How to unclog a bathtub drain

How to unclog a bathtub drain

We get a call every month about a pesky bathtub being clogged with too much hair. This is a problem for many homeowners because it is usually accompanied by the unintended effect of pooling water. Standing water is the definition of a standard plumbing issue; we cannot ignore it because we step it in every day when we attempt a morning or afternoon shower.

The water is disgusting, and it comes with health concerns too when water pools for that long. Bacteria starts to grow; mosquitoes use it as a breeding ground, and it might even smell as it collects all your soap and shampoo residue. This is a problem, you can solve this using a chemical drain cleaner, but we understand many people are not comfortable with pouring random chemicals into their drains.

While using chemical drain cleaners might work to unclog your drain problem, there is also a risk of harming your plumbing pipes when choosing this method. Benjamin Franklin Plumbing has a simple solution you can try first before you reach for the chemical cleaners or reach for your phone to call a professional.

We do however recommend you call a professional if the clog persists, as continually trying to fix a clog might cause more a bigger clog or permanent damage to your residential piping. So, our method is simple; it is broken down into steps, and it uses everyday items like vinegar, hot water, and baking soda. This is close to an old elementary school experiment, and you might even find yourself having fun in the process.

Items needed to make a DIY home remedy drain cleaner

  • Kettle of boiled water – about 3 cups
  • Half a cup of baking soda
  • One cup of vinegar
  • Timer

What you will need to do

First thing is first, make sure you have your bathtub drained before you start. Use cups or buckets to remove the standing water from your tub and then proceed to the steps to relieving your bathtub clog.

After you have everything prepared, take the following steps to resolve your clog.

  1. Pour 1 cup of water down your drain
  2. Put the half cup of baking soda down the drain
  3. Mix in the vinegar with your second prepared cup of water
  4. Pour in the vinegar/water mixture down the drain with the added baking soda – Things will begin to bubble/fizz, this is good, it means things are working!
  5. Cover the drain to allow the chemistry to take place between the vinegar and the baking soda
  6. Set the timer for 10minutes to allow the formula to take care of your clog
  7. Pour another cup of boiled water down your drain to flush out the remaining clog

You have followed the above steps, and you can now check up on your drain. Run water and see if water is still pooling in your bathtub. If this treatment worked then congratulations! You did a great job in fixing your drain, and this method can be reapplied to your kitchen sink, bathroom sinks, and any other fixture that uses a drain.

Why should you not resort to using bleach to unclog your bathtub drain?

We do not suggest pouring bleach down your drain as it will kill both good and bad bacteria. Pouring bleach down your pipes is also bad for the piping and wears them down making them weaker and reducing their long life spans. Look for more natural based drain cleaners to fix your clogs. Enzyme-based drain cleaners work well.

Call Benjamin Franklin Plumbing Bay Area today to learn more about how to unclog pesky drains. We are happy to do a full inspection of your plumbing system, resolve your plumbing issues, and provide you with advice on how to preserve your plumbing for years to come so repairs will be limited.

Call: 415-642-4164
Want to learn more about related issues? Check out these other posts!

To unclog a slow draining tub, remove the assembly that opens and closes the drain, then use a drain stick to remove any hair or other material in the drain.

Watch this video to find out more.

Further Information

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VIDEO TRANSCRIPT

A slow draining tub is often caused by hair and other gunk that clogs the assembly that opens and closes the drain, or clogs the P-trap beneath it. This flexible rod with bristles on the end is called a drain stick, and its ideal for pulling out that goop that slows the flow of water. Another option is to remove drain grate itself so you can reach the debris directly.

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4 COMMENTS

Where do I find drain stick. Away only 5 days and dripping hot tap I can’t turn off ( 87 year old widow living isolated and alone)

Can’t clear drain so. Bath near overflowing flooding cottage. I can’t find a plumber. Either. Nearly drowning myself. Can’t rekease drain. Tried skewers. Screwdriver. Videos no good. Terrified.

