How to Unclog a Bathtub Drain

July 28, 2020 - DIY Plumbing

Unclog your Bathtub Drain:

Do It Yourself Plumbing Repair


Need a quick fix for how to unclog your tub drain?


We’ve all been there!


The water starts inching up during your shower and you know you’ve got a problem. You finish your shower or bath and you’re just hoping that the tub will drain at all, and if it does, it could take up to a few hours. Hopefully, no one has to use the shower after you!


Depending on the cause of the problem and the tools you have available in your home, figuring out how to unclog a tub drain can definitely vary in difficulty. 


But we’re here to help!

In this article, we’ll discuss the potential problems that could be causing the tub drain to be clogged, the possible solutions, things you might need, and ways to fix it, and we’ll also take a look at the different scenarios you might encounter. Whether it’s a typical clogged drain, or you need help figuring out how to unclog a bathtub drain with standing water.


We’re going to take a look at a few different sources and experts for each question so you know your answer will be covered here.

The Possible Causes For the Clog

Bathtubs and drains clog for many different reasons. It can be tough to tell from just looking at the problem but figuring out why can help you understand what the best course of action is to take to fix the clogged drain. That’s why, in this section, we’ll look at some of the possible reasons why your bathtub drain might have clogged.


Why do bathtub drains clog?

“The most common cause of a clogged bathtub is hair. When you bathe or shower, your hair has nowhere to go but down the drain. When it slithers down the drain, it can get stuck to the sides of the piping, building up over time and attaching to other materials—like dead skin or scum—that went down the pipes.”

July 5, 2017, | 5 Culprits of Clogged Bathtub + How to Remove Them | C&W Plumbing


No one likes to think about it, but all of our hair, dead skin, and any dirt, dust, or grime that sticks to our skin throughout the day all have to go somewhere. And that somewhere is down the drain. Ideally, the water carries all of that down the drain and into the sewer or your septic system, but the truth is, it’s not always that simple. Like the answer above says, over time, all that stuff can start to accumulate in our bathtub drains and make it more difficult for them to work properly.


In this next question and answer, we look at some of the other materials and reasons that can contribute to a bathtub drain getting clogged or not draining properly.

Why will my bathtub not drain?

“Over time bathtub drains will develop clogs. This happens when hair and soap scum meet up in the drainpipe and solidify together. Shaving cream or gel is especially good for developing stubborn clogs in the bathtub drain pipe. ... You can use a drain plunger or a snake to clear the drain of a clog.”


This answer is a little ‘cleaner’ than the last one. But the truth is, it’s not really one or the other. The materials this answer lists, like shaving cream, gel or soap scum also contribute to a clogged drain, along with the stuff in the previous answer like hair and dead skin. This is why, eventually, all bathtub drains will get clogged at one point or another. But don’t worry! In most cases, the solution isn’t too difficult! 


Next, we’ll look at one more question and answer set, then we’ll start looking at different options you have to unclog your bathtub drain in the next section.


What causes a slow draining bathtub?

“What Causes a Tub to Drain Slowly? Typically the cause of a slow-draining bathtub is a clog that is restricting water flow. Clogs are usually made up of knotted hair, dirt, grease, and/or soap. They can be difficult to remove because hair can wrap around parts of the drain.”

April 25, 2020 | How to Fix a Slow-Draining Bathtub: Six Methods | Dengarden


The most important potential culprit of a clogged drain that this last answer mentions is knotted hair. While we can expect hair, just like dead skin, to flow down the drain and maybe get stuck on some soap scum like the first answer mentions, hair getting knotted around the drain itself can be a huge cause of a slow-draining bathtub. Depending on if you think that might be the main reason or not, you may want to adapt your plan to fix the problem. Which we’ll get to next.


Whether it’s dirt, grease, soap scum, dead skin, hair, or shaving gel, in the next section, we’ll have an answer for how to best tackle it.


Possible Solutions to Unclog the Drain

Like we said in the first section, the reason your bathtub drain is clogged or draining slowly probably has a pretty big effect on the best way to go about fixing it. However, if you’re not exactly sure what the cause is, there are a few methods you can try that work for most situations. 


Almost every solution in this section can be done with things you have lying around the house. But there are one or two that might require a quick run to your local drugstore.


If you want to get started right away with some things you probably have in the kitchen, you can try the solutions from this upcoming question-and-answer set.


What is the best product to unclog a bathtub?

“Pour ¼ cup of baking soda and 1 cup white vinegar into the drain. If pouring hot water into the drain did not unclog it, use baking soda and vinegar to remove excessive gunk. Wait 15-20 minutes.”

