Choosing a Drain Cleaning Tool

Unfortunately I know more than I want to about drain cleaning tools. I never cared much for that side of the plumbing business. But it's hard to justify not clearing the drain while you're still there after repairing the faucet.

My dad, the great philosopher, would say “Ya gotta take the good with the bad”. My advice is if you are going to unclog drains, make it as easy as you can by using the right drain cleaning tools for each task.

Visit my Toilet Auger page for help choosing and using a Toilet Auger.

Choosing a Drain Cable or Plumbing Snake

The first thing to know is that the reason there are different diameters of drain cable is because there are different sizes of pipe. Seems simple enough, but what is not simple is removing a cable from a drain after you let it double over on itself and tie itself in knots.

The way to size a drain cable for a pipe is to make sure it is small enough to go readily around the fittings, but large enough not to be able to double back on itself inside the pipe. Fortunately most cables are labeled for pipe size use.

My recommendation is use a ¼ inch cable for 1-¼ inch to 1-½ inch pipe. Use a 3/8th inch cable for 2 inch pipe, and use a ½ inch cable for 3 or 4 inch pipe. If you follow this rule, you'll not be trying to clear a toilet with a hand twist ¼ inch drain snake. Nor will you own a toilet auger that is less than ½ inch in diameter.

I know I am spoiled by my access to professional grade drain cleaning tools, but there are jobs where poor tools mean hard, futile work, after which you pay money to watch a pro do it with the proper tools. Clearing drains is one of those jobs.

Lets talk about the tool you use to spin your drain cable. Some sort of drum to hold the length of cable seems fairly basic. There are some inexpensive hand-turn drums. The first thing that fails on them is the little set screw that grips the cable to help force it down the drain.

Some, of course, are better than others. General Wire Co. makes one on the low range of their drain cleaning tools. They also make the drain cable I use- the Super Vee. It's a pistol drill with a cable drum built on. It lets me get close to the drain opening with the tool, and doesn’t make me handle the cable constantly. They aren’t cheap, but two visits from me will likely cost as much, maybe one visit.

Safety Concerns

Last tip about using drain cleaning tools is this... your gloves. When I did a lot of drain work, I had a set of gloves that were thick rubber. I could hold a turning cable in my hand safely. Thin gloves can get wrapped up on a power tool cable and make trouble for  your hand. If you must use thin gloves around any power tool, make them thin enough to tear away. Oh, and when you're snaking drains, keep your mouth closed, breath through your nose.

Return to Plumbing Tools