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Updated June 2022
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and all opinions about the products are our own. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
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Buying guide for best drain snakes

You’ve probably had the unfortunate experience of glancing down at the sink or tub to find the water isn't swirling down the drain. There's a moment of panic that’s proportional to how quickly the water is going down, if it’s going down at all. At this point you start pondering your options. One of your best options is a drain snake.

If this isn't your first incident, there's a chance you have a drain snake in your tool box that can help you solve the problem. If you don't already own one, now is a good time to learn about what a drain snake is, the different types of drain snakes available, and how one can be used to help clear your drains.

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The best way to prevent a clog in the kitchen is to use a sink strainer. Capturing any food or debris before it has a chance to enter the pipes is your most proactive defense.

Key considerations

What is a drain snake?

A drain snake is a thin, flexible cable that you insert in an opening to break up or remove a clog in pipes. That opening can be in a kitchen sink, toilet bowl, or removable access point like a drain cleanout. The type of clog and how deep it is in the plumbing system ultimately determine the type of drain snake you need.

Clogs

Once you start shopping, you'll quickly realize that anything from a short, thin, barbed plastic strip to a 25-foot long rotating cable can be labeled a "drain snake." You must choose the type of drain snake you need based on the clog you have. To help, we've categorized clogs into three general areas: drain clog, toilet clog, and pipe clog.

Drain clog: This is a clog that happens relatively close to the drain, before the sink trap (the U-shaped pipe directly under the sink or tub). This clog is most often caused by an accumulation of hair. The best drain snake for this situation is a short plastic strip that has barbs that catch and remove the hair.

Toilet clog: A toilet clog is a special situation because the porcelain can be scratched by an ordinary drain snake. To combat this issue, you need a toilet auger that has a shaft with a soft, flexible end that protects the porcelain as you use the tool.

Pipe clog: When a clog happens deep in the pipes that run underneath your house, you need a snake that’s long enough to reach the problem. Also, it's important that your snake has the ability to spiral into the clog to grab it. This can be accomplished by either rotating the snake by hand or using a power source such as a handheld drill.

When to call a professional

If caught early, many drain problems aren’t difficult to fix, but there are some situations in which calling a professional might be a better option. These can include times when the clog location isn't obvious or when your initial efforts don't seem to be alleviating the problem. If you’re unsure of what you're doing, do some research and proceed with caution, because botched repairs can often be more costly than the initial problem.

It's important to always use a hair catcher in your shower and bathroom sink drains.

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Features

Manual vs. powered

Manual: Manual drain snakes are inserted into the drain or pipe and twisted by hand. The smallest drain snakes are simply rotated between your fingers while longer cables have a crank that provides greater twisting power. A manual model is usually sufficient for most sink and household clogs.

Powered: These models may attach to a handheld drill or be all-in-one units that plug into an outlet. They’re designed for stubborn clogs that require additional effort to clear.

Dimensions

Length: If the drain snake isn't long enough to reach the clog, you can't clear the clog. Unfortunately, unless you know precisely where the clog is, it's hard to know for sure how long your drain snake needs to be. For the average homeowner, a 25-foot cable is usually long enough. However, if you have an upstairs bathroom, the pipes are longer and you might need a 50-foot cable.

Thickness: For most clogs, ones that occur in sink and tub drains, you need a cable that’s 1/4-inch in diameter. For clogs in larger pipes, longer pipes, or for tougher clogs, you might need a 1/2-inch cable.

Components

Head: If you're trying to clear a solid clog, you need a drain snake with a cutting edge that can cut through and eradicate the clog. In all other situations, you want a drain snake with a coil on the end that can twist into the cause of the problem so it can be removed from the pipe.

Barbs: If you're seeking to clear a clog caused by hair, you need a drain snake that can grab the hair and remove it rather than push it deeper into the pipe. The best fix for this type of clog has barbs or some other similar design, such as a patch of hook-and-loop material, that can snag the hair and remove it.

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DID YOU KNOW?
Running hot water (never use boiling or heated water) after brushing your teeth or showering can help break down the water-soluble materials in toothpaste and shampoo and prevent clogs.
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Drain snake prices

Inexpensive: If you have a clog that’s close to the drain, a small plastic or wire hair remover may be all you need. For the most part, these tools cost less than $10.

Mid-range: From around $20 to $45 you can find manual plumber augers of varying lengths as well as toilet augers specifically designed to clear porcelain toilets. Additionally, you can find long cables that attach to a handheld power drill that can be used to aggressively attack a clog.

Expensive: If you need a heavy-duty unit that plugs into an outlet and can tackle the toughest jobs or clogs in wider pipes, you can easily spend $100 to $300 and more. Some commercial models cost over $500.

If you have a garbage disposal, it isn't possible to feed a drain snake through the unit.

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Tips

It's rare that your drain will suddenly stop working overnight. Usually, a clog is barely noticeable for a while, but the problem escalates as more debris builds up. Before that happens, there are a few signs to look for that can alert you to a potential problem.

  • You smell a strange new odor. Sometimes the first sign of a clog developing is a strange smell. It's impossible to describe the odor in any other way because it could be caused by anything from backed-up food and grease to soap and toothpaste to fecal matter. If you notice a strange smell rising from your drain, it might be a sign of a developing problem.
  • You notice a higher water level in the toilet bowl. If there's a clog in your toilet, the first sign is most often a water level that’s higher than normal. This happens because the water can’t drain efficiently. More urgently, a toilet that's completely clogged can overflow. Usually, this won't happen with a single flush, but that second one can definitely do it.
  • You notice the water draining slowly. Whether it's the bathroom sink or the tub, if the water doesn't seem to be swirling away with the same vigor, a clog could be developing. It doesn't take much to impede the flow of water: a very small amount of debris can significantly impact the drainage rate. A slow drain is an early warning that bigger problems could be coming down the road.
  • You hear gurgling sounds. As water slowly makes its way around a clog, a change in air pressure can result inside the pipes. As the air gradually escapes backward, up and out through the drain, you may notice a prolonged gurgling sound that starts and continues after you’ve shut off the water.
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A sink isn't a garbage disposal. Never pour paint, plaster, or any other foreign materials down your drain. Not only might it cause a clog, but depending on the substance, disposing of it this way could be illegal.

FAQ

Q. When is it time to try a drain snake?

A. If you have a slow-draining sink or toilet that hasn't responded to less invasive strategies such as plunging or vinegar and baking soda, and you've removed the sink trap to be certain that nothing is stuck, it's time to try a drain snake.

Q. How do I use a drain snake?

A. The best method for using a drain snake is to insert it gradually into your drain, stopping every few inches to rotate the cable. If you run into resistance, don't force the cable to go farther. Instead, give it a twist and back it out to see if you can remove or dislodge the clog.

Q. Are there any dangers involved with using a drain snake?

A. Most of the hazards of snaking a drain involve forcing the cable to move forward after you've met significant resistance. This is more of a problem when people use powered drain snakes because there’s a tendency to want to "muscle through" the clog. Rarely, it's possible to push the clog deeper, but if you've got a clog that is that stubborn, a plumber may be your best option.

 

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