How to Use a Toilet Auger


A clogged toilet can be one of the most frustrating household issues to deal with. While there are chemical drain cleaners available, using a toilet auger (sometimes called a plumber’s snake) is often the quickest and most effective way to clear a clog. Learning how to properly use a toilet auger can save you the hassle and expense of calling a plumber. This comprehensive guide will provide step-by-step instructions on how to effectively use a toilet auger to clear clogs and get your toilet flushing properly again.

Selecting the Right Toilet Auger

Before you can use a toilet auger, you need to make sure you have the right type. There are two main options:

Handheld Toilet Augers

This type of auger has a short 3-6 foot cable that you crank and twist by hand. Handheld augers work well for sinks and toilets. Look for one with a sturdy, unclogging tip that will break through debris.

Closet Augers

Also known as a toilet snake, this auger has a long flexible steel cable normally 25-30 feet long that is stored in a canister. The cable feeds through the toilet and down the drain. A closet auger has more reach than a handheld model.

For toilets, a closet auger is usually the best choice as it can access clogs deep in the drain line. Make sure to get one sized correctly for your toilet drain width.

Preparing to Use the Toilet Auger

Before inserting the auger, take a few steps to get set up:

  • Clear away any items around the toilet to allow unobstructed access.
  • Lay down towels or sheets to soak up any splashes.
  • Put on close-toed shoes for protection in case you drop the auger. Safety goggles are also a good idea.
  • Disconnect the toilet tank lid and set it aside.
  • Flush the toilet to drain as much water from the bowl as possible. Use a cup to scoop out any remaining water.

Emptying the bowl gives you a clear view and prevents splashing when inserting the auger.

Inserting the Auger into the Toilet Trap

With your supplies ready, you can now insert the toilet auger:

  1. Feed the Auger Cable into the Bowl – For a closet auger, feed the end of the steel cable into the bowl opening. For a handheld auger, insert the corkscrew tip.
  2. Position the Cable – Position and lower the cable so it enters the hole at the bottom of the bowl where waste exits. This is called the toilet trap.
  3. Advance the Auger – Once past the toilet trap, slowly crank the handle on a closet auger to advance the cable forward through the trap and into the drain pipe. Take care not to scratch the bowl surface as you turn the auger.
  4. Look for Resistance – Gently push the cable forward looking for areas of resistance which likely indicate a clog. Do not force the cable.

Clearing the Clog

When you encounter resistance as the auger explores the drain line, it’s time to clear the clog:

  • Work the Cable – When the cable tip meets the clogged mass, twist, turn and work the cable in a clockwise motion to sweep away debris and break up the blockage. This may loosen the clog so it can drain.
  • Retract and Advance Again – Retract the cable about 6 inches and push forward again repeating the clockwise turning motion to ensure the drain is fully cleared. Spinning the cable as you retract it will pick up additional debris.
  • Repeat if Needed – If water doesn’t start draining, the clog may need more work to fully clear. Remove the auger fully from the toilet and repeat the process.

Unclogging Tips and Tricks

Follow these handy tips when using your toilet auger to clear clogs quickly and effectively:

  • Go slow when advancing the auger to prevent scratching the toilet or puncturing the drain line.
  • Use an in-and-out motion if you meet a tough clog. This can help break up debris.
  • For liquid clogs, try drilling a small hole through the material by turning the auger tip rapidly in one spot.
  • Pull the auger out periodically to remove clinging debris so it doesn’t re-clog.
  • If you have a double bathroom sink, try feeding the cable down the opposite drain for more downward pressure on the clog.

Removing and Cleaning the Auger

Once the drain is clear and water flows freely, finish up:

  • Extract the Cable – Crank the handle on a closet auger to slowly extract the cable from the drain line. Go slow to avoid leaving scratches.
  • Wipe Off Debris – Use paper towels to wipe off any gunk, hair, or other debris from the auger cable. Proper cleanup prevents bacteria transfer to other drains.
  • Rinse the Cable – Run the auger cable under water or spray with disinfectant. Consult the manufacturer’s care instructions.
  • Store Properly – Wind up the cable neatly before storing a closet auger back in its canister. Ensure the hand crank is secured.

Preventing Future Clogs

Using a toilet auger provides immediate relief, but there are steps you can take to help avoid future clogged drains:

  • Reduce Toilet Paper – Go light on toilet paper usage and don’t flush paper towels which can accumulate.
  • Install a Toilet Filter – Filters catch hair and other debris before it travels down the drain.
  • Do Regular Maintenance – Every 1-2 months, flush your drains with baking soda and vinegar to keep them clear.
  • Hire a Plumber for Major Issues – If DIY methods don’t unclog the toilet, call a professional plumber for assistance.

Knowing how to properly operate a toilet auger is a valuable home maintenance skill. With these tips, you can quickly clear clogs and get your toilet functioning optimally again.

FAQs about Using a Toilet Auger

Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about using toilet augers:

How do I know if I need an auger or a drain snake?

Use an auger specifically designed for toilets. General sink plungers or drum augers for household drains won’t effectively unclog a toilet. The toilet trap and drain line have a wider diameter so require an auger sized specifically for toilets.

Can using an auger damage my toilet?

If used carefully, a toilet auger will not damage your toilet. Avoid scratching the bowl when inserting and removing the cable. Go slowly and don’t force the cable. Also, don’t plunge and auger at the same time as the suction can damage the toilet trap seal.

Why won’t my auger go through the clog?

If the auger won’t penetrate a stubborn clog, the debris may be too densely packed. Try retracting it a few inches and then pushing forward again. Twisting the auger in a boring motion can help drive through dense obstructions. Removing the auger to clear away debris buildup then reinserting may also help in severe clogs.

Is it better to auger a toilet from the top or through the trap underneath?

For maximum leverage and force, the best approach is inserting the auger cable down through the bowl opening rather than up through the trap underneath. Feeding through the bowl allows gravity to help apply pressure downward into the drain line.

Can I use an auger if I have a septic system?

In general, augers are safe and effective for clearing clogs in septic system toilets. Just take extra care not to scratch or puncture the waste pipes which could damage the septic tank. A professional septic service may be needed if DIY augering attempts are unsuccessful.

How can I prevent toilet clogs after using an auger?

Prevent future clogs by installing a toilet filter, limiting toilet paper usage, avoiding flushing debris down toilets, and performing regular drain maintenance. Removing tree roots or fixing underlying plumbing issues may also be needed in case of chronic clogs.


Learning to use a toilet auger is an easy, affordable way to take on one of the most common household plumbing problems. Whether you need to clear a simple obstruction or tackle a major clog, this handy tool can quickly get your toilet flushing freely again. Follow the step-by-step process outlined to safely and effectively use a toilet auger. Combine proper technique with regular drain maintenance to prevent annoying clogs from ever slowing you down again.