Hi, Margaret,
A drain stick is not a part of the bathtub itself; it’s a tool that can clear hair-related clogs in a P-trap or S-trap. You can purchase a drain stick at your local home center.
Good luck!

My problem is an unpleasant odour coming through the overflow outlet in my bath. It can’t be blocked, I only bath in the minimum amount of water so the water that might occasionally get into the overflow might be when I clean the bath. The smell doesn’t seem to be coming through the bath plughole. I have a separate shower.
Hoping you can suggest a remedy.
Thankyou.

How to unclog a bathtub drain

Next to the kitchen sink, garbage disposal, and toilet drains, the tub drain gets the most abuse of any drain in the home. We load it up with hair, soap, and hair care products, along with the occasional shampoo bottle cap. Over time, the drain gradually clogs until you find yourself standing in the tub taking a shower with several inches of dirty water lapping at your ankles.

You can easily unclog your bathtub drain with a standard cup-style plunger, but you have to seal the overflow drain first. Tubs essentially have two drains. There’s the familiar one at the bottom of the tub that you close to fill up the tub with water. But there’s also one higher up on the front wall of the tub in line with the faucet spout and the bottom drain. This is called the overflow drain.

Watch Now: How to Unclog a Bathtub Drain With a Plunger

How the Overflow Drain Works

You may never have noticed the overflow drain because many of them look like a solid metal disc rather than a perforated drain cover. But if you look under the bottom edge of the disc, you'll see that it has an opening. This is a secret passage where the water can go if you accidentally overfill the tub. Some overflow drains have visible holes or other features, but they all do the same thing.

The water entering the overflow drain goes into a pipe that feeds into the main tub drain. This presents a problem when you need to plunge the tub. Plungers work on suction power, and the overflow drain (which doesn't close, for obvious reasons) acts as a big air vent that kills the suction. Therefore, you must seal the overflow opening before getting to work with the plunger. The best way to seal an overflow is by covering it with duct tape.

Unclogging bathtub drains can be complicated by restricted access

How to unclog a bathtub drain

Fortunately, most clogs in bathtub drains are caused by buildup of oily hair and scummy soap, and such clogs can frequently be cleared by the homeowner or do-it-yourselfer.

Grab the Gunk

For the typical case of a clogged bathtub drain which has been building up over time, resulting in slower and slower draining, your first and most likely option for success is to try and remove the built up material from the pipe. Wearing rubber gloves remove any trap or strain restricting access to the drain. If you can see the blockage, try and remove it with your fingers, needle-nose pliers, or a coat hanger bent into a small hook on the end.

Plunging the Clog Into Oblivion

Plungers work by forming a seal so they can apply pressure and suction to push and pull on a clog until it breaks up enough for removal or flows down the pipe. If the plunger can’t form a proper seal, it will not be able to do much to break up the blockage. This is why for a plunger to work on a bathtub drain you must first block up any secondary overflow drain. If you can’t see the clog, nor reach the accumulated gunk with a bent wire, then it is time to try the plunger. It is not advised to use a plunger if you suspect something substantial or solid is causing the block–trying to plunge a shampoo cap or part from a child’s toy could just make the situation worse.

Overflow Protection

When removing this cover, cover the main tub drain with a towel. The shield is usually held in place with one or more screws, and you do not want to drop a screw down your drain! Also cover the main drain when you have finished clearing the clog and are putting the shield back into place. You will drop a screw! Many bathtub overflow drains are protected by a shielding plate with the lever controlling the stopper in the tub. It may be possible for you to form a seal without removing this fixture, but it is usually not a tight enough seal for a plunger to work.

Once any covering plate has been removed, stuff a wet rag or towel into the overflow drain to seal it up for using the plunger. Failure to block up the overflow will at the very least result in the plunger being ineffective, and at worst could shoot water or other liquid back at the person wielding the plunger, so make every effort to securely seal the overflow drain without letting anything fall into it. You may need a third hand, perhaps a helpful child, to hold this seal in place while you work the plunger.

