How to Unclog a Bathtub Drain

How to unclog a bathtub drain using six effective methods.

Are you finding yourself with an unwanted footbath when showering? Or does it take way too long for the water to drain from your tub? Chances are something is clogging your bathtub drain.

This can be incredibly frustrating since it causes dirt, soap, and other grime to linger and stick to the tub. Knowing how to unclog a bathtub drain properly can relieve frustration and make for a cleaner bathroom.

There are several methods to use, ranging from specific tools to specialized products.

The exact method also depends on where the clog is. If the issue is close to the strainer, it can easily be removed. However, if the clog is further into the drain or piping, you need specific tools, such as a drain claw or snake.

Unclogging the Drain with a Drain Claw

A drain claw is a flexible wire with an auger in one end. The auger has multiple interlocking hooks that allow the claw to grab substances in the pipes. It’s very flexible, so it fits easily into the drain through traps and curves.

Woman Cleaning Clogged Sink Pipe

Follow these steps to unclog your drain with a drain claw successfully:

1. Take the Strainer Out

The strainer is meant to catch large substances to prevent clogs, but some items still find a way past it. Soap and hair are commonly found underneath the strainer, and these can quickly cause trouble.

You might have to loosen a screw first. Find an appropriate screwdriver and turn it counterclockwise to remove. Otherwise, go ahead and lift it out.

2. Take out the Stopper

The stopper is a little further into the drain — it’s usually used instead of or right underneath the strainer. These are easy to take out since you won’t need to remove any screws. All you have to do is twist and lift.

Gunk and grime often accumulate around the drain stopper and strainer; this will cause a clog over time. Clean both parts using a sponge, cloth or a small brush.

3. Insert the Claw

The drain claw can reach far into the drain. When you hit the curved drain trap, keep pushing the claw through to get a thorough clean.

As you pull the claw out, the tiny interlocking hooks will grab anything that might be clogging the drain. Try to clean the hooks as thoroughly as you can. Keeping it clean is crucial if you want to be able to use it again.

4. Test the Drain

After pulling out as much gunk as possible, it’s time to give the drain a test and see if it’s clear. Open the faucet and check if the water runs down the drain smoothly. If there’s still signs of a clog, try again or use one of the other methods below.

Place the stopper back into the drain by pushing and twisting it into place. Insert the strainer and attach the screws if needed.

Unclogging the Drain Using Chemicals

Chemical cleaners can be found in supply stores and online, on sites such as Amazon and Home Depot. These are highly effective at unclogging a drain, but they can also cause pungent fumes so you must keep the room ventilated.

Common chemicals used are sodium hypochlorite and sodium hydroxide. These are effective but can be toxic if mixed with other compounds such as ammonia. If you’re using a product containing these, stay protected and keep the room ventilated.

A popular commercial product is the Drano Max Gel. It’s highly effective and can be used in the sink and bathtub as well as with PVC and metal pipes.

When choosing a product, ensure it’s safe for the type of plumbing you have. It should state everything you need to know on the label.

1. Read the Instructions

When using chemical cleaners, you must follow the instructions carefully. Some cleaners will require you to wear protective gear, such as goggles and gloves. Others require only a small amount of product, while some might need a little more to be effective.

2. Remove Standing Water

If your bathtub drain gave in mid-shower, empty it manually. So, get out a bucket and a large cup. Scoop the water out until the tub is empty.

3. Use the Required Amount of Product

Once you’ve protected yourself with gloves and goggles, pour the required amount of product in and around the drain.

Be careful not to spill the product as you pour. If you do happen to spill, clean it up immediately to avoid stains or damage.

Wait for the product to work its magic. Some will require 15 to 30 minutes while others need longer. Remember to follow the product’s instructions here for the greatest efficiency. To easily remember when it’s done, set a timer.

4. Flush with Cold Water

When the time is up, flush the bath and drain with cool water. Watch as the water leaves the tub and goes into the drain.

If it’s still clogged, there might be a more significant issue than soap scum and hair. We recommend that you call a professional if the drain still leaves your tub full of water.

Take Note

You must never mix different chemicals as this can be very dangerous. The substances could cause a reaction and release toxic fumes into your bathroom and house (1).

