Sink Drain Clogged? How to Use a Plumber's Snake
The Kitchen Sink Won't Drain! Now What?
For most clogs in the kitchen sink, opening the drain is a simple matter. However, if the drain has been progressively draining slower and slower, you will probably be in for a bigger and messier job.
To be sure, there are hundreds of chemical products on the market for clearing drains. However, this is not always an option. It is especially not an option if you live in an area as we do where you have a septic tank system, instead of city sewer service. No matter what it says on the label, chemicals of all kinds are best kept out of a septic tank.
If something has gotten down the drain, and it suddenly backs up, first try the good old "plumber's friend," also known as a plunger. If this fails, it's time for the snake.
Health and Safety Note:
Parts of a Plumber's Snake
How to Use the Plumber's Snake
A plumber's snake is just a long, flexible piece of cable that can be shoved into the drain, and pushed, pulled, rotated around and so forth to loosen the clog. There are 2 types: one is simply a 'naked' cable, with a grab handle on one end, and a set-screw to hold it in place; the other comes in an enclosed casing with an opening on one end to feed out the snake, and a stationary handle on one side, and a rotating one on the other. The business end features a spiral-shaped cone of wire for drilling through clogs.
To use the snake, you can try inserting it right down the drain between the cross-grids in the drain opening, (some snakes are thicker than others--not all will fit), feeding it through carefully. It gets tricky going around bends such as the P-trap under the sink, but with patience, it is doable.
What You'll Need
A Note About Garbage Disposals And Dishwashers
If there is a garbage disposal installed, it will not be possible to feed the snake through the sink drain. You will have to use the cleanout access on the outside of the house.
However, if you have a double-sink, the garbage disposal is always only on one side; you may be able to get the snake through on the other side of the sink.
Look under the sink, and see where the drain pipe from the non-disposal side meets the pipe leading through the wall. If it connects below the disposal, you're golden. If it comes into the side of the disposal itself, you're out of luck.
Notice that with a dishwasher connected, that drain does connect directly into the side of the disposal unit: that's how the dishwasher gets rid of any food scraps stuck to the dishes, without sending them into the pipe as potential clogs.
Now--Back to Work!
Shove the snake as far as you can, and using the handle, rotate it about, and use some push-pull action as well. You may have to keep at it for several minutes. Be careful not to be too violent with these motions, as it is possible to damage the drain pipes. Plastic pipes can be cracked, and the old galvanized pipes have the potential for being rusty.
If the snake action hits a rusty spot in an old pipe, you might get lucky and nothing happens...at that exact moment, anyway. You luck will depend upon the degree of rust, and the remaining thickness of solid pipe.
Sometimes, there is a small hole already in the pipe, and whatever was clogging the pipe (and hence, the drain), was sealing the hole. Once that plug is dislodged, you will have a leaky pipe. If this happens, you are in the market for a professional plumber and repairs well beyond the scope of this article. So--be careful how you manipulate the snake!
Cleanout Port Through Wall
Using the Cleanout Port
All plumbing systems have exterior cleanout ports. This is simply a piece of pipe that connects to the drain line and protrudes through the wall of the house using a "T" fitting. A cap covers the outlet, and is removed by means of a wrench. (See photo and illustration.)
Once this cap is removed, you have direct access to the drain/sewer line, only the one turn just inside the house wall into the main drain line. Push the snake through as far as you can, and wiggle it about, as in the instructions above.
Try running more water down the sink. If it runs right out the cleanout port, your clog is farther down the line. When you get there, you will feel more resistance, but you may have also simply arrived at a bend in the pipe, so proceed carefully, maneuvering the snake slowly, feeling your way. Unfortunately, this is a procedure where you are working blind, totally by remote feel, as the snake is between you and the clog.
After snaking out the pipe, replace the access cap, and try again running water down the drain. Let it run for a few moments--you will soon see whether you were successful or not. If the water is still backing up, your clog is either still farther down the line, or harder to dislodge.
Opening the cleanout
If the Clog is Still There...
The next step is to again remove the access cap, and instead of the snake, use a garden hose. Do not put any kind of nozzle on the hose--it will not fit or go around any bends. Feed the hose in as far as you can, and turn on the water full force.
This is like a "jet-snake" used by professional plumbers. Instead of wiggling the snake, you are using a thicker diameter substitute snake, and the power of water to help flush the clog out of the line. Run the water for several minutes, especially if at first, it is backing up and running out the access port. Try to shove the hose in farther in that case.
If this is an ordinary type of clog, you should succeed in clearing it with this method.
If the hose treatment still does not work, you may have a much more serious problem, such as invading tree roots. Unfortunately, that is a job for the pros.
Finishing the Job
When pulling the snake back out of the drain line, that is when you want the rag. Wrap the rag around the cable as you retract the snake, so that it gets wiped down as you pull it out. You don't want to store the snake with all that gunk all over it. Not only will it stink, it will shorten the life of the tool.
If you have had to use water, you will most likely be working in a very large puddle; it is impossible to stay dry and clean. That's why you want the grubby clothes. Also, as you pull the snake and/or hose out, splatters will happen. Yes, you might get it in the face, (eeeyeewww!) hence the face shield or goggles. Use the rag in the same way on the hose as you pull it out, before you put it away.
Don't let "FOG" go down the drains!
An Ounce of Prevention...
...as the old saying goes, is worth a pound of cure.To save yourself such headaches, try to pay attention to what you are putting down the drains in your home. The most common clogs in the kitchen are FOG:
Here's what happens: as the dishes are piled in the sink, rinsed and washed, the greasy residues go down the drain along with the soapy water. Pots and pans are the worst culprits. In any case, while the grease and oils seem to disappear, they do not magically evaporate.
The combination of detergent and hot water suspends them in a liquid state. Once they have gone down the drain, however, it does not take long for the hot water to cool down. As it cools, the grease starts to solidify, and settle out, lining the walls of the pipes much like the all-too-familiar illustrations we see of clogged arteries in the body.
As this buildup continues, other things, such as hair, bits of food, and sometimes things that went down the drain by accident become trapped in this greasy lining. There can also be buildup resulting from minerals in the water. In the case of old-fashioned galvanized pipes, even the pipes themselves start to rust and shed material, adding further to the problem. The result is a clog--just like a clogged artery.
The Dirty Dishes Don't Get Clean by Magically Evaporating The Residues
And yes, even if you have a garbage disposal, you are subject to such clogs, and possibly even more at risk, because the gizmo misleads you into thinking that you can put anything you want down the drain. Well, it does grind things up finely, but ground up is not gone. It's still there, in suspension, just waiting for a little bit of greasy residue, to start some trouble.
Your best defense against this "pain-in-the-drain" kind of repair is to be very aware of what goes down the sink. Use paper towels to wipe the worst of the food residue and oils from plates and pots and pans. Don't use the garbage disposal as a substitute for the trash can. Rely on it only to chew up what small bits still cling to plates or pots after they have been wiped.
It all comes down to paying attention to what you are doing every day. Awareness is prevention.
A Brief Note on Bathroom Sinks and Shower Drains
The majority of clogs in these places are commonly caused by hair. Whether hubby shaves over the sink and rinses it all down, or if you or your children wash their hair in the sink or shower, it all contributes.
I have found a tool that is perfect for those drains; it is a thin, flat piece of . It is thin enough to even sneak past those pesky push-pull built in stoppers in bathroom sinks. flexible plastic with barbs on each side
For the shower drain, it also works extremely well, and saves having to haul out the bigger tools. As an added plus, it stores in virtually no space at all, and can be kept handy in an under-sink vanity cabinet.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2011 Liz Elias