Working the Plunger

Place the plunger opening over the bathtub drain. Remember that your goal is to break up the clog, not to try and push it “through”. Plungers work better moving water than moving air, so if you are clearing a slow drain, add water until there is enough standing for the plunger to swish it back and forth in the pipe. Maintaining a tight seal around the drain, make several up and down strokes with the plunger. Afterwards, gently remove the plunger, taking care to avoid splashes as the seal is broken. If some of the blocking material washes up, it is best to remove it with gloved hands to be thrown away, as opposed to trying to wash it back down the drain. Large or resistant clogs may require several attempts, just keep in mind you want to bust the blocking material apart, not compact it tighter.

In the unlikely event that you can neither reach the clog with a wire, nor break it up with a plunger, you should carefully consider calling a professional. It is probable the clog is caused by something substantial requiring extraction and the plumbing could be difficult to reach as well as being substantially rusted or corroded, and there is not much more a homeowner can try without specialized equipment or risk to property. A professional would have the tools and expertise to solve this problem quickly and correctly.

You Can Do It!

However, if you have easy access to the drain pipes, own a handheld drain auger, more powerful plumber’s snake, or a wet/dry shop vacuum, then you do still have options.

In the case of reachable plumbing, often the P-Trap (the tub version of a sink’s U-Trap) can be removed with little effort, providing access to pipes you can clean out with your bent coat hanger and needle-nose pliers.

Snaking a Bathtub Drain

With your “snake”–or drain auger–first bore out the short length of pipe between the main tub drain and where it joins the down-pipe. To reach the other areas when clearing a bathtub drain, feed the cable in through the exposed overflow drain, which will have fewer, more gentle bends along the way than the tub’s bottom drain. Only use an auger on a tub drain as a last resort, and only then if you are sure the stoppage is not between the lower drain and the main pipe where a cable will reach it. The heavy metal tips on most augers will scratch chrome, porcelain, or plastic tub surfaces, so exercise caution not to damage fixtures when using these tools.

Final Rinse

Once you’ve cleared your bathtub drain of the primary blockage, run the hottest water possible through the drain for several minutes, rinsing away anything still clinging to the pipe walls.

Don’t let dirty water submerge your ankles for one more shower! Take these simple steps to a smooth drain

How to unclog a bathtub drain

Nothing interferes with a refreshing shower like a slow-draining bathtub. And that inch or two of water that sneaks up on you is also likely to leave a ring of soap scum and dirt that’s tough to clean.

The cause of this scuzzy situation is commonly a clump of hair gathered in the drain pipe a few inches below the stopper. Fortunately, it’s quick and easy enough remove the stopper and banish that nasty bundle. So act on the guidance that follows to unclog the bathtub and enjoy a delightful shower experience again.

  • 12-gauge wire
  • Wire cutters
  • Needle-nose pliers
  • 4-in-1 screwdriver
  • Rubber gloves
  • Trash bags
  • See full list «
  • Utility knife
  • Liquid dish soap

Step 1

Snip a straight, 6-inch section of 12-gauge wire or coat hanger with your wire cutters. Grab one end of the wire with your needle-nose pliers, about ½” in, and bend it up to make a small hook. You want about a ½”-wide U-shaped hook so hair won’t fall off as you extract it. Set the hook aside.

How to unclog a bathtub drain

Step 2

If you stop your bathtub with a plug, move directly to Step 3. If your tub has a stopper, there are different methods to remove it, depending on type.

  • Removing a drop stopper that you twist half a turn to pop down and close, a screwdriver is required. Usually but not always, a Phillips head will do the job. To take out the stopper, raise it as high as you can. Inside, just under the stopper, you’ll find a small screw on the shaft. Loosen this screw a bit and the top slides off. Set it aside.
  • A push/lock stopper that you push down to lock shut, then push up to release, is easily removed by unscrewing the stopper. The shaft is removable by loosening the screw on the shaft so that the shaft slides up and out. Note: You may need to futz a bit with this screw to get a proper seal when you reinstall the shaft, so be prepared to test the seal and make adjustments.

