Whether it’s water rising dangerously high in a toilet bowl or a child’s pronouncement that the bathtub water just won’t go down, discovering a clog is often the start of hours spent experimenting with coat hangers, plungers, and caustic chemicals.
But the professionals know better. When asked about the best ways to successfully remove clogs, Daniel O’Brian, technical expert for leading online plumbing retailer SupplyHouse.com, first stressed the importance of using the right tools. “Homemade contraptions to remove severe clogs not only take time to put together but can also damage or get stuck in pipes, potentially making the situation worse.”
When it comes to removing clogs, it’s tough to beat augers (also called “snakes”), which are available in a range of price points and power points. They’re just what you want close at hand when you’re confronted with a clog. And whether you’re looking for a reliable way to remove clogs around the house, or you’re looking to invest in powerful tools for your plumbing business, SupplyHouse.com has the solutions you need. Here are their recommendations for the best drain snakes for tackling common clogs.
CLOGGED CONDITION: Toilet
BEST TOOL: TRAPSNAKE 6-foot Toilet Auger (Milwaukee)
When the toilet threatens to overflow, the first thing most homeowners grab is the plunger. Plunging works well for removing simple waste clogs, but a plunger is only going to add to the problem if the clog is a little more serious. (If, for instance, little Tommy has flushed his T-shirt down the toilet.) As well, vigorous plunging can be messy—and it can also dislodge the wax seal beneath the fixture or force whatever’s clogging the toilet deeper into the drainpipe.
If a couple of quick plunges don’t work, you need an auger. To choose the right auger for your household, O’Brian recommends finding one that’s in line with your budget and is also “a good fit for your toilet and easy to store”—such as the Milwaukee TRAPSNAKE 6-foot Toilet Auger (available from SupplyHouse). The TRAPSNAKE is available in either a manual hand-crank or a battery-powered option and features a telescoping extension that helps you insert the 6-foot cable through the toilet’s trap. Like most augers, it has a “forward” and “reverse” setting that makes it easier to maneuver the cable through the drain and break up or remove the clog. This tool is perfect for homeowners who suffer from frequently clogged toilets as well as building maintenance workers who need to maintain heavily used public toilets.
Pro Tip: Ease the cable through the trap, but don’t force it—feeding it through may take a little finessing. Remember: Porcelain toilet bowls are not impervious to cracking.
CLOGGED CONDITION: Sink Drain
BEST TOOL: M12™ AirSnake™ Drain Cleaning Air Gun Kit
“Sink clogs can be caused by putting things down the drain that shouldn’t go down there, from grease and food particles in the kitchen to hair and excessive amounts of toothpaste in the bathroom,” O’Brian says. Fortunately, most sink clogs are simple fixes, requiring nothing more than disconnecting the P-trap beneath the sink, where many clogs settle. When the clog lies beyond the trap, however, compressed air is a great way to clear it.
The Milwaukee M12 AirSnake Drain Cleaning Air Gun (available from SupplyHouse) uses air to remove even stubborn clogs, and it does the job so well that it will even work through drain covers. The AirSnake’s pressure—which you can see in action in this video—can be adjusted from 0 to 50 psi, providing the appropriate pressure for dislodging small or large clogs up to 35 feet from the drain. But the AirSnake’s utility isn’t limited to sink drains: With special attachments, you can use the AirSnake to clear clogs from toilets and showers too. If you’re looking to add a powerful clog-blasting air gun to your plumbing arsenal, you can’t beat the AirSnake for power and versatility.
Pro Tip: Always put a bucket under a sink trap before applying pressure to the drain. If the trap is old or loose, there’s a chance it could break, and you’ll want to catch the mess.
CLOGGED CONDITION: Tub or Shower Drain
BEST TOOL: Hair Snake
When you find yourself standing in a couple of inches of water during your shower, it’s time to clear the drain. “As anyone with field experience can attest, clogs can be caused by almost anything. However, hair is the most common culprit,” O’Brian says. When you’re almost up to your ankles in water, hair, and soap scum, you can often unclog the drain with a simple hair snake, such as the 20-inch Hair Snake by Brasscraft (available from SupplyHouse). Its plastic rod features tiny hooked barbs that grab on to hair masses and pull them easily from the drain.
Pro Tip: Always use a strainer or hair catcher in the bathtub, and clear it out after every use. You’ll cut down on clogs and probably keep your tub cleaner too.
CLOGGED CONDITION: Sewer Line
BEST TOOL: P-SE2-E Speedrooter 92
The last thing any homeowner wants is sewage backing up in a shower or sink, but that’s exactly what can happen if the main sewer line—the line that runs underground from the house to the municipal sewer line—becomes clogged. Tree roots are a major cause of sewer line clogs, especially in homes with old sewer lines. Once roots fill the line, they block drainage and cause sewage to back up.
Household augers just aren’t powerful enough for removing clogs in buried sewer lines. When it comes to cutting through fibrous tree roots, General Pipe Cleaners’ P-SE2-E Speedrooter 92 (available from SupplyHouse) won’t let you down. Its drum holds 100 feet of 5/8-inch or 3/4-inch cable, and the tool features a 30-inch guide tube that reduces cable whipping and keeps your hands safe during operation.
Pro Tip: Older homes may not have a clean out (access to the main sewer line inside the house), in which case you can remove one of the toilets in the house and use that as the entry point for the auger.
CLOGGED CONDITION: Vent Stack
BEST TOOL: M18™ Switch Pack™ Sectional Drum System
While homeowners don’t often associate that large pipe that extends from their roof with their home’s drainage system, it plays an integral role. Each plumbing fixture (sink, tub, toilet, and so on) connects, via a vent pipe, to the main vent stack that exits the roof. When a clog forms in the vent stack, it blocks the free flow of air, which creates a vacuum in the vent pipes and slows (or prevents) drainage from any fixture in the house. Gurgling noises coming from behind the walls can be signs of a vent stack clog. The culprit could be a wasp’s or bird’s nest, or even the carcass of a small animal like a squirrel or rat that fell into the pipe and became trapped.
Snaking a vent stack from the roof would entail carrying a heavy auger up there and running an extension cord to power it, but Milwaukee Tool recently launched a revolutionary idea in augers. The M18 SwitchPack Sectional Drum System(available from SupplyHouse) is equipped with backpack straps to help pros carry the equipment—leaving hands free to hold on to ladder rungs—and a battery to eliminate the need for an extension cord. As seen here, the combination makes it much easier to transport a powerful auger not only up to vent stacks but also down to crawl spaces. The versatile auger is powerful to boot, and you can switch between 3/8-inch, 1/2-inch, and 5/8-inch cables to tackle snaking jobs of any size.
Pro Tip: Rubber gloves can become twisted in a cable when it’s spinning, so opt for cotton gloves. Or, if you prefer wearing rubber gloves to protect your hands from coming into contact with disagreeable substances, slip a pair of cotton gloves on top.
This post was written in collaboration with BobVila.com