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Toilet Auger vs Drain Snake: What’s the Difference?

Outdoor Toilet

There’s a special kind of disturbance that happens when you flush your toilet and it fails to execute properly. Seeing the water level rising instead of disappearing down the drainpipe brings on waves of emotion. Panic, fear, anger. And getting a clogged toilet is worse than just being gross or being a pain in the butt. It’s inevitable.

Fortunately, there are a couple tools out there that really help you out when things get rough. We’ll focus on two particular options in this article: the toilet auger and snake.

What are Toilet Augers and Snakes? What’s the Difference?

At first glance, these toilet augers and drain snakes seem pretty similar. They both utilize long stretches of flexible coiled cabling, crank handles, and special spear tips.

But there are some definite differences between the two.

Toilet Augers

Toilet augers are normally much more heavy-duty than drain snakes. And as the name implies, they’re specifically for toilets.

Often equipped with special bowl guards—to minimize damage to the porcelain bowl—and manual crank, an auger winds its way down the drain until it reaches the dreaded clog. And it’s here that an auger separates itself from the drain snake.

An auger uses its more rugged design and closed-spear tip to force its way through the obstruction. The goal of an auger is to break down the clog and force it through the sewage system as normal.

Drain Snakes

Snakes are the smaller counterpart to toilet augers. They’re normally not the idea choice for a toilet clog but will work in a pinch if that’s all you’ve got.

drain snake
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

However, snakes are ideal for smaller drains such as sinks and bathtubs.

The biggest difference between drain snakes and augers is how they remove the clogs. While an auger attempts to force its way through and demolish the obstruction, a snake is designed to pull it out the way it came.

Drain snakes are equipped with a special hook-tip that latches on to the blockage that way you can retrieve it. You’ll find some augers that have a hook or grasping tip as well. But they’re more useful in larger diameter pipes simply pushing their way through.


How to Operate a Toilet Auger or Drain Snake

Very few augers or snakes come with an operating guide or user’s manual. And we think this is a pretty bad idea. Failure to properly use either can cause serious damage to your piping or toilet. So, pay close attention if you’ve never used one before.

Operating either an auger or snake is relatively similar. After all, they’re both just flexible cabling. However, there are some key details you should observe.

Using a Toilet Auger

  • Place the auger into toilet bowl with the curved portion of the crank facing into the drainpipe. The actual handle should not go inside the drain only the cabling. Leave a buffer of 4-6 inches of cabling between the drainpipe and the auger handle.
  • Once you’re in position, start guiding the auger down through the drain by turning the crank handle in a clockwise position. DO NOT FORCE ANYTHING. Slow and steady wins the race here.
  • When you reach the clog, stop turning your auger. You’ll know when you’ve reached the clog in your pipe. The crank handle will encounter more than usual resistance than when winding your way down.
  • Now once your auger has encountered the clog, slowly apply more pressure to drive the auger forward and break up the clog. There will be resistance, but don’t force anything. This is when your plumbing system is most susceptible to damage.
  • If you feel that the auger has passed through the blockage (or has latched on if using a hook-tip), slowly withdraw the auger.
  • Once the auger has been cleared from your toilet and you feel you have better drainage, go ahead and flush the toilet. If your blockage has cleared it’s back to business as usual. However, there are some clogs that require multiple auger passes.
Pros of Toilet Augers
  • Heavy duty
  • Mechanical assistance pushing coil through drain
  • Ideal for toilets
Cons of Toilet Augers
  • More expensive
  • Bulkier

Using a Drain Snake

  • Toilet snakes are smaller by design than most augers and don’t necessarily have a crank handle. However, you can still feed the snake in by hand. You may have to rotate the snake different directions to accommodate bends and twists in the plumbing. When doing this, we recommend wearing a pair of gloves. The metal coil can get rough on your hands so it’s best to protect them.
  • Once you get past the initial bends of your toilet’s drainage, you’ll find the snake slides relatively easy through the piping. But eventually, you’ll reach your clog. And once you do, stop.
  • With the tip of the snake at the source of the clog, slowly twist the end into the blockage. And when it can twist no more, attempt to pull out the offending item. Do this carefully. A snake is a simple flexible coil, but when manipulated in unnatural directions (like that of a toilet drain) undue tension will be placed on the coil.
  • After you’ve removed the source of the clog, verify that the toilet is free and clear by giving it a flush. If the clog still remains, you may need to use the snake several times to create a passage.
Pros of Drain Snakes
  • Cheaper
  • More compact
  • Great for smaller drains
Cons of Drain Snakes
  • More delicate
  • Must use hands to manipulate coil

Remember, if either of these techniques fail…Call a professional plumber. They have special equipment that can easily take care of your issue. Better to ask for help clearing a clog than paying for a complete piping repair.


Which Tool is Right for You?

In order to determine which tool is best for you, you really only need to ask one question. Where is your clog located?

If you’ve got a clogged toilet, opt for a toilet auger. They’re specifically designed to handle tough clogs in plumbing. You should only use a drain snake if an auger just isn’t an option.

But if you’ve got a sink or bathtub clog, put the auger away. Go for the snake.


Featured Image Credit: PeakPX

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