Everything You Need to Know on How to Unclog Bathtub or Shower Drains

01.10 - is it worth the money to reglaze bathtubs

Perhaps there is nothing more unpleasant than standing ankle-deep in a pool of murky, soapy water from a blocked drain in the shower or tub. Shower water which drains slowly or does not drain at all is a sure sign that your shower drain is clogged.

As a homeowner, it is vital to investigate the source of the blockage immediately so that you can determine the scale of the needed repair–whether you can fix it yourself or you need to call over a professional plumber to do the job.

Remember, blocked drains are truly a nuisance as they need to be dealt with immediately. Otherwise, it can get worse over time and cause leaks and other problems in the rest of your bathroom. 

Fortunately, if it is a simple case of drainage clogging, it is usually easy to unblock your drain and get it flowing again. So don’t call the plumber just yet and see if the following tutorial will solve the problem.

All that’s required are the appropriate plumbing tools as well as the courage to suppress your gag reflex, and you will soon be able to enjoy using the bathtub and shower again.

But What Causes Clogged Drains in the First Place? 

Blocked drains are often caused by the buildup of soap, oil, lotion, and other shower products that leave scum behind. Once the buildup adheres on the sides of your pipes, it will inevitably accumulate and narrow down the pipe, making the water slow to drain, until it causes a complete blockage.

Not to mention, lint and any strands of hair that get washed down the drain and stick to the residue in the pipes further adds to the blockage. Or sometimes, small items may have fallen and got lodged in the pipes. 

Finally, if you have tried all the regular tips and tricks for unblocking a drain, and the issue still persists, you might want to consider your house’s location. If you live in a rural area, it is possible that tree roots have grown and made its way inside the pipes, thereby causing a blockage.

If you suspect this to be the cause, it is time to hire a plumber who can use a camera to investigate things a little further for you.

Also read our article about 9 Essential Tools and Materials for DIY Plumbing Projects that Every Household Should Have

5 Ways to Unblock a Clogged Bathtub or Shower Drain

There are many different methods for clearing a blocked tub or shower drain. However, keep in mind that some methods will be more effective than others depending on different factors such as the type of drain you have, its configuration, and what exactly is causing the clog in the first place.

For this reason, you may need to try a few different methods to find which one works best for you.

Note that before you try out each of these ways, the first thing you have to do is to uncover the drain and make sure it is open. Then, remove anything that obstructs the drain piece and give it a good scrub. If the drain is still clogged, it is time to try out any of these methods:

Method 1: Boiling Water

If a buildup of soap scum and shampoo is the cause of a slow drain, then pouring down boiling water can solve this problem quickly. To do this, simply fill your kettle with water, boil it, then pour the freshly boiled water down your clogged shower drains.

Give it a few minutes, then pour down more water and see if the problem has been solved. Do note, however, that you should not use this technique if you have PVC pipes as it could cause the joints to loosen.

Also, this tip might not work if the cause of blockage is matted gunks of hair as hot water will not be able to dissolve it. If this method does not unclog your drain, it is time to move onto another method.

Method 2: Use a Plunger

For most plumbers and homeowners, using the good old plunger is a fool-proof way of unclogging drains, but of course, the success of this method still depends on the nature of the clog, as well as the design and size of your drain.

The plunger method is most effective against hair blockages and small items lodged in the drain. It works by simple suction and pressure.

When the rubber cup of the plunger is sealed down over the drain opening and the handle is moved up and down, the pressure of water forced up and down will dislodge most clogs and allow them to continue on through the drain pipes. 

Follow these steps:

  1. Take a plunger and add some water to the tub.
  2. Put the plunger on top of the drain
  3. Push it down with all your might. When you sense that pressure has built up, pull it up to release the trapped air. Do this several times until all the hair and debris clogging the drain resurface.
  4. Collect the foreign materials that resurfaced from the drain and dispose it. 

Pro tip: A small amount of petroleum jelly around the rim of the plunger to help to create a better seal and make the plunger more effective.

