Site Banner Graphic

Using a Handheld Drain Auger to Unclog a Drain

Different drains have their own considerations for safety and best chances of success when clearing clogs.

This is particularly true when using drain snakes, because their safe and proper use means bypassing fragile and vulnerable fixtures such as porcelain basins, ceramic tile, and chrome plating.

These materials and surfaces can be damaged by the heavy tool housing and cable. You must either protect surfaces from the sharp edges and corners of the auger, or avoid the problem by bypassing these sections of drain and gaining access at another point.

Using the Drain Auger

Once safe and clear entry to the plumbing is gained, it is time to begin snaking the drain. Again, consult your owner’s manual for greatest chance of success. Have a bucket standing by. It can be placed underneath when you retrieve the cable, and will catch both water and clogging material. Rubber gloves will keep you from becoming overly squeamish, and wear protective glasses or goggles.


With sinks and tubs there will usually be two sections of pipe that need to be cleared. One section flows from the basin of the fixture towards the trap. The other section will lead around or through the trap and beyond. Clearing the shorter section is trivial, and with sinks can be clearly visually inspected.

The other length will be threaded and cleared of obstruction with the drain auger cable. Extend a length of two to three feet of cable from the drum (spool). Feed this by hand into the overflow drain or exposed trap entry. Working the first length by hand prevents the cable coming out unexpectedly while rotating, and allow the user to feel around corners and know if the obstruction is encountered.

Continue to feed cable out and into the drain access point by hand as long as you are successful getting around corners and through congestion. Many drain auger models will have sleeves or grips facilitating working the cable by hand. When you feel you are against something solid or a considerable clog, you have a chance to try and snare, snag, or hook around it, then remove the cable with the obstruction along with it.

If the clog is believed to be something can be broken apart, a strong thrashing with the snake cable will get it busted up into particles ready to flow away. It is not always possible, but running water during the snaking can help with some common bathroom clogs.

In other cases, the drain snaking is clearing a fresh path through pipes with considerable build up and accumulation on the inside walls of the pipe. In these cases the user will not feel a particular clog or obstruction as they work the auger.

Having removed any blocking material from the drain that can be extracted, and with the auger cable snugly extended a few feet through the access point, the cable drum can now safely be rotated, and the snaking can truly begin.

Snake the drain

Spinning the crank vigorously, or with power drill going at good speed, the cable will unspool from its drum, forcing its way through any obstruction, and snaking its way around any bends in the plumbing. It can be helpful to extend the cable as little as a foot at a time when clearing congested pipes. Pause to move the cable back and forth over the length, with some rotation. Imagine the auger cable tip in the pipes, scrubbing each length and side of the pipe clear.

Most corners can be gotten around by the spinning head. You may need to reverse and approach again a few times. If a corner or intersection is giving particular trouble, again visualize what is happening inside. A single slow rotation of the cable with intermittent jabs will get it pushed around just when the cable tip faces the right way.

Using only as much cable as required to reach the clog

It is not necessary or recommended to feed out the entire length of the cable. Most congestion, blockages, clogs, and obstructions are within a few feet of the affected drain or access point. It is time better spent getting this closer section completely clean.

Use caution extracting the cable back out of the pipes. You do not want any length at all of the cable spinning freely outside the drain, especially not with a power tool. Reel in the cable until you see the marker indicating you are near the end. Then pull the remaining length from the drain by hand. This gentle touch can help you pull out clogging crud around the nearby bends of pipe, and there won’t be a filthy cable spinning dangerously around when it comes free. Wear gloves and eye protection, and have that bucket at hand!

With the drain snake free, if possible, clean it in an unaffected sink or tub. A good rinsing should be enough, after throwing any debris into the trash.

Reassemble the drain, strainer, trap, stopper assembly, or overflow shield. To really get the job done right, flush the system with gallons of hot water. Tubs and sinks can be filled then drained, but hot water straight from the tap is fantastic. Let it flow down your freshly cleared drain, and it will rinse clean the walls and corners of the pipes.

Perhaps a bit more cleaning up and your chore of unclogging a blocked or slow drain should be complete! Good work!

What If the Drain is Still Slow or Stopped?

If you’ve snaked a drain, but are still experiencing slow flow, it is time to call in a pro. A drain servicing specialist, rooter business, or plumber can locate the trouble and will have the proper to for fixing it. The problem could be severely congested flow from extensive accumulation of deposits too tough or gooey for a cable to be effective. The clog could be out of reach, or just too dense and massive to be broken up with a handheld auger. Plumber’s snakes are excellent at what they do, but they are not the solution for every clogged drain.

Loading