What’s the Difference Between a Toilet Auger and Snake?

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Pretty much everyone will deal with clogged drains at some point. Toilets, showers, and even your kitchen sink are all at risk for getting clogged and backing up, usually at the worst moment. Having the tools on hand to clear a clog is critical for taking care of your plumbing and appliances. 

But if you’ve ever gone looking for a good drain snake you’ve probably noticed that there’s more than just snakes available. 

Snakes and toilet augers might look similar, and they even function similarly, but they are different tools and should be used in different situations. 

In this article, we’ll go over the main differences, the other tools you might need to help clear clogs in your plumbing, and when a drain snake or a toilet auger isn’t a good idea. 

We know how urgent it is to resolve clogged drains as quickly as possible, so let’s get started!

The Main Difference Between a Toilet Auger and a Snake

The main difference between a toilet auger and a snake is the size of the tool. Snakes are relatively small tools that are designed for the smaller pipes in your house. On the other hand, toilet augers are designed for larger pipes and have a large tool at the end of the auger.

Snakes tend to be a little shorter and only designed to reach shallow clogs, though some longer models are available. Toilet augers are designed to deal with bigger clogs in wider pipes (NOT bigger clogs in small pipes!) and are often longer than your average snake, though not always. 

Toilet augers can also have two different kinds of tool attachments at the end of the auger. Some, like snakes, are designed with a hooking mechanism that helps to grab on to the clog and either break it up or pull it out of your pipe. Other augers are designed with a mechanism that’s designed to help clip and break up the clog, freeing the pipe by allowing normal water flow to resume.

Which Tool Is More Effective?

One common misconception is that toilet augers are more effective than snakes. This isn’t true.

Instead, think of toilet augers and snakes as being the same kind of tool, just designed for slightly different problems. 

Snakes can handle the clogs that happen in smaller pipes and clogs that happen close to the top of larger pipes, by breaking up the clog or pulling it free. 

Augers are a good option for larger pipes, especially larger pipes that have the potential for deeper clogs that are further from the top of the pipe. 

Neither tool is going to be able to deal with an invading tree root or a clog that’s too large or made from hardened materials. Reaching for an auger won’t do a better job of clearing a clog in a small pipe, just like a snake won’t necessarily do a better job of clearing a clog in a large pipe. 

Instead, if you’re having trouble it might be time to call a professional to evaluate your situation. We’ll talk more about when it’s time to call for a professional to take care of your pipes in a little bit. 

Will I Need Additional Tools When Using an Auger or Snake?

Even the best augers and snakes need other tools to work well. We’re not talking about liquid drain cleaners or some of those other solutions. Those can be helpful for maintenance, but they aren’t actually that effective when it comes to cleaning more serious toilet clogs without a plunger

Plungers, on the other hand, plungers are incredibly effective tools for clearing minor clogs. Plungers also come with less risk of damage to your pipes and appliances than either snakes or augers. They use simple water pressure to break clogs into smaller sections that can flow down the pipe more naturally. 

You may also need a simple screwdriver depending on which pipe or drain you need to access. No, don’t stick the screwdriver down the pipe with the auger, that’s an accident waiting to happen. Instead, you might need to use a screwdriver to disassemble your drain plug, especially if the clog is in your shower or bath drain with a built in plug, in order to get access to the rest of the drain. 

It’s also a good idea to have some spare towels or rags available to wipe off the snake or auger between attempts to remove the plug. 

You’ll also want a waste disposal bag or a trash can handy anytime you’re trying to clear a clogged drain. 

Here’s a quick list to help you keep track:

  • Plunger
  • Screwdriver (for removing drain plugs and drain covers)
  • Towels or cleaning rags
  • Waste disposal bag OR trash can

Why Don’t Toilet Augers Come in Larger Sizes?

One common question many people have is ‘why don’t toilet augers come in larger sizes?”. That makes sense, after all, Toilet augers are only designed for pipes that are 1.5″-3″ in diameter. Pipes can be much bigger than that, though most accessible household pipes will be 3″ or smaller. 

So why aren’t there toilet augers for those larger pipes as well?

Well, there are two reasons. One, most homeowners won’t be able to safely access the wider pipes that would need a larger auger system without risking damage to their plumbing. 

More importantly, it’s incredibly rare for 4″ and larger pipes to clog. The size of those pipes makes it unlikely for anything that’s meant to go down a standard household drain to cause a clog.

If your larger pipes seem to be the source of your problem, either a clog or slow drainage, chances are that there is something more serious going on. Trying to tack the problem with a snake or even an auger is unlikely to resolve the issue. 

4″ pipes are more likely to be impacted by tree roots and other large, more damaging, problems than a simple clog. Since an ordinary auger can’t resolve those kinds of issues, there aren’t really consumer augers designed for those pipes.

How to Tell When You Need a Toilet Auger vs a Snake

A lot of the time people only want to keep one tool around and will opt for the toilet auger under the idea that it’s the more powerful, and therefore the more flexible, tool. The problem is that toilet augers can actually damage and strip the metal from smaller pipes, so they aren’t a good default. 

As a general rule, you should only use a toilet auger if the clog is in a toilet. Most U.S. houses are designed with larger pipes on toilets (to help prevent clogging) and narrower pipes on all your other fixtures. Even your shower or bath drain likely connects to a narrower style of pipe than your toilet. 

Why Aren’t Snakes Longer?

It can be frustrating to use a snake and realize that the tool just isn’t long enough to reach the clog you’re dealing with. But there is a good reason for that limitation. 

