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The Sizes of Plumbing Snakes

Matt Smolsky

Plumbing snakes, also called drain augers, consist of a long, heavy-gauge, flexible steel cable and a way to extend and retract the cable. Some plumbing snakes operate by hand, while a small motor drives other types. The length and diameter of the steel cable vary as well. Knowing which plumbing snake to use can save you an expensive drain cleaning bill. Also, using the wrong plumbing snake can damage your plumbing.

Toilet Auger

Keep your drains running smoothly.

The purpose of a toilet auger, or closet auger, is to clear a clog that's too deep in the pipes or an object that's too big to be cleared by a plunger. With a length of 3 to 6 feet, they have a "J" shape that allows them to be easily fed through the toilet. The devices are hand-operated. The cable should be 1/2 to 5/8 inch in diameter. Toilet augers are specially designed not to scratch a toilet's finish.

Hand Augers

Use a hand auger to clear sinks and tubs. They have approximately 15 to 25 feet of cable, which is extended from and wound into a small, handheld drum. They shouldn't be used in toilets as the longer cable can get knotted up in the toilet's wide waste pipe. The cable can also scratch the toilet. They are used to clear lines 1 1/4 inch to 3 inches in diameter. Some are operated by hand, while others are electric.

Medium Drain Auger

These come with 50 to 75 feet of cable and work well for major drain cleanings, such as the washing machine or dishwasher. They are suitable for clearing lines 1 1/4 to 4 inches in diameter and are powered by a motor. Don't use a medium drain auger for tubs or showers as they could break the trap.

Large Drain Auger

Large drain augers are used for major work, when the stoppage is in the sewer line that connects to your home to the main sewer line. They are appropriate for clearing lines 3 to 10 inches in diameter. The work is performed from the the drain clean-out, on the main waste pipe leading out of your house. They can usually be found in your basement or crawlspace. In most cases, you'll be clearing out roots or stoppages caused by roots, so you'll need a powerful machine. Don't use a large drain auger in your home's plumbing.

Cable Sizes

Augers offer a variety of cable diameters. A good rule of thumb is a 1/4-inch cable for a 1 1/4- to 1 1/2-inch pipe, a 3/8-inch cable for a 2-inch pipe and a 1/2-inch cable for up to 4 inches. For pipes larger than 4 inches, you may need cable sizes anywhere from 9/16- to 3/4-inch, depending on the size of pipe and type of clog you're dealing with. Such large sizes are usually handled by professional drain cleaners, though you can rent them for home use. Cables also have a head at the end of the wire that's wider than the cable. These heads are commonly bulb-shaped and resemble a spring. They help break up and remove the clog. If you purchase a head separately, you'll need to know the cable's diameter.