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8 Tips for How to Unclog a Bathtub Drain

Our bathtubs are regularly loaded with hair, soap, shampoo, and other products which cause clogs. Here are 8 fantastic tips for how to unclog a bathtub drain.

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We all know how annoying a clogged bathtub can be, especially when you are actually planning for that relaxing bath after a long day, only to realize it’s clogged!

The bathtub drain is, in fact, very prone to clogging simply because it regularly receives so much abuse. After all, it’s regularly loaded with your hair, soap, shampoo, and other products every day, so it’s only natural the drain gradually clogs.

So, how should we unclog the bathtub drain?

Chemical drain cleaner may be the obvious, easiest solution for this problem, but it’s not always ideal. Remember that pouring chemical substances down your bathtub’s drain may pollute the municipal water supply in your area, and not to mention, repeated use of chemicals may damage your pipes over time, which can be more difficult to repair if they crack or break down.

So, what are our options? If using chemicals is the only option, how can we make it safer?

In this guide, we will answer those questions and discuss all you need to know about how to unclog a bathtub drain. By the end of this guide, you’d have learned about:

  • Why the bathtub drain clogged: common reasons
  • Different methods to unclog a bathtub drain
  • Using chemical cleaner: do’s and don’ts
  • How do you stop a bathtub drain from smelling
  • Additional tips to unclog a bathtub drain and keep it unclogged

Without further ado, let us begin from the basics.

Why Your Bathtub Clogged

Your bathtub drain (or shower drain) can clog due to several different reasons. A typical bathroom has more drains than any other room in the house, and these drains will naturally receive various buildup: hair, dirt/sand debris, soap scum, and so on. So, there’s a higher likelihood that they will clog. 

Fortunately, it’s relatively easy to unclog a bathtub drain, but how to unclog the bathtub drain would depend on why it is clogged in the first place and how severe the clog is. 

With that being said, hair is the most likely cause of bathtub (or shower) drain clogs, especially if someone in the house has long hair. Hair fallout from shaving or shampooing is a very common cause of buildup, which may clog your drains (even with shorter hairs.)

However, as mentioned, other buildups like dirt or sand, as well as soap scum, can also clog your drain. Initially, they will cause blockages, slowing the drain, and when not treated, it can cause the drain to be completely blocked.

Two Types of Bathtub Drains

When it comes to the actual drains (not the stoppers), there are two basic types of drains in the bathtub, and most bathtubs typically have at least one of both types.

  1. The main drain, found on the bottom of the bathtub
  2. Overflow drain, found on the side walls of the bathtub

The main drain on the bottom of the bathtub is the one typically clogged. Typically the main drain has a U-shaped or P-shaped pipe. These shapes allow a small amount of water to always stay inside the curve of the pipe, which is initially designed to prevent sewer gas from entering the bathroom via the drain. However, this curve is also typically where clog buildup gets accumulated.

The overflow drain is responsible for collecting water and sending it right to the drain when there’s too much increase in water level, preventing water from overflowing from the bathtub (hence the name “overflow.”) However, there’s very little chance for the overflow drain to clog itself. 

There’s a rare case in which the overflow and the main drains clog together, but in this case, the clog is near the sewer line, and you’ll need professional help to unclog it.

While it’s pretty rare for the overflow drain to clog, due to how the overflow drain works, it will hinder any unclogging method that involves a vacuum (more on this below.)

What’s The Single Best Way to Unclog a Bathtub Drain?

There are many different techniques and methods we can use to unclog a bathtub drain, and as mentioned, the easiest (but not the safest) way is to use a chemical drain cleaner/unblocker.

However, if you want to avoid using chemical substances, there are many other methods you can try.

The thing is, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for all cases. The effectiveness of each method would depend on what’s causing the clog, the size of the clog, location, and other factors. 

How To Unclog a Bathtub Drain: Actionable Tips

How to Unclog a Bathtub Drain

1. How to Unclog a Bathtub Drain: Start With a Thorough Assessment

When choosing your method to unclog the bathtub drain, it’s important to first assess the situation, especially the location of the clog. The very first step you should do is  to check whether the clog is in the P- or U-shaped pipe of the bottom drain. If you could see the clog with naked eyes then consider yourself lucky, and you can quite easily remove the clog by yourself.

If the clog is very close by and visible

You can use a pair of chopsticks or tweezers to remove the clog if it’s very close by and visible, alternatively, you can use a bent wire coat hanger or any small tools (i.e., nose pier) to carefully remove the clog. Make sure to protect your hands with gloves during the cleaning process. 

Be very careful when cleaning the clog, and make sure your tools (especially bent hangers) are not stuck in the pipe. If your tools get stuck, it’s probably best to call professional help right away rather than risking breaking the pipe or other serious plumbing issues. 

If the clog is near the sewer line

Check the draining speed of the overflow drain. If the bottom drain is clogged/slowed down but the overflow drain is draining normally, then most likely the clog is in the P-structure of the bottom drain. However, if the overflow drain is too slow, then it’s possible that the clog is located near the sewer line. If that’s the case, call for professional help.

