How to use a drain snake – to unclog blockages, fast

Knowing how to use a drain snake will make unblocking simple – here's an expert guide to the process

bathroom in neutral colors with concrete tiles and shower backsplash
(Image credit: Jeremy Phillips)

Unclogging a blocked drain is one of the most tedious tasks you can face as a homeowner; though, you're likely to come across the problem eventually. However, if you know how to use a drain snake, the process doesn't need to be so challenging. 

Many home improvement experts often opt for a drain snake when unclogging blockages (so many, in fact, that it's also aptly known as a plumber's snake in the industry). And it's easy to see the appeal behind the tool. 

Whether you're looking to unclog a toilet without a plunger, you need to unclog a sink, or deal with other blockages, these tips can help.

How does a drain snake work?

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(Image credit: ALUN CALLENDER)

'A drain snake is a long, flexible metal coil that is inserted into a clogged drain to clear the blockage,' says plumbing expert at Green Leaf Air, Walter Bennett. 

'The snake moves through the pipe, pushing or pulling whatever is blocking the drain out of the way.' While there are several types of drain snakes on the market, Walter explains that the most popular type is a manual snake (such as this one on Amazon)

How to use a drain snake – professional tips for a quick solution 

white bathroom with calacatta marble in Victorian mews house in London with contemporary interior designed by Kitesgrove

(Image credit: Mary Wadsworth)

Here, the professionals share their advice, so you can learn how to use a drain snake – the expert way.  

1. Identify the stoppage  

Before picking up your drain snake, Kevin Wade from Empire Sewer and Water NJ recommends checking whether the blockage is in the individual drain, stack, or sewer line.

'How can you tell? Easy, if there are multiple drains blocked, [it's likely], they are in the stack line. If there are multiple drains blocked in the basement or ground level, then it's most likely the sewer line. If it's just one drain blocked, it's [probably] in the individual drain,' he says. 

2. Determine the size of the drain 

After identifying the stoppage, Kevin urges you to establish the size of the drain that will be snaked. 'For residence tubs, sinks, and laundry, usually drains range between 1 1/4" -2" in circumference,' he says.  

A drain snake can be the ideal solution when you want to unclog a shower drain or unclog a bathroom drain.

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(Image credit: Malcolm Menzies)

3. Inset the snake into the drain  

Before beginning this step, the plumber urges you to use eye protection and gloves to ensure you're safe when operating the snaking machine. 

'Insert the drain snake cable into the open drain area and power on, allowing the snake to operate and relieve stoppage. You will know stoppage is relieved once the water starts to flow through the drain,' Kevin says. You can test its success by running water for about 5 minutes to ensure a natural drain of the water. If the blockage remains, Kevin recommends repeating the process. 

Is a drain snake easy to use? 

When following professional kitchen and bathroom ideas, you will likely have success in unblocking most stoppages at home. However, if the issue continues after following these steps, Kevin recommends contacting a professional drain service with access to commercial-grade snaking. 

Bathroom tile with black and white floor tiles and green wall tiles

(Image credit: Mandarin Stone)

Should I snake my own drain? 

If your blockage is not too big, you can achieve professional results yourself. 'Using a drain snake is a great way to clear your pipes of any blockages. It is an easy process and can be done by anyone,' Walter says. 'Be sure to follow the safety precautions, and you will be good to go.'

Megan Slack
Head of Celebrity Style News

Megan is the Head of Celebrity Style News at Homes & Gardens. She first joined Future Plc as a News Writer across their interiors titles, including Livingetc and Real Homes, before becoming H&G's News Editor in April 2022. She now leads the Celebrity/ News team. Before joining Future, Megan worked as a News Explainer at The Telegraph, following her MA in International Journalism at the University of Leeds. During her BA in English Literature and Creative Writing, she gained writing experience in the US while studying in New York. Megan also focused on travel writing during her time living in Paris, where she produced content for a French travel site. She currently lives in London with her antique typewriter and an expansive collection of houseplants.