Unclogging the Drain Using Home Remedies

For those of you who prefer not to use potentially dangerous chemicals, there are some excellent home remedies to try out:

Method #1: Baking Soda and Vinegar

For this method, all you need is a good amount of boiling water, baking soda, and vinegar. This method is useful for solving minor clogs.

  1. Remove and clean: Start by removing and cleaning the stopper and strainer. Clean them thoroughly to get rid of grime and hair.
  2. Add products: Pour 4 ounces of vinegar and 4 ounces of baking soda directly into the drain. Allow the combo to work for five minutes — set a timer.
  3. Boiling water: Fill a kettle with water and allow it to come to a boil. Pour the boiling water into the drain; this will react with the vinegar and sodium bicarbonate (2).

Method #2: Tweezers

Using tweezers to clean a drain might sound a bit time-consuming, but it’s effective:

  1. Get ready: Remove the strainer and stopper.
  2. Tweezer action: Use the tweezers to pick out clumps of hair that are clogging your drain.

It’s really that simple! This method is best used for clearing blockages that you can see.

Method #3: Plunger

Plungers are highly effective at removing clogs from drains. There are specific models for sinks and bathtubs; these are a little smaller than the usual toilet plunger.

  1. Add water: Fill the tub slightly; the plunger needs a few inches to get proper suction.
  2. Plunge away: Place the plunger directly over the drain. Then, press and pull in rapid motions. Gunk and dirty water might gush out of the drain — so be careful not to get splashed.

If you’re not seeing anything coming out of the drain, add more force. Consider using one of our other methods — if the blockage really isn’t moving, try our vinegar and baking soda combo.

Be Cautious

Never use a plunger after a commercial product because it can still be present if the clog didn’t clear. The chemicals could splash out of the drain and accidentally burn your skin or eyes.

Method #4: Hot Water and Borax

Take Care

When using Borax, wear protective clothing, and rinse all areas thoroughly after use. It can cause skin irritation and is dangerous for children and pets (3).

Borax is used for many cleaning tasks such as cleaning tubs and windows. It’s also very useful at unclogging a drain. This is due to it converting water molecules into hydrogen peroxide (4).

Here’s our recommended method:

  1. Gain access: Use a screwdriver to remove the strainer and stopper.
  2. Add borax: With the help of a funnel, pour 4 ounces of borax into the drain.
  3. Combine with water: Pour two cups of boiling water slowly down the drain.
  4. Wait: Allow the mixture to work for 15 minutes.
  5. Rinse: Flus the tub and drain with cold water.
  6. Repeat: You might need to repeat the process if you’re dealing with stubborn clogs.

Keeping the Drain Clear

Regularly cleaning the stopper and strainer is an ideal way to prevent blockages from occurring in the drain. Hair and soap scum will quickly build up between these parts, which is the most common reason for causing a clog.

Remove the two parts and give them a thorough scrub and rinse with water. You can also use vinegar if there’s stubborn grime in the strainer or stopper.

Once a week, flush the drain using boiling water. Boiling water is effective at dissolving most clogs instantly.

Be Careful

When you pour boiling water into the drain, it might splash, so take care to avoid burns.

Check your drain after replacing the strainer and stopper. Try to fill the tub slightly to see how fast it drains. If it’s still clogged, you might need help from a plumber.

Clogs Away

Clogs in a bathtub can be extremely frustrating — they allow gunk, germs and soap residue to settle in the tub, and on you. Unclogging the drain is often a dreaded task, but if done regularly, it becomes much less stressful and frustrating.

The exact method of how to unclog a bathtub drain depends on where the clog is. You’re sometimes able to fix the issue by clearing the strainer. However, if the clog is further down the drain, you’ll need a drain claw or chemicals.

How often do you clean the drain in your bathtub? Have you tried any home remedies that worked? Share your experience in the comments section below.

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About the Author

Peter Gray

Peter has been a homeowner for 35+ years and has always done his own repair and improvement tasks. As a retired plumber, Peter now spends his time teaching others how they can fix leaks, replace faucets, and make home improvements on a budget.