Toilet Auger vs Snake

For a clogged toilet plumbers recommend first using a plunger, but if a plunger doesn’t work then it’s best to use a toilet auger. There is also what’s called a toilet snake, however, in appearance they look virtually identical to a toilet auger. So, today I will explain whether a toilet auger is the same as a toilet snake.

A toilet auger and toilet snake are the same things, and they are different names for the same tool. Technically, an auger is a tool that is rotated at the top to create more leverage for the piece of metal or in this case the helix wire (snake). But, in practice, these terms are used interchangeably.

Below, I will describe the anatomy of a toilet auger, the different types of plumbing augers/snakes that are used, and when and how one should be used.

Different names for a toilet auger/plumbers snake

A plumbers snake is a piece of wire that varies in length from about 3 feet to 6 feet (1 meter to 2 meters) in length to 10 to 15 feet (3 meters to 5 meters) or more. It has an oval-shaped ending that is wound in a way where it works like a drill bit. In fact, an auger is another word for a drill bit-shaped tool (source).

All are operated by hand. But, some can also be attached to a drill and rotated at very high speed. This makes them less labor-intensive to use.

An auger is a term for a mechanical drill that is operated by turning a piece of wood or metal rod that is at a 90-degree (perpendicular) angle to the drill bit. An auger works by drilling into a clog

When it does so it breaks it up and allows water to pass through. But, it can take a bit of poking and prodding to remove the entire blockage from the sides of the pipe. This provides a lot of mechanical advantage/leverage that makes it easy to use. A much larger version of an auger is also used to dig holes in mud and soil for fence posts.

toilet auger
Image from Amy Jinhuan Yue

This same design is used on a plumbers snake. Where the ‘snake’ part is fed into the drain, and then it’s rotated from the top using the auger. 

There are a range of different snake-type tools used to clean blocked pipes. But, in general, they all work the same. The main differences between different types of plumbers snakes/augers are:

  • Shape of the mechanism used to hold the snake wire
  • The length of the snake wire
  • Whether it’s electrical or mechanical
  • Whether it can fit a drill onto it

The snake on a drain snake, which is different from a toilet auger or toilet snake is typically rolled up into a circle and housed in a foot-wide funnel-shaped mechanism. It’s turned mechanically using a handle that rotates it round and round. A toilet snake/toilet auger also has an almost identical turning mechanism. But, has a broom-type shape that is long and thin. 

There are also drain augers that are motorized. They are plugged into a power supply, inserted into a drain, then turned on to spin and break up a blockage. Some augers also have an attachment near the handle that fits a drill bit. A power drill can be attached to these and used to rotate it.

In general, drain snakes are far longer than a toilet snake. A typical toilet snake is a maximum of 6 feet (2 meters in length). Whereas, a drain snake is 10 to 15 feet (3 to 5 meters) or more.

Do Toilet Augers Work

Unlike a plunger, a toilet auger isn’t very common to have in the home. Therefore, most people aren’t aware of how well a toilet auger works, and when they should be used. Here’s a summary of whether a toilet auger works.

Overall, toilet augers do work. They are recommended by qualified plumbers. Plumbers recommend first trying to clear a blockage using a plunger. If a plunger doesn’t work they recommend using a toilet auger, also called a plumbers snake.

There is also a method of clearing a toilet blockage using dish soap. Dish soap makes things it comes in contact with very slippery. It has been found that leaving pouring about half a cup of dish soap into a blocked toilet can clear a blockage in a lot of cases.

green dish soap

If you don’t have a plunger on hand it can be worthwhile to try. Dish soap is heavier than water so naturally sinks to the bottom of a bowl. If your toilet flushes but backs up afterward, wait until the water level gets down to where it won’t spill over. 

Then pour half a cup of dish soap into the toilet and then flush it. There are numerous videos where people have shown this method works really well.

Difference Between a Drain Snake and a Toilet Snake

There are a few different types of ‘snake’ tools used to clear blocked pipes and drains. The two main types are drain snakes and toilet snakes. Below, is how they differ and why.

Overall, a drain snake has a different base from a toilet snake. The base on a drain snake is a funnel shape. Whereas, a toilet snake is typically the dimensions of a broom or mop. A drain snake is also usually 15 feet or more (3 meters), whereas a toilet snake is typically 6 feet (2 meters) at the most.

A toilet snake is often called a closet auger. This is because when it’s all folded away it fits upright in a closet. It has a hockey stick-shaped handle that you place into a toilet. You then push the snake through the toilet and wind it as you go. 

Here’s a video that shows how a drain snake looks and works:

You can compare that to this video that shows a typical toilet snake:

As you can see one has a long handle similar to the end of a vacuum, broom, or mop. Whereas, a drain snake has a funnel shape.

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