9 Tips To Unclog A Bathtub Drain

When you pull the plug after your bath, does the water take a while to drain away? Worse than that, is the water refusing to budge altogether? Have you also noticed strange or unpleasant odors?

These are all signs that your bathtub drain might be blocked. Bathtub drains can get easily clogged. Wastewater contains hair, dirty suds, and other unpleasantries that you can probably well imagine.

So what do you do if you want to remove the blockage? We show you how to unclog a bathroom drain.

1. Remove and clean the strainers and stoppers

Take the strainer and soak it in warm soapy water, preferably overnight. You could also add a small drop of vinegar to act as a caustic to unclog the strainer. If you have stubborn blockages, a toothbrush is an excellent tool for effective cleaning.

You could use another type of brush, but a toothbrush is the ideal size.

Soak the stopper in water and vinegar for about 15 minutes and then lift it out to rub it dry with a cloth.

2. Drain claw

The drain claw, or drain snake as some call it, consists of a long, flexible wire with an auger on one end. The claw is better suited to larger pipes, while the snake prefers narrower outlets. I

Start by inserting the claw into the drain and feed it along the pipe.

When you reach the blockage and feel resistance, twist the drain claw so that the auger bores into the pipe, pushing through the massed debris, breaking it into smaller bits. When you feel the drain claw move more freely, pull it out of the drain.

Next, run the faucet to flush water into the drain. This should wash away the blockage

3. Baking soda and vinegar

Start by pouring a kettle of boiling water down the drain. Next, pour a cup of baking soda into the drain, followed by half a cup of water and half a cup of vinegar.

Cover the drain with the plug and wait about 15 minutes as the solution starts to react. When you hear the fizzing sound, you know the chemical reaction is doing its thing.

After the allotted time, remove the plug and pour another kettle of boiling water down the pipe to remove the blockage.

Top Tip: You could also fill the bathtub and use gravity to do the work for you. When you remove the plug, 40 to 50 gallons of water bearing down on the blockage might be enough to dislodge it.

4. Boiling water

Often the easiest solution to unblocking drains, boiling water is surprisingly effective. The immediate impact of boiling water can cause the debris to move, especially if you have a mass of hardened soap, skin, and hair.

Don’t feel tempted to dump the entire kettle into the drain in one go. Pour it in stages, allowing the hot water to react with the gunk in the pipe. Pause for several seconds before resuming pouring.

If the water disappears, you have been successful.

5. Use a plunger

Plungers use water pressure to dislodge blockages in bathtub drains. Fill the bathtub with enough water to cover the drain. Place a rag in the overflow pipe and position the plunger over the drain hole, ensuring there is a seal.

Now, push down sharply 5 or 6 times to generate the necessary pressure to remove the offending debris from the pipe. On the last stroke, pull the plunger straight off the drain, causing a last pressure surge.

When you lift it free of the hole, the water should drain away rapidly.  

6. Chemical products

Before attempting this method, grab some rubber gloves and eye protection. Chemicals are extremely powerful and can release spatters that cause skin and eye burns. You might also want to invest in a facemask to avoid inhaling vapors.

Caustic soda is a well-known chemical used to lift blockages in domestic drains, but it does cause nasty burns. You can pick up caustic soda from most hardware stores.

Pour 0.75 gallons of cold water into a metal bucket and then add 3 cups of caustic soda. Make sure you stir the solution well using an old wooden spoon, and be careful of splashes.

As the contents mix, it will start to fizz and heat. Pour it into the hole and leave it for 20 to 30 minutes. Now flush the drain with boiling water. If the pipe is still blocked, repeat this process if necessary, until the water runs free.

7. Manually remove it

This method involves getting your hands dirty, as well as a small amount of dismantling work. Place an empty container below the U-bend part of the pipework to catch any excess fluid.

Use a plumbers wrench to loosen the slip nuts at both ends of the pipe. When the nuts are loose enough, continue the process using your hands. When the trap is free, take it out and turn it upside down.

Empty the contents into the container. If some debris remains in the trap, you will need to get your finger inside to fish about. Make sure you do the same with the pipes that attach to the trap.

Finally, rinse the trap with water and reattach. This is an effective way to remove blockages, but it is the most time-consuming method.

Top Tip: Use an old toothbrush to get the stubborn gunk out.

8. Use a plumber’s snake

A plumber’s snake is similar to a drain claw, except it is better suited to unblocking smaller pipes like sinks and bathtubs. However, the technique is the same. Start by inserting the snake into the drain, easing it gently forward.

When you hit the blockage, twist the snake and allow the hooked end to bite into the bottleneck. When you feel the resistance weaken and the snake moves freely, pull it back towards the drain entrance.

Wash away the remnants of the blockage with either a kettle of boiling water or by running the faucet.

9. Call a plumber

You would probably only call a plumber if you have tried all these methods without success. You can find a reliable plumber on sites like Tradehounds, which lists hundreds of options in your local area.

Most plumbers charge by the hour, ranging from $45 to $200. Some plumbers charge a flat rate depending on the job, with typical tasks costing between $175 to $400.

A plumber will get the blockage cleared, and their work is certified, so should you experience any issues resulting from the job, you will be covered.

How to Keep the Bathtub Drain Clear

There are a couple of ways to stop your bathtub drain from clogging. You could keep a solution of water and vinegar handy to empty down the pipe as the water drains away.

One of the most common reasons why a drain clogs is human hair. It washes down the pipe and clings to the sides, matting with waste material, including human skin. Keeping your strainer free of debris is the best way to avoid blockages.

You can also buy dedicated bathtub hair catchers to stop hair from snaking into the drain and building up.  

Unclogging Bathtub Drain FAQ

What can I pour down my bathtub drain to unclog it?

You can use chemical unblockers like caustic soda and Drano, which react with water and eat away at blockages. This is an effective and time-tested method, although there is an element of risk from burns and vapors.

You could also use baking soda and vinegar. It has a similar effect as caustic soda, except it is a little gentler.

What can dissolve hair in a drain?

Caustic soda, vinegar, baking soda, and even bleach dissolve hair, grease and grime commonly associated with bathtub blockages. Also, boiling water may not dissolve hair, but it effectively melts away dried soap scum and human skin flakes.

Other chemical drain unblockers claim to be dedicated hair dissolvers, but be careful because some of these solutions may work, but they also cause damage to your pipes.

How do you unclog a bathtub with standing water?

Baking soda and vinegar are some of the best ways to unblock a drain with standing water. As it reacts with the water, it starts to fizz and eat away at the blockage. Another method is to use a plunger.

The plunger pushes the excess water into the pipe with force. The pressure acts as a strong water flow, ebbing away at the debris until it dislodges.

Don’t Let Your Drain Cause You Strain

So, you have a stagnant pool of water in the bathtub, and it refuses to budge. Relax. All is not lost. As we’ve shown, there are simple methods you can employ to help you arrive at a happy solution.

Before you reach for your phone to book a plumber, give our tips a try. It might leave you feeling satisfied that you sorted the problem without professional help, and it will save you a small fortune on plumbers fees.