How to Unclog a Bathtub Drain [5 Drain-Clearing Steps]

To unclog your bathtub drain, begin by removing the drain stopper. Once you have access to the drain, insert a drain snake or auger into the drain and rotate it to grab hair and other clogs. Pull the snake out to remove clogs in upper portions of your plumbing. If this step is not enough to unclog your drain, use a plunger to help break up the clog. Next, pour a chemical drain cleaner down your drain to destroy clogs and kill bacteria. If this doesn’t work—or if you prefer not to use chemicals—make a foaming drain cleaner from baking soda, vinegar, and hot water.

How to unclog bathtub drain

5 Steps to Unclog a Stubborn Bathtub Drain

Before you call in the professional plumbers, there are steps you can take to unclog a bathtub drain. No prior plumbing experience is necessary. With a few simple tools and techniques, you can unclog your bathtub. Here’s how:

Remove the Stopper or Strainer

If your drain has a stopper, you should remove it to begin unclogging your drain. The drain stopper is the cover over your drain that you leave open to drain water as you shower, or close so you can fill your bathtub. To remove your drain stopper:

  • With one hand, press down on the wide, circular portion of the stopper so that it cannot turn.
  • With your free hand, turn the knob on the top of the stopper counter-clockwise to remove it.
  • With the top knob removed, insert a flathead screwdriver into the exposed stopper assembly. Turn it counter-clockwise to unscrew it.
  • Grasp and pull the entire stopper upward to remove it.

If there is no way to unscrew the assembly once the top knob is removed, follow these steps once you’ve taken off the knob:

  • Lift up the stopper as high as you can. 
  • Use a flashlight to look for a small set screw under the wide portion of the stopper. 
  • Use a small flathead screwdriver to loosen the set screw, but do not fully remove it (it could fall down the drain).
  • Pull the stopper up to fully remove it.

If there is a mesh strainer in your drain, remove this as well. Strainers can contribute to clogs. Once your stopper is removed, you can more easily work to resolve the clog.

Use a Drain Snake

With your stopper removed, use a drain snake to remove clogs caused by hair, soap, and other debris. It’s essential to feed the drain snake (also sometimes called a drain auger) as deep as possible into the drain. Then, rotate the drain snake in a circular motion so that it grabs debris. Pull it out, remove hair and debris from the snake, and repeat 3–5 times.

  • Use this inexpensive and effective drain snake to quickly remove hair from bathtub drains.
  • Feed your drain snake deep into the drain, then rotate it in circles. 2–3 circles should be enough to help the snake snag hair and other debris.
  • Pull the drain snake back out of the drain and remove the hair from the snake.
  • Snake the drain 3–5 times, then run the water to see if your drain is working properly.

Although a simple drain snake that you twist by hand is suitable for most bathroom clogs, if you’re facing a tough clog, invest in this wire drain auger with a crank handle. These heavy-duty augers are very good at snagging and removing foreign bodies from drains.

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Break Up Deep Clogs with a Plunger

Plungers aren’t just for toilet clogs. In fact, they are excellent for breaking up drain clogs that are too deep in your plumbing for a drain snake to reach. In order to use a plunger to unclog your bathroom, follow these steps:

  • Tape over the overflow drain with duct tape to prevent air from escaping. The overflow drain is the round metal cover on the front wall of your tub, directly below the faucet.
  • Fill your tub with a thin layer of water. If your drain is clogged, just run the bathtub for 10–20 seconds.
  • Spread a thin layer of petroleum jelly on the portion of the plunger that will be pressed to the tub bottom. This creates a better seal.
  • Press the plunger firmly over the drain. Cover the entire drain.
  • Push and pull the plunger 5–6 times. Do not allow the seal between the plunger and the tub to break.
  • Bend the plunger handle downward to break the seal. Observe to see if the drain is working properly.
  • If the drain is still clogged, repeat the plunging step 3–5 times.

This plunger method pushes and pulls water deep into the drain, which breaks up stubborn clogs. You can defeat some very tough drain clogs with this step.

Use a Commercial Drain Cleaner

After you’ve finished plunging the drain, use a drain cleaner to destroy clogs, residue, and bacteria in your plumbing. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for using the drain cleaner you choose.

  • This drain clog remover is a great choice for destroying clogs and breaking up residue.
  • Pour the drain clog remover into your drain according to the instructions on the bottle.
  • Wait for the clog remover to work, then run hot water down your drain to see if it is functioning properly.

Although you may be wary about using chemical drain cleaner, most modern products are engineered to be safe for plumbing. As an added bonus, drain cleaners are one of the most effective ways to get rid of drain flies.

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Make a Homemade Clog-Buster

If you don’t want to use a chemical drain clog remover—or if your bathtub is still draining slowly after the previous steps—you can make an excellent clog remover from household products. This is a natural way to unclog a bathtub, and it works great. Here’s how it’s done:

  • Pour 1.5 cups (200 g) of baking soda into the drain.
  • Bring 3 cups (700 ml) of water to a boil.
  • Mix 3 cups of vinegar with the boiling water.
  • Pour the vinegar/boiling water mixture into the drain.
  • Allow the drain cleaner to work overnight.
  • In the morning, pour 4 cups (950 ml) of boiling water into the drain.

Boiling water helps to break up clogs on its own, but the acetic acid in vinegar increases this power, destroying all sorts of plumbing clogs. By adding baking soda to the drain beforehand, the vinegar/water mixture will foam when it’s poured in. This spreads the drain cleaner to every inch of your plumbing. This will infiltrate clogs and break them apart. 

Will Coca-Cola Unclog a Bathtub Drain?

Coca-Cola and other sodas are far less powerful than commercial drain cleaners or a homemade drain cleaner with vinegar, baking soda, and water. Although pouring Coca-Cola can sometimes clear a mild clog, it won’t work on stubborn clogs. Instead, you may end up with a sticky mess in the bottom of your bathtub that attracts flies and pests.

Will Bleach Unclog Your Bathtub Drain?

You should never pour bleach down a drain to clear a clog. Bleach can release noxious fumes that are dangerous to breathe in. Plus, bleach can be extremely harmful to septic systems. To make matters worse, bleach is basic, not acidic. So, it won’t work to eat through tough drain clogs. Instead, use a commercial drain clog remover or a mixture of vinegar and hot water.

How Do You Unclog a Shower Drain?

You can unclog a shower or bathtub drain yourself. To get the job done quickly and prevent future clogs, just follow these steps:

  • Remove the drain stopper so you have access to the drain.
  • Snake the drain to snag hair and other debris clogs.
  • Fill the tub with a small amount of water, tape over the overflow drain, and use a plunger to break up deep clogs.
  • Pour a chemical drain clog remover down the drain, according to instructions on the bottle.
  • Make a homemade foaming drain cleaner by pouring baking soda down your drain, followed by a 50/50 mixture of boiling water and vinegar.

These steps will break up even the most stubborn drain clogs. Once your drain is working properly again, replace the stopper and resume using your tub as usual. If for any reason the drain is not properly working after these steps, it’s time to call a professional plumber. Clogs that resist this 5-step process mean there is a very serious drain clog or damage to your plumbing.

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