If there’s one universal constant, it’s that plumbing is gross. That’s true, but whether you live in a house or an apartment, there are certain skills you have to learn in order to keep things running. Clearing drains, be they a kitchen sink, bathroom sink, shower, or tub, doesn’t seem that important until it is.
I’m blessed to live with three women in my family and all of them have long hair. Over time, that beautiful long hair finds its way into the shower drain. Because I’m an amazing guy, it falls to me to unclog the pipes after it becomes a problem.
Chemical products have their place but they’re very hard on your plumbing, not to mention on the environment. Get the right tool for the job: a plumbing snake.
With a plumbing snake, you won’t have a need for toxic substances. These electric drain augers make it a lot simpler to solve the problem at its source. Plus, after you pull that fist-sized ball of hair out of your pipes, your family will think you’re some sort of DIY hero.
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1. DeWalt DCD200B 20V MAX XR Brushless Drain SnakePros:
- DeWalt quality
- Compatible with entire 20V family of batteries
- Cable drum won't harm finishes
- Doesn't come with a battery or charger
- The drum can hold 35 feet but only comes with 25
- Manual states not to use reverse setting unless you have to...weird
I had to search a bit to find this gem, but here it is: the DeWalt DCD200B 20V MAX XR Brushless Drain Snake. This baby allows you to clear drains with a lot less setup. Plus, it’s a cordless solution that uses the same battery and charger as your other DeWalt 20V MAX tools. Unfortunately, this package doesn’t come with a battery or charger.
What is included is a 5/16-inch x 25-foot black oxide drain cable with bulb head. The removable inner drum can accept up to 3/8-inch x 35-foot cable for pipes up to three inches. The fixed outer shroud helps to protect surfaces from the rotating drum. Just like their incredible cordless drills, this tool’s variable speed trigger features an inline forward and reverse system.
The DCD200B also offers a sliding nose cone that allows for simple locking and releasing of cable. A pivoting LED light with three brightness modes provide illumination in dark work areas. And, of course, the ergonomic handle offers a comfortable grip. It even comes with a three-year warranty.
2. Milwaukee 2572B-21 M12 Airsnake Drain Cleaning KitPros:
- Simple effective operation
- Includes various drain seals
- Block sink vents or you may have gunk all over other rooms in the house
- Be careful of too much pressure that may separate pipe connections
- Really expensive but maybe not so much compared to plumber calls?
Not sure if you want to mess with a steel cable and all the sludge? Allow me to present the Milwaukee M12 Airsnake Drain Cleaning Kit. The tool revolves around a small, onboard air compressor. Slap in the rechargeable 12V battery, fire up the compressor, then shoot the compressed air down the line.
It will reach up to 35 feet to break up whatever is blocking your drain pipe. The M12 Airsnake allows the operator to clear clogs without having to remove fixtures or drain covers. The air will even get past vent stacks and tees. Pressure is variable so you can start light and dial it up if need be.
This plumbing snake has the nice side benefit of completely removing grease and sludge from your pipe walls. The kit includes a number of different sizes of drain seals to apply to various sinks, tubs, and toilets, too. A 12V battery and charger are included as well.
3. Milwaukee M18 Fuel Drain Snake with Cable DrivePros:
- 18 Volt power
- Cordless freedom
- Brushless motor
- Potential clutch issues
- Really meant for professional service people
- Pro-grade expensive
I’m feeling a little weird including the Milwaukee M18 Fuel Drain Snake with Cable Drive on this list of best plumbing snakes. All of the other items on the list are really geared toward homeowners who need a great tool once in a while. The M18 Fuel is a professional-grade, cordless tool with a brushless motor designed for heavy-duty, constant use.
But I included it anyway because anything very awesome is going to be expensive. For the price, you could get a large drain cleaning machine. However, what you wouldn’t get is this much power packed into a cordless, compact, and portable device. It’s all up to what you’re looking for. So I included it here for you to get excited about.
The M18 features a Milwaukee PowerState brushless motor with serious power to clear blockages in up to three-inch drain lines. Milwaukee’s RedLithium battery platform is renowned for its lifespan per charge and will power the tool through a bunch of jobs when needed. But the best of all of its features might be the Cable Drive system that maintains a certain feed speed and a twist-lock design to give the operator a nice grip when dealing with the clog.