Cocoon Home Services provides you with an easy way to get help from a professional plumber with just a single tap, click, or phone call. Sign up with Cocoon today, and we’ll send a Cocoon ServicePro to fix your bathtub drain clog right away.

2. How to Unclog a Bathtub Drain: Using Chemical Drain Cleaner

While we wouldn’t recommend using a chemical drain cleaner unless it’s absolutely necessary, there’s no doubt it’s often the most practical and effective option.

However, keep in mind that using chemical solutions too often might corrode the pipe, and obviously, it’s not environmentally friendly. Use it at your own discretion.

When you do decide to use chemical drain cleaning solutions to unclog the bathtub drain, it’s important to do it right to minimize the risk, and you can follow this step-by-step guide:

Step 1: Buy the right type of chemical drain cleaner

  1. Make sure to buy a product that is intended for bathtubs and not other types of drains
  2. Check the back of the product to check the types of pipes it is suitable for. Make sure the product is suitable for your system

There are various brands of chemical drain cleaners for bathtubs available, and you can take the trial and error method until you find a suitable one. If necessary, ask an employee in the store for help. 

Step 2: Read the instructions

Each chemical drain cleaner product has a different set of instructions, typically on the back of the cleaner. Read it carefully and it’s recommended to follow the instructions to a T. If a product advises you to wear protective goggles, it’s best you do so for your own safety. 

Step 3: Remove any standing water

Make sure the bathtub is free of any water. You may need to use a large cup or a bucket to thoroughly remove any remaining water in your bathtub.

Step 4: Carefully pour the solution

Again, refer to the instructions of the product for how much you should pour down the clogged bathtub drain. Remember that any excess amount of chemical solutions inside the drain can permanently damage the pipe and cause serious plumbing problems. 

Use protective gloves and/or Googles as instructed, and be careful not to splash the chemical cleaner as you pour it into the drain. Clear up any spills immediately and carefully.

Step 5: Wait for results

Typically you’ll need to wait around 15 to 30 minutes. Test the drain by turning on the cold water in the bathtub, and check whether the water immediately drains.

Do’s and don’ts when using chemical drain cleaners

  1. Do not mix two different types/brands of chemical drain cleaners
  2. If the solution is not successful in clogging the drain, wait a few hours (ideally, leave it overnight) before using another type of drain cleaner or solution (including baking soda/vinegar solution or other “natural” solutions.)
  3. Do not use hot water immediately after using chemical drain cleaner, test with cold and lukewarm water first
  4. Clean the bathtub completely from spills before using it. The chemicals are potential irritants and may cause health problems when it comes to contact with your skin
  5. If the drain is still unclogged after using chemical drain cleaners, it’s best to not try other methods and call professional help immediately. Mention to them that you’ve used a chemical drain cleaner solution and show them the brand of chemical you’ve used.

3. How to Unclog a Bathtub Drain: Using Vinegar/Baking Soda Solution

If you don’t want to use chemical drain cleaners and want to try safer methods first, then you can try making a vinegar/baking soda solution for unclogging the bathtub drain.

The idea behind this solution is fairly simple: vinegar is acidic, while baking soda is a base. When the two meet, it will cause a chemical reaction to create salt and a large carbon dioxide gas. This reaction is called neutralization, which can help dissolve soap scum buildup, as well as organic waste debris.

To make this solution:

Step 1: Boil water

You’d need at least a liter of water. Boil the water in a tea kettle or a large pot and allow it to come to a boil. 

Step 2: Pour the boiling water

Carefully pour the boiling water into the drain. If you are lucky, doing this alone may successfully unclog the drain, so turn on the cold water faucet on the bathtub to test whether it now drains normally. If not, move on to the next step.

When pouring the boiling water, remember to be careful and avoid splashing the hot water on yourself. Wear protective gear as you see fit.

Step 3: Create the baking soda/vinegar solution

If pouring the hot water did not successfully unclog the bathtub drain, then you can start making the baking soda/vinegar solution by mixing 1 cup of white vinegar and ¼ cup of baking soda. Alternatively, you can simply pour each of them directly into the drain.

Step 4: Wait for reaction and boil water

Allow the vinegar/baking soda solution to sit within the drain for 15 minutes or so. While waiting, fill your tea kettle or large pot with water and bring it to a boil once again.

Step 5: Pour hot water

After 15-20 minutes, pour the boiled water directly down the drain, which will trigger a reaction with the baking soda and vinegar. Test the bathtub with cold water to see if it has unclogged. If not, you may repeat this process as many times as needed, or try another method.

Tip: since baking soda and white vinegar don’t use any chemicals, they are fairly safe to use repeatedly, and in fact, you can use this method as a preventive method to remove small clogs before they cause a full blockage. However, the baking soda/vinegar solution is not very strong and generally may only work for smaller clogs, so you may not be able to rely on this method for more severe/larger clogging.

4. How to Unclog a Bathtub Drain: Using Bio Drain Cleaners

A relatively new method is to use eco-friendly bio drain cleaners to help unclog the bathtub drain.

This new, popular type of drain cleaner uses bacteria and/or enzymes to (slowly) dissolve buildups and especially organic wastes (i.e., hair.) A bio drain cleaner solution is completely safe, including if you have pets or children at home, and is typically more effective than the vinegar/baking soda solution. 

