The list of things nastier than standing in dirty bathtub water that's ankle deep is definitely not a very long one. It is a scenario, that most of us must have found ourselves in at least once. One may wonder if this filthy situation could be dealt with, without (always) paying a professional plumber or risking not only our own safety but that of our plumbing system too.
Well, the good news is, YES. In most cases, a clogged bathtub drain can be unclogged with simple tools and techniques that range from hot water to fancy chemical drain cleaners.
But what causes bathtub drain clog anyways? It is this disgusting gunk largely composed of accumulated decomposed hair and soap scum along with soap residue and other grime.
The various ways to unclog bathroom drains are discussed later in the article, but before we jump into the solutions, it is important to understand that different tubs have different types of bathtub stoppers, each with a different drain cover too. You must know the type of bathtub drain in your bathtub and how to take it out for the purpose of cleaning. You can also check out our guide on how Drano works so you can deal with clogged sinks and drains at home.
Once you've got this down, let's dive into the solutions.
Boiling it down… literally
First up, we have the most instinctive solutions to unclog a bathtub drain—boiling water!
Boil water and fill up a large cup with it. Allow it to cool a bit before you run water down your bathtub drains. Remember, it must be hot but not boiling water when it is poured down. Depending on the nature and the amount of gunk present, the hot water may soften or break down the large chunk into a smaller size that flows on, thus clearing the path.
Send a (drain) snake down the drain stopper!
If the boiling water doesn't do the job for you, one of the simplest and most effective ways to unclog a bathtub drain is by using what's known as a Drum Auger. The plumber's snake has a long, snake-like chord that swirls down the bathtub drain and its loose coil towards the tip allows it to hold on to all the gunk (like to catch hair or soap scum) present inside. You can then pull back the chord of the drain snake easily and the disgusting gunk in bathtub drains can be disposed of.
This is not like buying a 2 person hot tub. The important thing to note here is that you will be able to fetch more gunk by going through the overflow drain (shown later in the article) instead of the tub drain.
However, this is not a tool that is commonly present in every household and could be an expensive buy for some if you check out your local hardware stores, therefore, another (much cheaper) hair removal tool (shown below) that does almost the same job can be used. The strands of hair get stuck to the little branches of this tool as we pull it out.
Lastly, if you are unable to find this tool around you, a drain claw or drain stick can be made at home out of a regular wire coat hanger using needle nose pliers. Of course, this method will be relatively more challenging to gain access to the gunk and will be much less efficient than the drum auger or the second tool, but if this does the job and the slow draining tub is no more… Who cares, right?
Plunge the bathtub drains
There is a possibility that despite taking out a significant amount of gunk in bathroom drains with the help of tools, the drain still remains choked. We then move on to the next steps, the first of which, is to use a plunger.
To use a plunger, you will have to block the overflow plate of the tub (shown above) with the help of a cloth. This is done to create a vacuum between the two drains to facilitate the unclogging of the bathtub drain.
Once this is done, fill the tub with enough standing water to cover the base of the plunger (a few inches). Applying petroleum jelly on the brim of the tub drain stopper will assist in giving it a better seal around the drain. Now give several strong up and down motions to the bathtub drain stopper to clear the drain passage. If it does not do much, try applying more force to speed up the slow bathtub drain.
You will notice that some small particles of the gunk will come back up. Simply remove those with a paper towel and throw them away. If the bathtub drains and is finally unclogged, remove standing water from the shower drain.
Baking Soda and Vinegar
In case you're unable to successfully clear your clogged drain with the earlier methods, next up, is one of the most accessible drain cleaners: baking soda and vinegar.
As nasty as the idea of baking soda and vinegar in the bathroom is, the effectiveness of this natural solution is widely acknowledged and that is what makes this method one of the most popular and unique home remedies for unclogging the bathtub drain. We also talked about increasing the water pressure in faucets by cleaning them with vinegar and baking soda solution in another article.
The deodorizing property of baking soda takes care of the foul odor, while the acid present in the vinegar breaks down the gunk thus causing it to flow down the drain. This drain cleaner is easy to put together and affordable
In this method, one cup (small) of baking soda is poured down the drain slowly, which is then followed by the same amount of white vinegar. Pour half of the drain cleaner down your shower drain. You will notice a fizzy reaction. Allow this to settle for about 10 minutes in your bathtub drain and then pour hot water down the drain to clean up everything. In most cases, this remedy of baking soda and vinegar has proven to be effective against a slow-draining bathtub.
Note that you can also clean the rest of the bathtub with this combination of baking soda and vinegar. Once this reaction takes place, rinse the whole tub with the help of the shower.
The Chemical Drain Cleaner
If you've tried all the methods discussed above, yet there's no luck, it may be time to seek help from the infamous chemical drain cleaners! Time to put on your gloves and your safety glasses. But before we talk about using the chemicals when the drain clogs, know that at this very point, you can also consider reaching out to a professional plumber, considering the potential hazards of using strong chemicals.
Anyways, if you are anything as stubborn as your drain's clog, you are probably planning to give this yet another shot. While using chemicals, it is EXTREMELY important to wear good quality nitrile or rubber gloves and a face shield (or at least good quality safety glasses). This is one thing you MUST NOT compromise on, at any cost. Wear gloves and other protection, make sure that the room is ventilated, and then begin to tackle the bathtub drain.
Once this is sorted, take your time and read the instructions carefully on the label of the chemical you are planning to use. Manufacturer's instructions regarding harsh chemicals are for your safety. DO NOT EXPERIMENT YOURSELF, such as by mixing different chemicals or cleaners; the chemical reactions could be drastic and harmful. Strictly follow those instructions and if at any moment you feel confused or lost, immediately abort the mission and get in touch with a professional. Do not leave the cleaner in the drains, longer than stated.
It is also important to remember that if you want to use the plunger on your clogged drain, use it before pouring in the chemical, and never after.
Most chemicals, though may have an instant solution to the problem, they also have the potential to cause more damage to the plumbing system, especially your pipes.
Different chemical products may have different procedures; once you have followed the one your product explains, make sure you flush the cleaner down the drain properly. Turn on the tap and see if the bathtub water drains.
Your Last Resort
If you have successfully managed to fail to unclog your clogged bathtub by yourself to save money, remind yourself that you have done everything that was possible within your capacity and at this point, you deserve to treat yourself with a call to the plumber and let them take over the clogged drains or slow draining bathtub. Let the professional do their job!
Sometimes, the urge to save money DYI for kitchen remodeling or plumbing could get us in deeper trouble, resulting in more money spent in the longer run. Therefore, remember, at any point during your attempt to unclog a bathtub drain, you can call up the plumber and let them take over, especially if you can sense that the magnitude of work is large.
Moreover Related to General Plumbing
Additionally, some small tools/extensions have now made their way to the market, and are designed to minimize the gunk that accumulate underneath a drain opening channeling the flow of hair and other foreign objects into one of the quadrants of the drain. If the bathtub or shower drain is not your concern and you'd like to read how to unclog a kitchen sink or how to stop a toilet from running, we've published an article on that as well!
Having discussed all of the methods to help you come out of the clogged bathtub nightmare, let's hope that lethargy does not become a reason for our inability to take baths anymore. It is wise to not let things accumulate to the extent where it becomes this challenging to fix them. To deal with this, make it a habit to clean up your drains of soap scum and long hair. This way, you drain clogs less often.