The kit includes a fully-enclosed drum that houses a 5/16-inch by 35-foot cable with rust-resistant plating, the 2.0Ah battery and charger, and a spiffy-looking storage bucket. Yes, it’s expensive. But do you want a Ferrari or a Honda Civic?
4. Ridgid 55808 PowerClear Drain Cleaning MachinePros:
- Compact size and function
- Good choice for a strong motorized drain snake
- 120V electric power
- No warning markers on the snake for end of line
- Auto-feed feature isn't as stout as larger machines
The Ridgid 55808 PowerClear Drain Cleaning Machine is a really great little gadget that features less power than its big brother drain cleaning machines but a lot more features than your standard pipe snake. It features an auto-feed option to keep your hands free from having to touch the cable while advancing and retrieving the gunk clogging up the works.
The wound steel cable is more heavy-duty than your manual plumbing snake, giving this power tool a longer life with higher strength and more resistance to kinking. While the cable is stored in a drum, the cover is transparent so the operator can gauge how much of the 30 feet you have left to work with.
The Ridgid 55808 runs on 120V power and good for tub, shower, and more. It will handle anything stuck in a pipe from 3/4-inch to 1-1/2-inches in diameter. The included air-powered foot pedal is really nice for remote stopping and starting the auto-feed without having to let go of the cable as well.
5. Milwaukee M12 12V Cordless Auger Snake Drain Cleaning ToolPros:
- 50-foot x 1/4-inch cable
- 12V battery and charger are included
- Compact size for working in tight spaces
- Expensive for what it does
- No auto-feed capability
- There are other Milwaukee tools out there that are more cost-effective
Although there is no auto-feed feature, the Milwaukee M12 12V Cordless Auger Snake Drain Cleaning Tool is a great choice for your go-to drain cleaning magic wand. The kit comes with the Milwaukee 12v plumbing snake tool, a battery charger, and a 2.0Ah rechargeable lithium-ion battery.
It also includes a 5-gallon tool bucket which I initially laughed at because of the simplicity but after seeing the tool in the bucket after cleaning a major clog, it completely makes sense. The 1/4-inch steel cable that comes with the M12 is roughly 50 feet long, a nice size for any home use and even workplace issues.
6. Tacklife 20V Cordless Plumbing SnakePros:
- Great price point
- Auto-feed capability
- Surprisingly durable
- You get what you pay for
- Awkward handle position
- Plastic housing feels cheap
You may be pleasantly surprised with the Tacklife 20V Cordless Plumbing Snake. Yep, that foreign company that no one can really figure out has fabricated another winner. This drain snake is cordless, portable, and features a max rotational speed of 560 RPM. Not bad.
On top of that, the tool has a forward and backward auto-feed feature. Motor speed can be adjusted with a thumb button and the torque is decent. The steel cable measures 1/4-inch by 25 feet so average but still, not bad. The 20V 2.0Ah battery has a significant lifespan per charge and there’s also an onboard LED work light to brighten up those vanity cabinets you’ll find yourself working in.
Forget about referring to the manual because, like almost all of the Tacklife products, it’s incomprehensible. Still, for the price and the head-spinning surprise on how solid this tool is put together, the Tacklife 20V Cordless Plumbing Snake is a great solution for any homeowner. And it’s got almost 1,500 reviews on Amazon! What?!?
7. Populo Electric Drain AugerPros:
- Auto-feed feature
- Comes with tool bag
- Short battery life
- No warning catch at the end of the cable
- Will not accept additional cable sections
The Populo Electric Drain Auger is last on our list and it looks like it was made by the Tacklife people but just in a different color. If you’re looking for a medium-grade power tool that won’t get a workout in a plumbing business, it’s not bad.
It comes with a 20V battery and charger and the battery features a gauge so you’ll know how much power is left. Unfortunately, the battery life isn’t great. That said, for using this on a clogged drain here and there, do you need that strong of a battery? Tough to say for sure.
The motor will get up to 560 RPM (just like the Tacklife plumbing snake) and although the 1/4-inch x 25-foot cable is replaceable, you can’t add to it so you’re stuck with 25 feet. This drain snake surprisingly features a powered auto-feed with forward and reverse feeding capability.
