Turbo Snake: a money drain, not a plumbing solution

The product: Turbo Snake
The price: $23.98, including shipping and handling, for two packages with four snakes. Retail price is $9.99 for 1 package of 2 snakes
The claim: Instantly clears slow-moving drains
The Buy-o-meter rating:
2 out of 5

Turbo Snake claims to be the "fastest, easiest" way to unclog drains. Although it does grab the hair that lives in most drains, it's no match for serious clogs that bring water to a standstill.

The arm's length of PVC-coated wire is capped with a swatch of Velcro, which the OnTel Products Corporation calls its "specially designed head." I'm still not sure what's special about Velcro glued to a piece of plastic-covered wire.

Turbo Snake is a simple device. Uncoil the wire, stuff it down the sink or tub drain, give a twist and haul 'er up. "You don't even have to remove the stopper," says pitchman Anthony Sullivan, whose grinning kisser graces the snake's package.

In advertisements, Turbo Snake slithers down see-through plumbing to attack a wad of hair, which easily surrenders.

I tested Turbo Snake on several drains -- though no water-stopping clogs -- and found it tricky to navigate through pipes and slippery when wet. Also, its plastic coating is easily nicked. Every trial, however, did bring up a nauseating clump of soap-soaked hair.

A water-stopping clog, however, is a different animal, says Tim Rucker, director of training for Plumbers & Fitters Local 521 in West Virginia.

Rucker says serious clogs are amalgams of hair, shampoo, conditioner and shaving cream that narrow a pipe like plaque narrows an aorta. By the time a sink stops draining, the plumbing is so choked with gooey or rock-hard residue that only a snake with a sharp coil or scraping blade can loosen that code-blue plug. A stretch of plastic-coated wire will only tickle a tough clog, Rucker says, though it can remove a loose tangle of hair.

In stores, Turbo Snake costs $9.99 for a sink snake, shower and tub snake, and a plastic storage hook that keeps Turbo Snake close in case of a plumbing emergency. The price seems about right.

Television and the Internet doubles the deal -- you get four snakes -- but also doubles the shipping and handling, boosting the price to $23.98. That's a lot to pay for a gadget that, experts say, that will recoil from the hard clogs that most often keep water from running down the drain.
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