Snakes and augers can damage your pipes if used incorrectly, even when they are used in the right size of pipe. Trying to jam a snake too far down your pipes, especially without training on how to use the snake properly, risks causing more damage than it’s worth. That’s especially true as soon as the snake has to go around one or more bends in the pipe. 

Not only is the snake more likely to damage your pipes when it’s used this way, stripping metal from all the bends, it’s also more likely that you’re dealing with a plumbing problem that isn’t a simple clog!

There are certainly some longer snakes on the market, many of them designed for professional use. Buying one of these isn’t a bad idea since the extra length helps to make sure you have something to grip while you’re using the tool, but remember that the more of the snake you’re using the more likely you are to run into other problems. 

When To Stop and Call a Professional

At a certain point, even the most skilled auger and snake users need to call in a professional plumber. It can be hard to tell when you need to get plumbing help, and even harder to bite the bullet and make the call. 

But, it’s important to know when it’s time to get a plumber’s help because getting help sooner can often minimize damage and head off more expensive costs from accidentally damaging your pipes or making a bad problem worse. 

Here are a few scenarios where it’s time to get a plumber involved.

You Can’t Clear the Clog

Say you’ve found the clog, or you’re fairly sure you’ve found the clog, but your snake or auger just isn’t getting the job done. It may be that you just haven’t tried hard enough, and as long as you’re still pulling out sections of the clog you can keep working. 

But if your pipes are still clogged after several attempts to clear it, and your snake or auger isn’t pulling out any debris from the clog, it’s probably time to call in a professional. 

Likely the clog is just bigger than your tools are designed to handle. A professional will be able to better evaluate the problem and may even take sections of your plumbing apart to help them get closer to problem spot and clear the clog

Alternatively, you may have a more serious problem like damaged pipes or an obstruction from something that was never supposed to go down the drain in the first place. 

Your Pipes Clog Consistently, and More Often than Normal

It’s pretty normal to deal with clogged pipes, especially clogged toilets, a couple of times a year. But if you’re starting to notice that your pipes are clogging a lot more often, or that they are starting to clog more frequently, it may be time to call a plumber and see what’s causing the problem. 

You Cleared a Clog, and Now Your Pipes are Leaking

There can be a lot of reasons for leaking pipes, but it’s especially important to get to the root of the problem if your pipes start leaking after you’ve cleared a clog out. It’s possible that you’ve accidentally stripped too much metal from the pipe while you were working on the clog, or that you’ve loosened the connection between two pipes.

How to Use Toilet Augers and Snakes

The process of using a toilet auger or a drain snake is pretty much the same. The main difference is in the size of the tool and what kinds of attachments are at the end of the tool. There may also be some slight differences in the handle, but there are differences between handles made by different manufacturers as well. 

Step 1: Remove any Drain Covers

The first step is to get open access to the pipe underneath the drain by removing the drain cover or plug. 

There are lots of different styles of drain covers and plugs, but they are pretty much all either designed to come off easily or to allow a drain snake or toilet auger past the drain. 

It’s still a good idea to remove the cover if the snake can fit through the plug because the plug will reduce your mobility and make it harder to work. 

Step 2: Insert the Snake or Auger

The next step is to insert the snake. Some snakes need to be facing a specific direction when you first put them in the pipe, but not all of them. Look at the user information provided when your first bought the tool to see which kind you own. 

Slowly push the snake into the pipe while turning the handle. Turning the handle will rotate the snake and make it easier to push it further into the pipe, but don’t twist too fast or you’ll risk damaging your pipes. 

Step 3: Find the Clog

You’ll know you’ve found the clog when your snake meets a lot of resistance in the pipe. Don’t just try to push deeper. Pushing past a clog without breaking it up can cause damage just as much as stripping too much of the inside of your pipe. 

Instead, apply gentle pressure while twisting the handle of your snake or auger. It should gradually get harder to twist as you start breaking apart the clog and get deeper into the clog itself. 

The tool on the end of your snake should be grabbing on to the plug. 

After a few full rotations pull your snake out. It may be more difficult to pull the snake out than it was to push into your pipes, but that’s because it’s grabbing on to the plug and taking it out with the snake. 

Maintain gentle pressure as you’re trying to pull the plug out, and rotate the handle as needed until it comes free. 

Step 4: Clean the Snake/Auger and Repeat

Once you’ve got the snake or auger completely out of your drain you’ll likely need to clean it out. It can be useful to have a wire bristle brush or other cleaning tools handy to help extract particularly nasty clogs. We also recommend using a thick pair of rubber gloves while you’re working to prevent the grime from getting on your hands. 

Once the snake or auger is reasonably clean, repeat the process. 

Some clogs will come free and clear the first attempt with an auger or snake. Others will take several rounds of snaking before the drain is working properly again. You should be able to tell that your drain is working since whatever water alerted you to the clog in the first place will start to drain away. 

Step 5: Cleanup

After you’ve cleared the pipes so that they’re working properly again, you’ve still got some cleanup to do. First, clean out the snake and auger so that they are ready to use the next time you need them. 

Next, it’s a good idea to test the drain by flushing the toilet or draining a small amount of water to make sure it’s working as it’s supposed to. 

Last, we recommend checking any exposed piping under the cabinet or behind the toilet for any noticeable leaks. While it’s unlikely you’ll find any, catching a new leak early can save money on more costly repairs later. 

That’s it! That’s everything you need to know about how to tell the difference between a toilet auger and a snake, and a short tutorial on how to use them!


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