How to Unclog a Toilet With a Plumber's Snake

Plunging your toilet is a surprisingly effective way to clear blockages, but when it doesn't work, a plumber's snake is the best alternative. Like a real snake, a plumber's snake is flexible enough to coil through the toilet's internal trap and reach the waste opening, where blockages often occur. The snake's tooth is sharp enough to cut through densely packed paper, hair and other objects that may have fallen into the toilet by mistake.

Plumber's snake
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A toilet snake is also called a closet auger.

Toilet Auger Specifications

Snakes come in various sizes; some are small enough to fit in sink drains, and some are large enough to clear sewers. A toilet snake, which is also called a toilet or closet auger, has a typical range of about 10 feet and a cable diameter between 1/4 and 7/16 inch. Larger cables have more power but may not fit in some toilets, so the best bet is to buy an auger with a 1/2-inch or smaller diameter cable. Most models have a manual crank, but you also can buy one that fits your drill so you don't have to crank by hand.

Before You Snake

If you've plunged your toilet with no success, there is a good chance that the bowl is full to overflowing. Cover the floor with plastic and empty some of the water into a bucket before you use the snake, or you may end up splashing it around the bathroom. Avoid the need for reaching into the bowl with a sponge by using a sponge mop -- dip the mop repeatedly in the water and transfer the water to a bucket for disposal. When the water level has receded to about half the height of the bowl, you're ready to start snaking. Put on rubber gloves and start breathing through your nose -- or wear a mask.

Snaking Procedure

You use an auger by feeding the head into the toilet and pushing until it hits the obstruction you're trying to clear. Depending on the auger you use and the shape of your toilet, though, the head may get hung up on one of the curves in the toilet's internal trap. To prevent this, wiggle the cable as you feed it. Once you're confident that the head has contacted the obstacle, start cranking the auger. This spins the head, which then cuts its way into the blockage. Pull the head back after turning the crank through several rotations -- it often brings larger obstacles, such as tampons or diapers, back with it. If yours is a drill auger, operate the drill in forward and reverse to help the auger work its way through obstructions.

When Snaking Doesn't Work

Augers work their way systematically through blockages caused by an accumulation of paper or other debris, and at a certain point, water will probably begin to flow. At this point, retract the auger and plunge the toilet to push the obstacle down the drain. If the auger isn't effective, it may be because the blockage is a hard object that got dropped into the toilet by mistake or because the blockage is out of the auger's reach. In either case, pull the toilet from the floor. You can then manually retrieve the object from the toilet or feed the auger directly into the waste pipe.