Unclogging a Toilet with a Snake, Step-by-Step

If you're battling a stubborn clogged toilet, try one more thing before you call in a plumber. Put aside that plunger and grab a toilet snake! Even inexpensive options can clear a clogged toilet with a little know-how. Give a toilet snake a try first!

What Is a Toilet Snake?

Also known as a drain snake, a toilet snake is a wire coil with a pointed, screw-like tip. The wire coil is usually coated in nylon or another material to create a firm but flexible cable.

There are two main kinds of snakes:

  • A power auger snake has a motorized body that puts additional force into the cable, giving you more power to clear clogs deep down the pipe. Since most toilet clogs happen within the 2 'S' curves of the toilet drain, most homeowners won't need a power auger.
  • A toilet auger is a flexible, manual-power snake fed down the toilet by hand. Some may have a hand-powered crank to move the cable further down the pipe efficiently.

How Does a Toilet Snake Work?

Toilet snakes slide through pipes to poke, prod, and pull clogs loose. The point of a snake is usually grooved like a screw to help it bore into anything lodged in your pipes. It's important to find the right snake for your needs. Some heavy-duty plumbing drain snakes may be too sharp or stiff and could damage porcelain toilets or score older pipes. Just be sure you're using a dedicated toilet snake with softer bristles and flexible enough to bend around curved pipes.

Easy, right? Here's how to use a toilet snake, step by step.

Related: How to Fix a Toilet That Won't Flush

How to Use a Toilet Snake

Using a toilet snake is easy but a little gross. Before you start, consider putting a towel on the floor around your toilet to catch any splashes. That towel is also a good landing spot in case you pull up anything unsavory. You'll also need the following:

  • A toilet snake (of course)
  • Rubber gloves
  • A little patience


Step 1: Open the snake. Most DIY toilet snakes have the "head" of the snake taped down. Remove the head and any other ties or tape that might make it tough to feed out the cable once you've started.

Step 2: Insert the head of the snake into the toilet drain.

Step 3: Push the snake down the drain with your hand or with a manual crank. You may need to stop feeding out the line to push the head of the snake around curves.

Step 4: When you can no longer feed in more cable, you've hit the clog. Carefully press the end of the snake into the clog. Feel any give or pressure that indicates the clog is moving or caught on the snake's screw-like end.

Step 5: Retract the snake. You'll pull out the whole clog or a small part of it with a little luck. You may need to repeat Steps 2-5 a few times. (This is where the patience comes in.)

Step 6: When you're confident you've removed the clog, wind up the snake and give the toilet a flush.

Keep an eye on your toilet to see if it's slow to flush for a few days. Occasionally, debris knocked loose by a snake can "settle" further down the pipe and cause lingering problems.

What If The Snake Won't Go Down the Toilet?

If your snake doesn't go down the toilet, you've hit the clog right away. That's good! The most common cause of toilet clogs is a blockage in the toilet trap. That's the first curve in your toilet's "S" shape pipe; you can usually see the outline from the side.

So, why'd they put a sharp curve there? The trap is designed to hold a small amount of standing water and a pocket of air. This prevents foul-smelling sewage odors from rising up into your bathroom, and there are similar traps in every drain in your home!

The Most Common Causes of Clogged Toilets

We know what items we shouldn't flush down the toilet, but even things designed to swirl can cause problems.

Too Much Toilet Paper

Toilet paper is a common culprit behind clogs. The key? Use less – or none at all. Families with a bidet seat or attachment use 75% less toilet paper, lowering the risk of clogs and septic problems. If you need a little TP, opt for thicker toilet paper so you can use less to get the job done.

Flushing the Unflushable

The only thing (relatively) safe to flush is toilet paper, even if the product has "flushable" on the package. Even paper products like tissues or paper towels can cause clogs and blockages. If you've been flushing anything on the list below, find a small trash can to use instead.

  • Baby wipes
  • Makeup wipes
  • Paper toweling
  • Tissues
  • Floss
  • Food
  • Q-tips
  • Cotton Balls

Accidents Happen

Plumbers have seen it all. From wallets and car keys to kids’ toys and jewelry, the number of items accidentally dropped or flushed in toilets illustrates just how much of our daily life intersects with bathrooms!

If you accidentally drop something in the toilet, here's what to do:

  • Grab it. Yep, it's gross, but rolling up your sleeves and diving in digits-first is better than losing the item and risking damage and an expensive repair bill.
  • Don't flush it. If the item has slid beyond reach, close up shop. Place a note on the toilet (or tape it shut) to prevent anyone from using it until you can retrieve the item.

If you can't grab the item by hand, with a plunger, or with a snake, you might have to call in the professionals.

Prevention Is the Best Medicine

In this rare case, bidets are the medicine. Using a bidet improves hygiene, reduces paper waste, fights deforestation, and reduces the risk of a day-ruining clog. Save yourself a real pain in the … neck. Take the Bidet Quiz to find the right bidet model for you, or check out the comparison guide!