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How to Snake a Toilet

It’s always disheartening to realize you’ve got a clogged toilet that can’t be fixed with a plunger, but the good news is that another simple tool can help you address the problem—a snake or drain auger.

Toilet, Bathroom iStock

With a toilet snake (also known as a drain auger or plumber’s auger), you’ll be able to reach into the bowels of the toilet and either push the blockage through or pull it out.

What is a Toilet Snake?

The tool basically consists of a long cable, sheathed in a rubber tube. A coiled tip on one end goes into the drain and grapples with the clog, while an angled handle on the other end acts as a crank for extending the cable.

How Much Do Toilet Snakes Cost?

Toilet snakes can be rented from a hardware store, but it typically doesn’t cost a lot (less than $10) to purchase a simple version.

Fancier models with features like an electric crank or extra extension can be more expensive; usually, however, a manual snake will do the job just fine. A snake is safer to use on tough clogs than a plunger, which can apply too much pressure on the wax ring at the base of the toilet, causing it to break—and it’s also gentler than a liquid dissolving solution, which can corrode your pipes.

Steps for Unclogging a Toilet with a Snake

Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to unclog a toilet with a snake.

Step 1: Prep the space and tools

Clear the area near the toilet in case water sloshes out of the bowl while you’re working, and put on a pair of plastic gloves to protect your hands. Keep a bucket handy, in case you end up fishing out the obstruction and need to place it somewhere.

Make sure the snake’s rubber sleeve is pulled all the way down to the head (the coil end). This will prevent the metal cable from scratching the porcelain of the bowl and the drain pipes. Also, make sure the auger head is completely retracted before you begin.

Step 2: Extend the cable

Guide the head of the snake to the base of the toilet bowl, angled toward the drain. Turn the crank clockwise to release the cable steadily, applying slight downward pressure. If necessary, adjust the angle of entry. Keep cranking to extend the length of the cable until you meet resistance, which indicates you’ve come upon the clog.

Step 3: Dislodge the clog

Once you’ve made contact with the blockage, you can continue to crank out the cable in hopes of pushing the obstruction through. If the item is too large to move forward, try breaking it up by jiggling the snake and retracting and extending the cable until you’re able to move it forward freely.

If the obstruction isn’t budging, however, retract the cable by turning the crank in the opposite direction. Whatever’s clogging the drain should be caught in the coil of the snake, and you’ll be able to pull it out. Dispose of it in the bucket. If the blockage is in pieces, you may need to repeat this process until everything has been fished out.

Step 4: Give the toilet a flush

If the water doesn’t automatically drain from the bowl after you’ve removed the blockage, flush the toilet to make sure the problem is completely fixed. Don’t forget to give the snake and toilet bowl a proper cleaning after you’re all done!