The cable lock setting holds the cable in place while tackling your clog. And there’s also an LED work light (like the Tacklife!) and the rubberized grip provides a solid handle to hold onto. If you’re looking for a cheaper alternative and aren’t looking to go clean out all the drains in the neighborhood, this might work well for you.
How Do You Use a Plumbing Snake?
I always say get the right tool for the job. Well, actually, my dad-in-law says that but I've adopted the phrase since I write these posts and he tells me what to improve on. Still, he's a very wise man.
The right tool to unclog a drain is the tried and true plumbing snake. You might hear it called a drain snake or a pipe snake as well but they're all fairly similar.
A plumbing snake may come in different forms. There are manual pipe snakes that are basically a long cable with a plastic handle. Handheld drum snakes feature a plastic container that houses the cable and makes it easier to twist the assembly.
Electric models may work with a cordless drill or feature a motor of its own to turn the cable. In the case of really big jobs, drain cleaning machines are used by homeowners and professionals to clear out main drain lines.
Although there are a lot of various types of pipe snakes, they all function in the same way. A long, wound steel cable is fed down the pipe that's clogged. There is a cutting bit at the tip of the cable, typically in the form of a diamond-shaped spring, that winds itself into whatever is causing the blockage.
Feeding the cable down the drain is fairly simple. You may have to push and pull a little in order to get the end past any sharp turns or tight curves because of traps or junctions. Continue feeding the snake down until you hit paydirt; you'll know that you're there when you feel a spongy resistance.
Rotate the plumbing snake against the clog until you feel it travel freely again. The auger head on the end of the cable will work itself into whatever is down there. Once the snake bites into the debris and it's loosened, you'll know because water usually begins flowing down the drain.
Gingerly begin pulling the snake back out of the pipe, using a little pressure to work the cable out. Disclaimer: Be careful as the end with all the gunk approaches the drain. It can get pretty gross.
If you're clearing out a drain connected to your bathtub, be sure not to go down the drain. There is a chance that the snake may go the wrong way and cause damage. Use the overflow drain instead.
Can I Snake My Own Drain?
Absolutely, you can snake your own drain. With the right tool, a little know-how, and a lot of patience, anyone be their own plumber. Just remember the plumber's number one golden rule: don't bite your fingernails.
Drain snakes are meant for light jobs with minor obstructions. You know: hair, soap, food, and gunk. These things typically collect in the trap direction below the sink or down the line a little bit.
Remember to be patient as you're feeding the snake down the drain. Your progress is measured in inches, not feet, when it comes to plumbing. Bends are small and clearance is tight. Plus, you can't see what's going on down there unless you have a spare pipe camera laying around.
Also, keep in mind that your time spent on the job will depend on how large the clog is. Big masses of garbage down the line may require you to go through these steps a few times to take care of the issue.
Is It Safe to Snake My Own Drain?
Technically, yes. If you have some common sense and any sort of DIY experience, the process shouldn't take a lot of training. What it takes is a little logic and a whole lot of patience.
There are some issues to keep in mind, however. Because drain augers are essentially a giant wound steel cable, they have the potential to hurt you if used improperly. I highly recommend getting a really good pair of leather work gloves or a specialized glove like the Ridgid Drain Cleaning Mitt. Your fingers will thank you.
Work slowly and take your time. Whipping the cable up in a frenzy will just increase the chance of binding it up. If you slept through physics class, you may not remember that energy can be stored in a kinked cable and released when pulled out of a tight space. Be careful.
The plumbing snakes on this list are meant for smaller jobs that are only a few feet down your kitchen sink or shower drain. For anything serious like tree roots growing through your main sewer line, it would be good to call a plumber unless you're handy with the systems in your house.
If you live in an older house and you have plumbing made up of older galvanized metal, there is a chance (a slight chance, but still a chance) that the sharp end of the pipe snake could scratch it. This could (it's unlikely, but it's possible) result in a rust issue and perhaps a serious issue in the future.
Of course, scary stories like that are typically found on plumbing websites that want your business. What may be worse on your pipes is the use of toxic chemicals to clear blockages. These products are incredibly harmful to your home's systems, not to mention what they do to the environment.
Honestly, you and your home will be a lot better off with a little work and the right tool. Take your time, use your head, and you'll find that clearing your own drain incredibly satisfying, not to mention looking like an absolute hero to the other members of your family.
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