5 Ways to Unclog a Bathtub Drain | wikiHow


This might be the simplest homemade solution available for tackling a clogged or slow draining tub. Baking soda and vinegar are typically available around the house and can help to remove excess gunk from the drain. A method like this can be great to help loosen and remove soap scum, dirt, and grease,  but it’s not going to help with knotted hair that’s wrapped around the drain.


In the next question and answer set, we’ll look at a few more things you can do in combination with vinegar and baking soda to help unclog a bathtub drain.


How do you fix a slow draining bathtub?

“Keeping a few items on hand allows you to fix the slow bathtub drain yourself with little work.

  1. Pour 1/2 cup baking soda into the drain, and follow up with 1 cup white vinegar. ...

  2. Place a plunger head over the bathtub drain opening and plunge four to five times. ...

  3. Use a pipe snake in drains with heavier blockage.”

Dec. 20, 2018, | How to Fix a Slow Bathtub Drain | SF Gate

In this answer, we see some of the next best steps to take after trying the baking soda and vinegar method to make sure that the bathtub drain gets unclogged. Like the answer says, using a plunger after the baking soda and vinegar can help to loosen up any stuff that wasn’t affected by the baking soda and vinegar. After that, using a pipe snake can help to clear up any remaining blockages. Pipe snakes are also especially helpful for clearing up knotted hair and the dirt, grime, and soap scum that’s built up over time.


If you’re still having issues with a clogged bathtub drain after trying that, this next answer covers several more ways to unclog a bathtub drain without a pipe snake.


How do you unclog a bathtub drain without a snake?

“10 Really Easy Ways to Unclog Drains

  1. The Bent Wire Hanger. Simple enough, but surprisingly effective. ...

  2. Baking Soda and Vinegar. Mix 1/3rd of a cup of baking soda with 1/3rd of a cup of vinegar in a measuring cup. ...

  3. The Wet & Dry Vacuum. ...

  4. Boiling Water. ...

  5. Caustic Soda. ...

  6. Cleaning the Pipe. ...

  7. The Drain Snake. ...

  8. Salt and Baking Soda.”

Mar 16, 2011, | 10 Really Easy Ways to Unclog Drains | Wise Bread

These are some great methods and we’ll explain each in one further detail.

The Bent Wire Hanger is pretty close to what you’d expect from the name. Straighten out a wire hanger to the nest of your ability and then bend one end into a little hook. You can then use that hook to pull all kinds of stuff out of your drain, especially hair.

We’ve already covered the Baking Soda and Vinegar method, so we’ll skip that one and go right to the Wet and Dry Vacuum method. The Wet and Dry Vacuum method is specifically for those that have a heavy-duty shop vac or wet vac. The idea is to set it to vacuum liquids and create a tight seal around the drain. Sometimes the vacuum is strong enough to loosen up whatever’s clogging the drain and suck it up.

The Boiling Water method is obviously quite simple. Boil some water and slowly pour it down the drain. This can be combined with the Vinegar and Baking Soda method and is probably one of the first methods you should try, just in case it works. It could save a lot of time. 

Caustic Soda requires care and caution. Caustic Soda is also known as Sodium Hydroxide and can cause chemical burns if not handled properly. For more exact details, we went back to for their advice on how to use Caustic Soda to unclog a bathtub drain: “Pour 3/4 gallon of cold water into a mop bucket and then add 3 cups of caustic soda. Stir it well with an old wooden spoon. It will begin to fizz and heat up. Pour it into the clogged drain and leave for 20-30 minutes, then flush the drain with boiling water. Repeat if necessary.”

We also went ahead and got their step-by-step advice on how to clean the pipe: “First, place an empty bucket underneath the U-shaped pipe (the trap) beneath the sink. The bucket will collect the water that will spill. Using a plumber's wrench, loosen the slip nuts at both ends of the pipe. You should be able to finish the operation by hand. When the trap is free, remove it and turn it upside down, emptying the contents into the bucket. You may also need to fish around inside it for debris and do the same with the pipes that were holding it. An old toothbrush is good for getting the tough gunk out. Rinse the trap with water and then put it all back together.”

We already discussed using a drain snake in our previous question and answer set, so we’ll jump ahead to the last method, Salt and Baking Soda. The Salt and Baking Soda method is similar to the Baking Soda and Vinegar method, except this one, requires boiling water too. Mix a 1:1 ratio of table salt and baking soda and then pour it down the clogged drain. Let it sit for about 15 minutes and then pour boiling water slowly down the drain too.

Clean a Bathtub Drain


Now that you’ve learned all the different causes of a bathtub drain clogging or draining slowly and you’ve learned the different methods you can use to unclog it, in this section we’ll just look at a few sets of questions and answers to go over how you can clean your bathtub drain and keep it clean. If you start to think of it as monthly maintenance work, you can potentially keep your bathtub from ever getting completely clogged to the point where you have to go back to the steps mentioned above.


