What is a Plumber's Snake?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

With this imaginative name, you might be forgiven for thinking that reptile ownership is a requirement for plumbers. A plumber's snake or augur is actually a device which is used to clean blocked drains. Snakes come in a range of sizes, sometimes with special configurations which make them suitable for use in specific circumstances, like unclogging toilets. Many hardware stores carry plumber's snakes to assist people with small household clogs, and some also rent out larger snakes for more serious problems. Plumbers also, of course, carry snakes in their vans.

Plumbers may be called upon to root the pipes at a public facility.
Plumbers may be called upon to root the pipes at a public facility.

The basic design of a plumber's snake consists of a long coiled wire attached to a crank. The crank is turned in a clockwise direction to slowly force the plumber's snake into the clogged pipeline. In some cases, a plumber's snake may actually pick items up as it moves, in which case they are removed from the coils of the wire when it is pulled out of the plumbing. In other instances, a plumber's snake breaks up the cause of the clog, allowing water to flow freely again, and snakes also break down the gunk inside of pipes as they flail around.

A plumber's snake helps remove objects that clog drain pipes.
A plumber's snake helps remove objects that clog drain pipes.

A small or short plumber's snake is cranked by hand. Others have motorized cranks, designed for penetrating large pipes with serious clogs. Motorized snakes should only be used by people who are experienced with them, as they can damage the plumbing or injure the user if he or she is not familiar with the workings of the snake.

Plumber's snakes can be used to unclog toilets.
Plumber's snakes can be used to unclog toilets.

Fancy plumber's snakes even come with cameras which allow the plumber to see what is going on. This can be useful when a clog seems intractable, or when a plumber wants to asses the general condition of a pipe. It can also be surprising, as an astounding assortment of things wind up down pipes, especially pipes shared by multiple households, as might be the case with an apartment building.

Using a plumber's snake is relatively easy. It is important to remember that very small diameter snakes should not be used in wide pipes, because they can get tangled. In addition, be careful when you use a snake in a toilet or porcelain bathtub, as it can scratch the porcelain. Some snakes have rubber or plastic heads which will minimize porcelain damage. You should also be aware that snakes can whip around as they are used and pulled out, potentially inflicting serious damage and causing a major mess at the very least.

A plumber's snake can help remove clogs caused by using too much toilet paper.
A plumber's snake can help remove clogs caused by using too much toilet paper.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

liz1103

I have a friend who is a journeyman plumber. He owns a mechanical snake and charges a flat rate just for using it. That is one top of parts, labor, and anything else.

But, he is pretty much the only person around here who has one, so I don’t blame him for using that to his advantage. I suppose it is one of those situations of whatever the market will bear.

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