Step 3

Look inside the drain to see the hair clump. Don your rubber gloves and get a trash bag ready. Insert the hook you made to remove and discard the hair. Carefully cut any remaining hair wrapped around the crosshairs or bars with your utility knife and remove these last bits with your gloved fingers.

Step 4

Remove all your tools and stopper parts from the bathtub and then run the water to see how free-flowing the drain is. Is it draining quickly? Move ahead to Step 6.

Step 5

Still draining slow? Pour some liquid dish soap, up to ¼ cup, into the drain and follow that with a bucket of hot water, poured slowly to lubricate pipes and push through any residue. If you’ve got plastic pipes, use hot water from the tap only; anything hotter could loosen the pipes. For metal pipes, boiling water can be used. If your drain is still running slow, you might have to use a snake or call a plumber.

Step 6

Replace the stopper and clean the bathtub. Clean and dry your hook, too, saving it for future clog-busting duties. To keep clogs at bay, use a drain cover and avoid emptying mop buckets and other liquids likely to contain dust, dirt, lint, and pet hair into your tub.

How to unclog a bathtub drain

Between hair, soap scum, and the like, bathtub drains are no strangers to stubborn clogs. Sure, you can call a plumber every time your bathtub drain is clogged, or you can learn a few quick tricks that professional plumbers use in their own homes.

Read on to learn 3 easy ways you can unclog your bathtub drain on your own.

1. Drain Claw

A drain claw is a handy device when it comes to quickly and easily clearing a clog that has formed within your bathtub drain.

  • Drain claw
  • Screwdriver
  • Tower or Paper Towels

How to Unclog a Bathtub Drain Using a Drain Claw

Directions

Step 1. Remove the strainer and use the screwdriver to remove the stopper. Some bathtubs may only have a stopper and no strainer.
Step 2. Use the towel or paper towels to remove any excess hair and soap scum that has accumulated around the strainer and the stopper.
Step 3. Insert the drain claw into the drain. When the drain claw is deep enough, it will hit the drain trap. Continue pushing the drain claw through the drain trap.
Step 4. Move the drain claw in a slow back-and-forth motion. The drain claw has small interlocking hooks, so it will be able to grab any hair or debris that is clogging the drain.
Step 5. Remove the drain claw and clean it. Test that the clog is cleared by running water.
Step 6. If the clog is cleared, replace the strainer and stopper.

2. Baking Soda and Vinegar

Two household items you likely already have and 30 minutes of your time is all you need to unclog that stubborn bathtub drain.

  • 1 Cup of White Vinegar
  • ¼ Cup of Baking soda
  • Gloves
  • Pot of Boiling Water
  • Screwdriver
  • Towel or Paper Towels

How to Unclog a Bathtub Drain Using Baking Soda and Vinegar

Directions

Step 1. Remove the strainer and use the screwdriver to remove the stopper. Some bathtubs may only have a stopper and no strainer.
Step 2. Use the towel or paper towels to remove any excess hair or soap scum that has accumulated around the strainer and the stopper.
Step 3. Boil a pot of water and carefully pour the water down the clogged bathtub drain.
Step 4. After pouring the boiling water down the bathtub drain, pour ¼ cup of baking soda and 1 cup of white vinegar into the drain. Let sit for 15 to 20 minutes.
Step 5. Boil another pot of water and, after you have let the baking soda-vinegar mixture sit, pour the boiling water down the bathtub drain. Test that the clog is clean by running the water.
Step 6. If the clog is cleared, replace the strainer and stopper.

3. Toilet Plunger

Yep, you read that right. The same handy device used to unclog your toilet can be used to remove stubborn clogs in your bathtub drain too.

