Prepare drains for clearing with a drain auger

Proper Drain Prep

When possible you should get an entry to the drain by removing or opening the associated trap. Very often you will find easy access to a nearby clog. If the obstruction is not immediately seen, the access point can be used to snake both sections of the drain.

On the other hand, some smaller hand-tools will not require you to open a trap or remove a strainer. Tools designed for this purpose will have damage prevention measures, such as no-scratch plastic cables, but should still be used with care around chrome.

Preparing Drains for Clearing with an Auger

Bathroom basin drains are probably the most commonly clogged in the home, aside from the humble toilet. Hair is flushed down the drain, caught by the drain stopper linkage assembly, and congealed with body oil, soap, & toothpaste, until eventually draining from the sink is too slow to stand any longer. Most lavatory blockages will be cleared by disassembling the stopper linkage, and or opening up the U-trap underneath the basin. Bathroom sinks can be scratched or chipped, so be careful! With that in mind, you can sometimes use an auger to clear a bathroom drain after only removing the stopper. There will still be a grate in place, but some cables will be able to fit through. If your auger is oversized or you wish to avoid all chance of damage to the sink, you should remove the trap underneath the basin, providing unobstructed access to the drain for the auger.

Use cordless devices or hand-cranked tools to avoid risk of electrocution.

There is frequently dangerous standing water when dealing with clogged drains.

Wear eye protection.

Guard yourself against hazardous splash back.

Examine all lengths of plumbing that will be snaked for existing damage.

Plumbing can settle, creating gaps at joints. Look for corrosion that may have weakened walls of pipes. Use augers on damaged pipes only with extreme caution, because it could mean a costly repair.

When trying to extract a solid object or tangled clog, stop spinning as you pull the cable out.

Or even rotate the same direction while the cable is removed—this will keep the corkscrew tip engaged with the obstruction, instead of unscrewing back out.

Drain augers clear a path, but do not clean every surface.

Always rinse thoroughly with plentiful amounts of hot water after snaking a drain, to rinse all the debris and residue away.

Snake cables can become tangled in toilet drains and other wide diameter pipes.

Do not use cable of quarter inch thickness in pipes wider than four inches. It could loop back into a knot and be impossible to remove.

Before you get started, extend several feet of the cable and clearly mark it with paint or tape.

When reeling in the cable you’ll see you are nearing the end.

Shower, Basement, and Garage Drains

Showers and floor drains frequently have their traps set in the floor a few feet away. Others will have the required gas trap built directly into and under the drain, in canister form. Drain augers generally cannot be used on canister gas trap drains, which will each have disassembly requirements. But for the more common situation of a straining plate over a drain in the floor, drain snakes are very well suited. As with lavatory basins, smaller tools can frequently be threaded through shower straining plates without their removal. If the plate does need to be removed, exercise care and have a safe spot ready to store any screws or small parts which you do not want dropped in the drain. If you see the nearby trap associated with the drain, you can open the pipes there for best access. Floor gas traps are often capped by one or two large circular end caps with square knobs that can be worked with slip-joint pliers.

Kitchen Sinks and Disposals

You cannot auger through a garbage disposal. Don’t even try, it is dangerous. A clogged kitchen sink with attached disposal must be accessed by opening the trap. If there is no disposal, you may be able to snake directly down the drain, but don’t damage your sink through carelessness.

Bathtubs can be the trickiest clogs to diagnose. There is an overflow drain attached, also a sharp bend in most pipes before reaching the trap, and the trap itself can be inaccessibly hidden in the floor. Tub drains are cleared by first disassembling the stopper leverage. This is usually the location of the clog, and the drain may be cleared just getting room for the auger. If the blockage is not cleaned by removing the stopper, then the auger will be used to first clear this short length of drain from the tub bottom to the nearby T-joint in the pipes.

Once that stretch of bathtub drain is cleared, the snake will be used from the overflow drain, avoiding the sharp bends in the pipes. Smaller tools may be able to thread in behind the protective plate, but you will damage the chrome or aluminum. It is usually easy to remove the plate, one screw, but first cover the drain below with towel or cloth, so anything dropped doesn’t fall in. With the overflow guard removed, unobstructed access to the drain is provided.

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