Recently our kitchen sink became completely blocked. Neither the previously reviewed Zip-it Drain Cleaner (too short) nor the Drain King (explained later) would have been able to fix the blockage, and we ended up buying an affordable 25-foot cable auger after two doses of chemicals failed to clear the blockage.
Our kitchen sink connects to a pipe in a wall at a right angle bend, and another pipe under the house after which it runs about 15 feet before connecting to a second drain. In order to insert the auger I disconnected the U-bend under the sink (use a bucket to catch the contents) and ran the auger slowly down the pipe into the wall.
When it hit the first 90 degree bend, I tightened the thumbscrew on the canister, and with a little pressure and turning the handle the cable turned the bend (practice makes this easier). When I hit the first real blockage I repeated the procedure and after a few turns and a little more cable I pulled the auger back up. Recognizing a blockage compared to a bend is fairly easy; with a bend a few turns should send the auger end past the bend and it will “jump” around the bend. With a blockage it will remain harder to push more auger down.
In my situation we had multiple partial blockages all the way down to the joint with the second drain, so in all it took about six hours of auguring to clear the drain (the good news is that the drain is now clear the whole length). With practice I can now run about 23 feet of cable down the drain in about five minutes. Any pressure tool would be likely to just push the partial blockages together creating one super blockage. I’ve also seen warnings about using those with older pipes (Our house was built in the 1930′s) as they can blow out some joints under the wrong circumstances.
While much more expensive versions are available (30′ electric augers start at around $140, 100′ ones seem to be more like $2,500) I prefer the simple manual canister auger. You can also get versions that attach to your electric drill, but I find that screwing the end into the blockage and pulling a chunk of it back up (most of it is hair based) seems to work very well. In our house no plug hole is more than about 23 feet from another access point to the drains so this length is both cheap and sufficient for my needs.
It is important to wear gloves as your hands will get dirty when you pull the auger back up. Also, too much pressure on the cable (including too many turns) and you risk kinking it. A kinked cable should be replaced as it is almost impossible to use. All in all, the investment in a cable auger saved an expensive call to the plumber.