  • Screwdriver
  • Toilet Plunger
  • Towel or Paper Towels

How to Unclog a Bathtub Drain Using a Toilet Plunger

Directions

Step 1. Remove the strainer and use the screwdriver to remove the stopper. Some bathtubs may only have a stopper and no strainer.
Step 2. Use the towel or paper towel to remove any excess hair or soap scum that has accumulated around the strainer and the stopper.
Step 3. Fill the bathtub with a few inches of water, just enough to submerge the plunger so it can create suction.
Step 4. Use the plunger as you would in your toilet to suction out an obstruction in the drain and place the plunger bowl over the drain and plunge up and down quickly.
Step 5. After 10 to 15 plunges, check for any dirty water and/or debris coming up from the drain. If not, keep plunging.
Step 6. If you do not see any dirty water and/or debris after plunging, switch to another method.
Step 7. If the clog is cleared, replace the strainer and stopper.

How to unclog a bathtub drain

This post was written with the expertise of Deluxe Plumbing and Heating, a plumber near me in Bethlehem, PA.

We have all been in a situation where we had to struggle against a stubborn kitchen sink, bathtub, toilet, or floor drain clog. All plumbing systems get clogged up now and then, there really is no way to avoid it. I know I have probably used almost every technique from the hot water and baking soda to the drain snake.

A drain snake, or often called a drum auger, is definitely the perfect tool when you have to clear away drain clogs in most situations. It is a simple hand-operated tool that should get the job done. Drain snakes are not that expensive and will save you a lot of money when compared to the cost of having a professional plumber come to clear the clogs. If you are a homeowner, like me, you need to invest in a drum auger so you can have It on hand whenever the time comes. The clique of, “It is better to have it and not need it, than to not have it and need it,” is so true in this situation. It is the same way that it makes sense to have a toilet plunger around for emergencies.

But sometimes, your drain snake may not work as well as you thought. The auger cable might not be able to go down the pipe completely or if it does go down the pipe, it could fail to bring up the debris. So what do you do when using a drain snake doesn’t work? How do you clear the clog if the hand-operated drain snake doesn’t get the job done? There are some situations where even using an auger will not fix your problem. Let you tell you why this might happen and fixes that will get your pipes running smoothly in no time.

You Aren’t Using the Correct Drain Snake

According to HomeDepot, there are a bunch of different types of drain snakes available for different situations. It is very important that you are using the correct one for the job.

  • Toilet Auger: This special auger with a long rod and short cable will not scratch delicate porcelain surfaces. Do not use any other type of auger with toilets.
  • Small Drum Auger: For most routine kitchen or bathroom sink drain clogs, the best choice is the drum style auger, in which the cable is contained inside a rotating canister. Stick with shorter-length cables in the 15- to 25-foot range.
  • Extra-Long Drain Auger: For clogs deeply embedded down the length of your drain or sewer pipes, an extra-long auger that is 50 feet longer or more is the only way to reach the clog.

The Thumbscrew Isn’t Tight Enough

A cable extends from the drum portion of the auger, and at the end of the cable is a metal corkscrew designed to snag the clog. On the drum side is a handle. You push the corkscrew down the drain and then you turn and turn. And then you keep turning for what seems like forever, but nothing is happening. What’s the problem?

When you fail to tighten the thumbscrew is a common reason behind drain snakes that are not working. You must make sure that the thumbscrew that secures the cable inside the drum or handle is securely tightened. If it is not, the cable will not rotate at all when you twist the handle. Rotation is the action that causes the drain snake to pick up the debris; pushing into the clog will not clear it.

The Clog You Are Augering Can’t be Snagged

Clogs that respond best to the metal corkscrew end of the drain snake are clogs that can easily be snagged. Hair clogs are easily snagged by drain snakes. Cooking fat and other soft substances will not catch the corkscrew unless that debris also happens to have hair embedded in it.

Some clogs are just so dense that an ordinary hand drain snake cannot force its way through it. In this case, you have little choice but to rent a power auger or call a plumber to do the job. However, don’t give up too soon. Being patient and not forcing the auger cable may do the trick.

The Drain Snake is Dirty

If you are using a new drain snake, this will not apply since the end is presumably clean. But drain snakes that have previously been used may still have the old clog still embedded in the corkscrew end. You must thoroughly clean this end for it to be effective.