A bio drain cleaner solution would activate the bacterial enzymes, which in turn will feed on the organic waste within the bathtub drain. Being living bacteria, they will multiply to produce more enzymes, which in turn will consume more organic waste over and over again until hopefully the clog is completely removed.

The method of using bio drain cleaner solutions is more or less the same as using chemical drain cleaners, but the process may take longer. 

Keep in mind that while the bio drain cleaner’s bacteria is “working,” you should avoid using other methods including pouring hot water, which may kill the bacteria and render this method useless.

5. How to Unclog a Bathtub Drain: Using Plunger

Just like with other types of drain, a toilet plunger can be effective in unclogging the bathtub drain, especially when it’s caused by hair and soap scum buildup. You can follow this step-by-step guide on how:

Step 1: Remove stopper or strainer

First, you’ll need to remove the drain’s strainer or stopper, depending on the type of bathtub drain you are dealing with. 

The process to remove the stopper/strainer may vary, but in most cases, it will involve removing the screws securing the strainer/stopper and a little bit of twisting and lifting. Once removed, use this chance to thoroughly clean the stopper/strainer to remove any hair and soap buildup.

Step 2: Fill the bathtub

Since the toilet plunger works based on pressure, some standing water in the bathtub is required to create suction. 

So, fill the bathtub with just enough water (a few inches would suffice) to submerge the end of the plunger. Test the plunger to make sure it gets suction, and add more water as needed.

Step 3: Use the plunger

Place the end (the bowl) of the plunger right over the drain, then push and pull it rapidly to create a suction. Wear protective gears as needed, and expect gunk and scum buildup along with dirty water to rush out of the drain as you are plunging it.

Plunge the drain around 10 times or so and release it. Test if there’s any scum/gunk coming out of the drain, and consider adding more force if that’s not the case. Keep plunging until the water drains after you remove the plunger. 

If this technique doesn’t work and the bathtub is still clogged, you may want to test a different method.

6. How to Unclog a Bathtub Drain: How to Clean Strainers and Stoppers

We’ve briefly discussed how to remove strainers/stoppers from your bathtub as we’re discussing the plunger method, and here we’ll have a more in-depth discussion about this method.

With that being said, cleaning strainers and/or stoppers alone can be a great method to get rid of clogging, especially for smaller clogs.

Step 1: Remove strainer/stopper

Remove any screws securing the strainer or stopper. Make sure to keep the screws in a secure place so you won’t lose them. Stoppers may not be secured with any screws, so they tend to be easier to remove. 

Step 2: Clean the strainer/stopper

Once you’ve successfully removed the strainer/stopper, thoroughly clean any gunk or wastes around them. You can scrub the stopper and strainer, and make sure they are thoroughly cleaned, especially from any soap scum or hair.

Step 3: Re-install the stopper and strainer

Replace the stopper back in the drain, and re-screw the strainer(s) back onto the drain. Make sure they are properly replaced the same way you removed them.

Step 4: Test the drain

Turn on the cold faucet of the bathtub to test if it drains properly. If not, you’ll need to use another method.

7. How to Unclog a Bathtub Drain: Using Wet Vacuum to Unclog Bathtub

If you happen to have a wet vacuum lying around, it is actually pretty effective for unclogging a bathtub drain.

After you’ve removed the drain cover (strainer and stopper) of both the main drain and the overflow drain, cover the overflow drain with duct tape. 

Switch on the wet vacuum, then place the hose so that it completely covers the main drain’s opening. Place your palm over the duct tape on top of the overflow drain, then start vacuuming. By doing this, the wet vacuum should pull up hair and other buildups, hopefully unclogging the bathtub. 

8. How to Unclog a Bathtub Drain: Using a Drain Claw

To use this method, obviously, you’ll first need to purchase a long enough drain claw according to your bathtub drain’s type and size, then:

Step 1: Remove the strainer/stopper

Remove the strainer and stopper from the drain. You probably need to unscrew the screws around the strainer before you can remove it. Make sure to place the screws in a safe location while you continue the next steps so you won’t lose them. Use the tips we’ve shared above to thoroughly clean the strainer and stopper.

Step 2: Using the drain claw

Insert the drain claw deep enough until it hits a drain trap (the curved U- or P-shape of the drain). Keep pushing the drain claw through this curve (the claw should bend to follow the shape.)

Step 3: Pull out the claw to clean the clog

The drain claw is designed with small hooks so they can grab hair and gunk as you pull the claw out. Clean the gunk and hair off the drain stick, and repeat this process as needed.

Step 4: Test the bathtub

Turn on the faucet to test whether the water now goes down the drain properly.

Bathtub Clog: When to Get Professional Help

If, after you’ve followed all the techniques and methods we’ve shared above, your bathtub is still clogged, we’d recommend getting professional help right away.
Cocoon Home Services provides you with an easy way to get help from a professional plumber with just a single tap, click, or phone call. Sign up with Cocoon today, and we’ll send a Cocoon Service Pro to unclog your bathtub ASAP.