5 Tips for Cleaning and Maintaining Your Plumbing Snake

Updated: Feb. 03, 2023

Consistent maintenance of your drain-cleaning equipment reduces effort on site and prolongs its useful lifespan.

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Consider Maintenance as an Investment

Keeping tools and equipment clean and performing recommended maintenance can add years to their useful lifespan and prevent on-site surprises. Sudden failure of critical tools costs your business downtime and reduces the earning potential of your workforce. According to Don Barrows of Roto-Rooter in Stoughton, Massachusetts, performing regular maintenance and paying attention to the operation of equipment is just common sense.

After more than a decade in the field as a Roto-Rooter technician, Barrows has seen a lot, and recommends taking several steps to keep your drain-clearing equipment in top shape.

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Protect the Cable

As the business end of drain-clearing equipment, the cable is exposed to everything in the drainpipe. It may require replacement after a couple of months of use, or it may last up to a year—it all depends upon the technician using the snake. Barrows recommends a product called Snakeoil to protect cables. It inhibits rust, cuts through moisture and covers odors from being in a filthy drain. He applies the oil generously to a new cable with a rag, then once the cable is wound, he sprays more into the drum to ensure full coverage. After the new cable goes into use, he typically applies oil once each week as it’s being retrieved.

Buy Snakeoil now on Amazon.

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Wipe the Snake Clean

The process of clearing a drain provides snake cables with an initial rinse, as the clean water used to flush the drain after breaking up a clog cleans everything in the drainpipe. Rarely, however, does this rinse remove all of the gunk, and water clinging to the cable can pool in the drum and cause the snake to rust. Aside from shortening the life of the cable, rust scale creates messes in customers’ homes that you must clean up, lengthening the duration of the call. Barrows says that holding a rag loosely around the cable with a leather glove while retrieving the snake prevents that water from entering the drum and keeps your cable in top shape.

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Look for Wear While Operating Snake

The lifespan of the cable on drain-cleaning equipment varies greatly, and Barrows says that the technician must feel the degree of wear and make the call on replacement. A cable is usually coiled inside a drum or extended into a drainpipe, preventing opportunities for visual inspection. He advises new technicians to watch the spin of the cable: Fluctuations in the cable of up to an inch represent normal operation; more than that indicates wear. When the wave reaches 2 to 3 inches of movement, it’s time to replace.

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Clean the Snake Retriever Semi-Annually

If the snake has a retriever device attached, Barrows recommends removing it and breaking it down twice a year. Use a parts washer to remove the grime from wheels and bearings, then reassemble and reinstall. His retrievers have three ports that then get a generous dose of fresh grease, as well as a maintenance shot once a month in between cleanings.

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Perform Routine and Basic Maintenance

Although the rest of a drain-cleaning machine does not require the same maintenance frequency that the cable does, don’t forget to do the basics, says Barrows. Every few months, inspect the drive belts (and replace when worn), test the GFI switch in the power cord and if the unit has stair-roller tracks, check that they move freely.

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Teach and Promote Maintenance Routines

Taking the time to prevent rust on your cable and doing routine cleaning and maintenance of the machine’s moving parts keeps you moving from job to job smoothly. Barrows’ company rolls much of this process into van inspections that occur every other month. This ensures that the entire fleet keeps their equipment in top condition and helps new technicians learn the process. A small investment in time can significantly affect your company’s bottom line.

About the expert:

Don Barrows is the operations manager at Roto-Rooter in Stoughton, Massachusetts. He began his career in plumbing with 12 years of service on Roto-Rooter’s front lines as a drain technician and worked his way up the ladder. Overall, he has more than 17 years in the field.

About the author:

Craig Gustafson is a writer and editor based on the East Side of St. Paul, Minnesota. He spent several formative years working on a construction crew and enjoys home-improvement projects of many types. His family has recently purchased a small property in Northern Wisconsin with a shell standing on it, which they look forward to finishing themselves.