Method 3: Baking Soda and Vinegar

If you are not fond of using harsh and potentially toxic commercial cleaning chemicals, this all-natural solution may help you unclog your bathtub or shower drains without a fuss.

The baking soda and vinegar combo is a nod to that elementary school science fair classic—the volcano project.

That same foamy chemical reaction that fueled the supposed volcano also doubles as a powerful home cleaner. If the cause of the block is mostly soap scum, gunk, and balled up hair strands, then a mixture of baking soda and vinegar flushed with water will likely clear it up.

Follow these steps to unclog your shower or bathtub drain:

  1. Make sure there is no standing water in the tub or shower floor. Otherwise, this method will not work.
  2. Measure 1/3 cup of baking soda in a measuring cup.
  3. In another container, measure 1/3 cup of vinegar.
  4. Sprinkle the baking soda in your drainage. Immediately after, pour down the vinegar in the clogged drain. As soon as you combine the two ingredients, it will start fizzing. This is the chemical reaction that will help break up the hair and grime that has caused the blockage in your pipe.
  5. Cover the drain as soon as you pour the vinegar down, as the mixture will foam up quickly, and you want most of the foaming action to be forced downward.
  6. Let the mixture sit for at least 30 minutes to one hour.
  7. Then, pour hot or boiling water down the drain to help flush the mixture through the pipes.

Method 4: Manual Removal

If you suspect that the blockage is due to solid materials like balled up hair strands or small debris caught in the drain, then you may opt to manually take it out.

Here’s the step-by-step process:

  1. Wear a pair of latex or rubber gloves before you start the process.
  2. Remove the drain cover then visually inspect the drain with a flashlight to see if you can identify the clog.
  3. If you notice hair and other drain-clogging materials within reach, simply use your fingers to try and pull out as much as possible.
  4. If it is too nasty for you to use your gloved hands, you can use a straightened wire coat hanger with the end bent into a tiny hook. Feed the wire down the drain to fish out any hair, accumulated soap scum, or other debris that’s causing the clog.
  5. After you have pulled out all that you can, pour boiling water down the drain and replace the drain cover.

Method 5: Plumber’s Snake

If you have tried all other methods but still, the drain remains clogged, maybe it is time to use a plumber’s snake. This tool is handy clog-removing equipment you should have at home if you often struggle with clogged tub or shower drains.

It can be bought at most hardware stores for only a few dollars. It is essentially a long piece of plastic with small prongs on it, and a loop you can put your fingers through at the top.

Follow these steps:

  1. Slowly push and feed the cable down the drain until you think you have reached the clog.
  2. Push it up and down from different angles, then twist the handle of the snake and so that it would lodge with the gunk blocking the drain. Then, bring it back up and out of the drain. Repeat this step until all the stuck up debris gets pulled out.
  3. Once you’re done, run some water to confirm whether the clog has been completely removed.

Method 6: Chemical Drain Cleaning Products

If you tried the previous methods detailed but the problems still persist, it might be time to try drain-cleaning chemicals. Not only are they inexpensive, but they are also quick and easy to use. 

Drain cleaners often contain potassium hydroxide that softens hardened gunk, whereas thioglycolic acid dissolves hair. Other common ingredients include sodium hydroxide, lye, or sulfuric acid. Some of these ingredients are toxic and require special care.

As such, you should not regularly rely on this method, especially if clogged shower drains are frequently a problem at your home. This is because these caustic chemicals are extremely corrosive and its frequent use can cause damage to your pipes and shower fittings over the long term if not used properly.

Not only that, it can also be hazardous for your health if it comes in contact with any part of your body, and harmful for the environment. 

But if your clogging issue is severe enough to warrant the use of these caustic chemicals, make sure to follow the following steps:

  1. Carefully read the instructions before using the product.
  2. Pour a portion of the chemical cleaner into the clogged tub or shower drains according to the instructions in the label.
  3. Leave it for at least one hour to give it adequate time to work.
  4. Then, flush the pipes with hot water to confirm if the blockage has been cleared.



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