How do you get the gunk out of the bathtub drain?

“Clean Out Your Drains Using Baking Soda

  1. Boil a kettle of hot water.

  2. Pour a half cup of baking soda down the drain – this breaks up fatty acids and attacks the grime. ...

  3. Once the water has boiled, you can pour it down the drain.

  4. Allow 10 minutes for the baking soda and the hot water to do their magic.”


As you can see, the steps to clean a bathtub drain are quite similar to the steps it takes to unclog a bathtub drain. In the answer, we see boiling water and baking soda, which were some of the ingredients advised to use at the beginning of this post. Taking these steps periodically to keep your drain flowing smoothly can really help in the long run because it prevents too much grime, grease, and other shower byproducts from building up and causing those annoying bathtub clogs.


Another great method to keep a drain running smoothly or to help unclog it is a drain cleaner. There are plenty of different kinds on the market so we wanted to take a look at those in our next question-and-answer set.


What is the best drain cleaner?

“So here is my list of The 10 Best Drain Cleaners.

  1. Green Gobbler GGDIS2CH32 Drain Cleaner. ...

  2. Drano Max Gel Drain Cleaner. ...

  3. Bio-clean Drain Cleaner. ...

  4. Thrift GIDDS-TY Drain Cleaner. ...

  5. Green Gobbler (5 Pack) Drain Cleaner. ...

  6. XIONLAB Drain Cleaner. ...

  7. Professor Amos SuperFast Drain Cleaner. ...

  8. Green Gobbler Ultimate Main Drain Drain Cleaner.”

Jan 20, 2020, | The 10 Best Drain Cleaners | The Architect's Guide

Which drain cleaner you choose is entirely up to you. It’s probably hard to go wrong with any of the ones on this list.


Speaking of drain cleaners, after our baking soda and vinegar method, you may be wondering if there are any other at-home solutions that may be effective at clearing a clogged bathtub drain, so we wanted to look at one more possible solution you may have been wondering about.



Does Coke really unclog drains?

“Does Coke Unclog Drains? Sodas like Pepsi or Coca-Cola can clean the grime off of pipes because of their acidity. However, this is not a quick solution because these sugary sodas leave behind their own film: sugar syrup. ... A better quick and natural solution for fixing a drain blockage is to use vinegar and baking soda.”

Oct 12, 2016 | Will a Can of Coke Really Clean My Drains? | Clog Busters LLC


Like the answer says, while it may be tempting to try to come up with your own backyard drain clog solution, using a soda like Coke or Pepsi might not be the best idea. Not only do they leave behind a sugary film, but this can potentially also attract insects like ants, which would then be a whole extra problem, rather than an easy solution. So if you’re tempted to make your own drain cleaner, stick to the baking soda and vinegar method.


Lastly, we’ll take a look at a few question-and-answer sets that discuss what to do if your bathtub drain is completely clogged and there’s standing water.

Bathtub Drain has Standing Water


This may be the most challenging scenario when it comes to figuring out how to unclog a bathtub drain. If there’s standing water, several of the methods we mentioned above like the Baking Soda and Vinegar method, simply won’t work. So we’ll see which methods are best for this particular situation.

How do you unclog a drain with standing water?


  1. Clear all the blockage from the drain. ...

  2. Remove all standing water from the sink or tub. ...

  3. Clear the overflow drain if there is one, then plug it with a rag. ...

  4. Begin plunging the drain, pushing in and out. ...

  5. Run hot water down the drain for 5-10 minutes to clear any other blockages.

Jul 31, 2019, | How to Unclog a Drain with Standing Water: 12 Steps | wikiHow

The challenging part about this answer is that it requires you to remove all the standing water. This is a relatively simple task if we’re talking about a half-full sink, but a half-full bathtub is a completely different task. Once the standing water has been cleared, the instructions recommend plunging the drain and running hot water down it but clearly doesn’t state how to get the drain to remove the standing water on its own.

The simplest method we know of to address a clogged bathtub drain with standing water is to use a drain cleaner. In the next question and answer set, we’ll discuss why it’s such an effective method for clearing standing water.


What happens if Drano doesn't drain?

“Drano Max Gel, made by SC Johnson, is heavier than water, and usually sinks straight to the source of the clog. ... A drain cleaner uses powerful chemicals to break down these clogs. If Drano fails to clear a clog, though, mechanical means can usually break through it.”

Drano Gel Is Still Sitting on Top of the Standing Water in the Sink | hunker


Since drain cleaners are designed to be heavier than water, they still work to clear clogged drains even in standing water. As the answer states, if the drain cleaner isn’t effective, mechanical means like the Bent Wire Hanger method or a drain snake might be required.



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