You Are Forcing the Drain Snake

It is very hard to force a drain snake cable through the sharp bends of a fixture P-trap underneath a sink or tub, but many people try to do exactly that—force the cable straight down the drain opening, hoping to get through the trap and to the clog. Instead, you should take the drain trap apart beneath the sink, then insert the drain snake into the horizontal branch drain. It is a rare clog that you cannot clear if you begin with a clear horizontal path into the branch drain.

If you try to force the snake cable through the drain too fast, it sometimes will kink or bend back on itself. You may even find that the cable bends completely back and comes auguring out the same drainpipe you just inserted it into. Extend the snake cable into the drain a few inches at a time, gradually extending it. Once you feel it reach the clog, move even slower. It is the rotation of the cable that will loosen the clog.

A clogged bathtub drain can be a pain, but many times even the most stubborn of clogs can be removed in just a few hours. Most clogged bathtub drains can be cleared with a plunger or by removing and cleaning out the tub stopper. If your bathtub is still clogged after trying these methods, the next step is to use a snake to clear the drain.

A small power snake with a 1/4-inch cable is the preferred tool of choice for clearing a bathtub drain. These tools operate like a power drill, with a front-mounted canister that contains a coiled cable. If you don't already own one, you can rent a small power snake at a tool rental outlet or home improvement center—the cost to rent is usually much less than what it would cost you to call a plumber.

If this is your first time using a power snake, be sure to ask for an explanation on how to use it when you go to rent. Each model can be a little different and you will want to be familiar with the proper use and safety features of your particular power snake.

Watch Now: Easy Tips to Unclog a Bathtub Drain Using a Snake

What You’ll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Motorized drain snake
  • Screwdriver
  • Work gloves

Materials

  • Drop cloth

Instructions

Protect Your Tub

Cover the bottom of the tub with a thick drop cloth before you begin any work. The metal cable on the drain snake can easily scratch porcelain, acrylic, or fiberglass surfaces and leave marks that will be hard to remove from the surface of your tub.

Remove the Overflow Plate

To snake your bathtub drain you will first need to remove the overflow plate to the tub. Behind the overflow plate, you can access the tub drain through the overflow tube. If the drain uses a lever-operated stopper, you will also need to remove the linkage running to the stopper mechanism.

How to unclog a bathtub drain

Feed the Snake

Insert the end of the snake cable into the overflow opening. While wearing work gloves, hold the cable firmly with one hand, using the other hand to run the snake. Slowly and firmly feed the cable into the drain, inserting it as far as you can and locking it down before activating the snake's motor.

Warning

Never attempt to snake through the drain opening in the bottom of the tub—the bend in the drain is normally too sharp for the snake, and you could risk breaking or damaging the pipe.

How to unclog a bathtub drain

Snake the Drain

Activate the drain snake's motor, holding it firmly in place while continuing to feed the cable into the drain. Grasp the machine with your strongest hand and feed the cable with your other. For extra support, kneel on the floor of the tub and rest your arm on your leg. Keep in mind, a slow motor speed usually produces the best results.

Keep the cable no more than a foot out of the overflow to prevent kinking. If the cable begins to bend or kink, pull it back then feed it forward again more slowly. Sometimes a large clog will cause this type of tension. Pull the cable out every so often to make sure you haven't already hooked the clog on the tip of the cable.

Tub drains usually tie in with the toilet mainline in less than 10 feet. If you've run more than 10 feet of cable into the pipe and have not cleared the stoppage, it's possible that the cable went up the vent line and not down the drain after it hit the trap (you can sometimes even hear the cable going up inside the wall). To remedy this, extract the cable partway, then run the motor in reverse while feeding the cable forward again. This usually makes the cable feed in the right direction.

Extract the Snake

If you feel you've penetrated the clog, you can run some water into the tub to see if it flows freely down the drain and past the snake's cable. If so, carefully extract the cable from the drain by running the snake's motor in reverse as you slowly extract it. After removing the cable, run hot water into the tub for several minutes to flush any extra debris through the drain.