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Frequently Asked Questions About Using a Plumbing Snake

So, you’re in need of a plumbing snake? Firstly, we would like to express our condolences for your drainage issues; but the plumbing experts at WM Buffington are here to help you get back to normal as soon as possible. 

Fortunately for you, you’re not the first person to have these difficulties, and we’ve consolidated all the most frequently asked questions we receive about plumbing snakes so you don’t have to go searching for answers when you need them fast! On the other hand, if you’re not in a drainage emergency and you’re simply of the inquisitive type, keep reading for a treasure trove of information. 

If you have further questions or need professional help, contact WM Buffington in Harrisburg  for emergency service, plumbing repairs, and more. 

What is a Plumbing Snake? 

A plumber's snake is a flexible auger/drill that is used to dislodge plumbing system clogs. When a plunger is not strong enough to do the trick, a snake is used to get the job done.

These 'snakes' are made of a coiled metal wire with space between the coils like a corkscrew. This corkscrew ending is attached to a long and very flexible metal cable which is also attached to a crank. The flexible cable twists and turns through your house’s piping system, and professional plumbers or DIY’ers turn the crank to rotate the auger.

How Does a Plumbing Snake Work? 

When the plumbing snake turns, the corkscrew-like coil can break up and dislodge the inconvenient articles that are stuck in your pipe or drain. The snake itself is fed into the clogged plumbing system by hand, either unrolling it from a reel or unraveling it from its coiled position.

Once the snake reaches the pipe blockage, the crank is used to turn the snake, and the operator can also move the auger around inside the pipe - from side to side or in a small circle- and move it up and down. All of these techniques work to dislodge what is clogging the piping.

As the blockage starts to become unstuck, the cable will be able to move further into the pipe. The operator should continue feeding the plumbing snake further and further into the pipe, repeating the above process. Once the clog is loose, it can move in either direction and be pulled up with the auger or pushed down the drain. If you’re pulling it up, get ready to see and smell some less-than-pleasant blockage culprits! 

Either way, once the snake and auger can move freely within the pipe, the piping system needs to be flushed out with fresh water. After that, the job is complete. 

How Far Can a Plumbing Snake Go? 

The answer to this depends largely on the type of drain snake being used, what size it is, and what type of piping you need unclogged. There are various manufacturers of drain snakes meant for residential and commercial use, so their reaching ability can vary substantially. As a general rule of thumb, minor blockages in domestic pipework (such as in a sink or a shower), the most you’ll need is a small, manual 1-2 yard drain snake. 

Extensive blockages may require longer drain snakes. It is hard to tell exactly what you need without any professional experience, but there’s a chance you’ll need a drain snake that is several feet long for internal drainage issues. External piping issues can require even larger snakes! 

Can a Plumbing Snake Break a Pipe? 

Yes. If used incorrectly, a plumbing snake can damage your pipework. Extensive blockages increase the likelihood of damage occurring because the job is much more complicated. 

Can a Plumbing Snake Make a Clog Worse? 

Once again, yes. If used improperly, a drain snake can jam the obstruction in the pipes even tighter which obviously makes a clog worse and more difficult to deal with. 

What’s the Difference Between a Drain Auger and a Plumbing Snake? 

In terms of functionality, drain augers and plumbing snakes are fairly similar. Drain snakes are usually smaller in diameter and are specifically built for use inside a home. Drain augers are comparatively larger in length and diameter and are built mostly for external use such as sewer drains located at the exterior of the home.  

What Size Plumbing Snake Do I Need? 

There are standard sizes for plumbing snakes that correspond to different ranges of piping sizes. The most common sizes are 1/4”, 5/16”, 3/8″, 1/2″, and 9/16″. The smallest plumbing snakes are built for typical household piping such as those found in sinks, baths, and showers (approximately 1.25-1.5”). 

If your drains are 2” in diameter, then a plumbing snake of 5/16” or 3/8“ is the most effective. 

For drains of 3” in diameter, a 1/2“ plumbing snake is best. 

And finally, for drains with a diameter of 4”-5”, a 9/16” plumbing snake is the way to go. 

It is important to use the right-sized plumbing snake because snakes that are too small for the pipe can get tangled and cause more blockage, and snakes that are too large can damage small pipes. 

Is It Worth It to Buy a Plumbing Snake? 

Plumbing snakes are certainly effective at what they do. If you’re an experienced handyman/ woman, these can be valuable tools to have on hand in case bad clogs arise. That being said, if you have a variety of different pipe sizes, then you’ll need to have the same amount of different-sized plumbing snakes in order to get the job done safely and effectively. 

When Can You Use a Plumbing Snake and When Should You Call a Plumber? 

This is a tough question to answer because drain blockages can vary extensively in their severity. Unfortunately, it is really hard to know how badly your drain is clogged without having experience in this field of work, and only in situations of very minor clogs would we agree that it’s okay for inexperienced people to attempt to use a plumbing snake. In general, it is extremely easy to make a clog worse or even damage your existing piping system if you don’t know what you’re doing. 

In summary, we would say that unless you’re experienced and know what you’re doing, you should avoid operating a plumbing snake yourself. If you do, chances are that you’ll end up spending even more money on frustrating repairs. The best thing to do is call an experienced plumber to get the job done right - efficiently, effectively, and safely. 

WM Buffington Can Fix Your Drainage Issues 

We know that a drain blockage can be very inconvenient. It’s always tempting to try fixing it yourself, but in almost every situation, the wise move is to contact your local plumber right away. Especially if you’ve already unsuccessfully attempted a fix with a plunger, the situation could be far worse than you know and any further attempt can make the problem more extensive and more costly to fix. 

If you have any more questions or need help right away, don’t hesitate to contact a plumber at WM Buffington in Harrisburg today! 

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