs. The plumber might even be able to tell you over the phone whether it's safe to do it yourself, based on the kind of drain you have.

What You'll Need

Materials

  • Drum auger
  • Drain wrench (tub and shower drains)
  • Rubber gloves
  • Trash bag
  • Towel or drop cloth
  • Bucket (optional)
  • Eye protection

Instructions

drain snake used to clear shower drain clog

Better Homes & Gardens / Image Studios

How to Use a Drain Snake on a Tub or Shower Drain

The steps below outline how to use a drain snake—specifically a drum auger—to unclog a tub or shower drain.  

Step 1: Remove the Drain Cover and Plug

Remove the drain cover using the tools necessary for your specific cover. If the drain features a plug, carefully remove the trim piece and extract the plug assembly using a drain wrench.

Pro Tip: If snaking through the tub drain proves difficult, snaking through the overflow can be more effective, as the path is much straighter.

Step 2: Inspect the Drain

Before you go to the trouble of snaking the drain, check the spot just below the entrance of the drain. Hair and soap scum tend to gather here, which can often be the sole root of the draining issues. Remove any buildup and test the drain before moving forward. If the clog is still present, proceed with the drain snake.

Step 3: Snake the Drain

Unlock the wire from the auger and feed the end into the drain, pushing until you feel resistance. Lock the wire and begin rotating the auger until it advances past the resistance. Once the snake moves freely, unlock it, and manually feed more wire into the drain until it stops again. Repeat the rotation and manual feeding until the snake no longer meets resistance or you run out of wire. 

Step 4: Remove the Snake

Slowly back the snake out of the drain, pulling the clog with it. Use paper towels or a gloved hand to pull the clog off the snake and dispose of it.

Warning: Always wear eye protection when pulling clogs from drains; the splashback may cause injury or infection if it gets into your eyes.

Step 5: Test the Drain

Before replacing the drain cover, test the drain with water to ensure no clogs remain. If the water continues to drain slowly, repeat the snaking process. 

bathroom sink

Tria Giovan

How to Use a Drain Snake on a Sink Drain

The steps below outline how to clear a sink drain using a drum auger. 

Step 1: Remove the Drain Cover

Remove the drain cover using the tools necessary for your specific cover. For bathroom sinks with pop-up drain assemblies, you’ll have to unfasten the assembly below the sink before removing the pop-up drain plug. 

Step 2: Inspect the Drain

Sink drains, like bathtubs, tend to catch hair and soap scum right at the entrance to the drain. Clear any debris from this location and test the drain before moving forward. 

Step 3: Remove the P-Trap

Another common clog location is the P-trap, which is the curved bit of pipe just below the sink. Remove the P-trap by unscrewing the fittings on each end, then pull the trap from below the sink. Before snaking the drain, inspect the trap to ensure there are no visible clogs. 

Expert Tip: Mitigate the mess by placing a towel beneath the trap before removing it or placing a bucket beneath the trap if there’s enough clearance. 

Step 5: Snake the Drain

Feed the snake into the pipe that goes into the wall following the same process used for the bathtub drain. Once you’ve reached the clog, gently pull it from the drain and replace the trap. 

Step 6: Test the Drain

Once the trap is replaced, test the drain with water. If the sink still drains slowly, repeat the process.

What to Do If Snaking the Drain Doesn’t Clear a Clog

If your attempts to clear the drain using a drain snake are unsuccessful, it could be that your snake simply wasn’t long enough to reach the clog. This is even more likely if the snake never met any resistance during your attempt. In homes with more complex plumbing, drain snakes can sometimes enter sections of pipes that you weren’t intending to snake. It can take multiple attempts to clear a clog. 

In other instances, your drain may be clogged with an object the snake can't remove. In that case, you'll likely need to hire a professional.

Related Articles