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How to Unclog Your Bathtub Drain

How to Unclog Your Bathtub Drain

If you have a clogged bathtub or shower drain, chances are you’ve quickly grown tired of watching water go down the drain slowly.

Even more annoying is taking a shower and having to stand in an inch or two of dirty water until you finish because the water just isn’t going down.

And if you’re in really bad shape, then water isn’t draining at all and you have no choice but to fix your clogged tub.

As you might guess, there is more than one way to solve your clogged bathtub problem. While this might leave your head spinning, it’s actually a good thing.

In fact, plumbers always have a set of things to try. Each tactic is performed until one works.

And as you would suspect, you start with the easiest or most obvious solutions and go from there. Since a stopped-up bathtub drain or any plugged up drain for that matter, isn’t something that happens every day, you may not know where to begin.

Let’s take a look and find a way to get your bath and shower drain unclogged.

What Creates a Clogged Bathtub?

Usually water, dirt, body oils and soap residue is what goes down a bathtub drain. And of course, it’s unavoidable that our hair does too – especially if we have long hair.

Believe it or not, this is not a good mixture. Over time, soap can bind with hair to create some really yucky clumps.

What’s more is these gooey clumps have no trouble sticking to the inner walls of pipes or at the bottom of traps in your plumbing.

As these blockages form, they only attract more soap and hair, not to mention dirt and other grime. Before long, your bath water begins to drain slower and slower until you have an officially clogged bathtub drain.

Aside from pipes getting clogged, so to can the drain assemblies themselves. Pop-up and plunger type drain mechanisms catch a lot of debris by design and need to be cleaned when bath water goes down slow.

Now there are certainly other “things” that can stop up your bathtub.

Depending on the age of your home and your lifestyle, any number of items can lead to a clogged bathtub drain. Below is a list of commonly reported items.

This might help you to consider what could be obstructing your drains, and then how to proceed in the next section.

  • Handheld razor blades or blade covers
  • Shampoo bottle caps
  • Fragments from old wash clothes or luffas
  • Rust from corroding pipes or metal shower shelving
  • Mineral deposits from hard water
  • Bath toys (or any small toy!)
  • Pet fur
  • Paper/plastic labels from shampoo bottles
  • Crumbing grout from shower walls
  • Hair net or plastic shower cap

A lot of items on the above list involve just fishing an object out. Others, as you can see, involve having to break up or nudge for the clog to move along down the drain.

Now that you’ve done some thinking on what might be causing your clogged bathtub, let’s take a look at some of the remedies it takes to repair this frustrating issue.

How to Unclog a Bathtub?

Depending on what’s causing your clogged bathtub drain, you should start with the basics. It may seem obvious, but do your best to do a really good visual inspection.

Remove your drain cover, plate, or tub stopper. You may have to twist your stopper to remove it. Some stoppers even require a screwdriver to remove a small screw before it will lift out.

When ready, shine a flashlight down the drain and look in. If your tub has drained, you should just see some water sitting in the “bottom” of the drain.

This is the P-trap, where water settles on purpose to avoid gases from coming back up.

If you see the cause of your clogged bathtub, then you’re ready to move forward. If not, you can still take the next steps but will be doing so a little blindly.

Plunger method

Usually, the most efficient way to fix a clogged bathtub is with a plunger, similar to how you’d unclog a toilet.

First, get a helper to hold a thick, wet towel over the overflow drain (located near the spout, just below the tub’s rim).

This stops air from escaping, so more pressure can go to the clog. Then simply insert the plunger over the drain (after removing tub stopper) and push it down hard.

Do this repeatedly 5-10 times until the clog is broken up or pushed on.

Drain cleaning tool

If the plunger doesn’t work, it’s time to send something down the drain to break up or push the blockage through.

There’s an affordable product out there that can really do the trick.

Called Zip-It, it’s a drain cleaning tool meant for the most common bathtub clog (or any household drain clog for that matter).

It’s basically a narrow and flexible plastic “band” with sharp teeth that’s easy enough to slide down your drain.

The little, spiky teeth that cover it will grab onto hair and other grime easily and let you pull it back up and out.

It may be a little gross depending on what build-up you’ve got going in your drain, but you’ll be happy to see your water go down effortlessly when you’re all done.

It’s ideal for stopping small clogs before they get bigger, although, it can handle larger ones too – you just have to work a little longer at it since it will just remove bits of clumps a little at a time.

The instruction say to dispose after use, but you can actually keep it around for multiple uses.

While it’s cheap enough, why not hang onto it if it’s still in working condition. Just wash it and store it for your clogged bathtub drain.


Some folks automatically turn to drain openers like Draino when their bathtub gets clogged.

Not only are these chemicals bad for the environment, they actually aren’t proven to always work.

In order to use drain openers, you have to be able to drain your stopped up water enough to pour this stuff down. If it goes down, you’re basically poisoning the water supply.

The ingredients are pretty harsh, and should not be considered safe.

You should especially not use these if you have metal pipes (you could damage them over time, which would lead to even bigger repairs) or if you have a septic tank for your waste water.

Prevent a Bathtub from Clogging

Since one of the biggest reasons a bathtub will become clogged is due to hair and soap, it’s a no-brainer to invest in a hair screen.

Designed just for this purpose, it catches long hair (thin or coarse) that gets loose before it goes down the drain. And of course, because of it’s design, it catches any other objects that may not be appropriate for your drains, e.g. from the list above.

Here is an example of such a screen that will help keep your bath and shower water flowing away normally. You have to clean it out every so often, but that sure beats a clogged bathtub drain!

If you suspect “stuff” is still getting down your drain and accumulating, say because several people use the shower who have long hair, then you can regularly clean out your drain with the drain cleaning tool highlighted above.

Every so often, just reach this tool in and pull up some of the crud.

You’ll be amazed how just doing this will help keep your water

For added measure against soap grime build-up in your drain, you can create a regular maintenance plan.

This involves pouring a 50/50 bleach and water mixture down  your drain to help break down grime and hair strands. plumbers will often recommend this approach for mildly clogged bathtub drains.

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