How to Fix a Clogged Bathtub Drain

411 plumb In this article I will give you clear easy to follow instructions on how to clear a slow running or clogged bathtub drain. Before you call a plumber to unclog a bathtub drain there are a few easy to do things that you should check yourself. Most tub clogs are caused by hair and in many cases the hair is within easy reach for the Do It Yourself homeowner. A few simple tools and you can often restore the drainage to its full potential. All you need is a screwdriver, pliers, and a piece of fairly stiff wire bent into a hook shape. A mechanic’s parts retriever pictured near the bottom of this page and costs about $5 at auto parts stores also works quite well if you have one or, can get one. The first thing you need to do is gain access to the area of the drain where the hair is most likely to accumulate. Find the type of drain you have pictured below and follow the instructions for that drain. Following the simple steps for removing the hair from your drain in many cases eliminates the need for calling a plumber to clean the drain. Periodic cleanings can keep your drain flowing free and eliminate those disgusting ankle deep showers while half an hour of your time can save you a hundred dollars or more.

Drain Cleaning Chemicals

Drain Cleaning Chemicals are a waste of time and money, and often are corrosive chemicals which can damage the finish and the piping of your tub drain. Since most tub clogs are caused by hair the only permanent effective solution is to remove the hair from the drain. Drain Cleaning Chemicals cannot dissolve hair no matter what they claim in their ads. At best they can strip the soap and conditioner slime that builds up on the hair and allow the tub to drain marginally better for a short period of time.

Pop-Up Type Bathtub Drain

Probably the worst type of drain for catching hair is the pop-up style of drain stopper. There is nothing to stop the hair from leaving the tub and getting into the drain and there is lots of stuff in the drain for it to catch on. The first thing to do is grab hold of the pop-up stopper and lift it out of the drain. It is hinged and bends at the hinges to allow removal and reinsertion into the drain. After removing the pop-up take the 2 screws out of the overflow plate and lever up high on the side of the tub under the spout. With some wiggling and pulling the plate and its attached linkage should pull out of the overflow tube. On the bottom of the linkage there is a wire shaped like a spring and it is almost certain that there will be a large amount of hair wrapped on this. Using the hooked wire or, the mechanics parts retriever, check to see if you can remove any more hair caught in the tub shoe which runs from the tub drain to the tee. Then check down the overflow to the p-trap below. Once you are certain all the hair has been removed reinsert the pop-up stopper into position. It should go in and land in the closed position. After the pop-up stopper is in place reinsert the linkage into the overflow and screw the plate and lever back into position.

Grid Type Bathtub Drain

The grid type bathtub drain is probably the least likely bathtub drain to have a clog. The grid stops a large amount of the hair from going down the drain keeping it right on top of the grid where it can be picked up after using the tub. Some hair may make it through the grid where it then usually accumulates on the screw that secures the grid in place and on the crossbars that the screw threads into. Simply remove the screw securing the grid in place and clean the hair from the cross bars and screw using needle nose pliers, the hooked wire, or, the mechanics parts retriever. Also take the 2 screws out of the overflow plate and lever up high on the side of the tub under the spout. With some wiggling and pulling the plate and its attached linkage should pull out of the overflow tube. On the bottom of the linkage is a barrel shaped piece, this barrel is what blocks the flow of water coming out of the tub. Seldom is this barrel shaped piece a problem but clean it if needed. While the overflow is open check the drain down through the overflow to the p-trap using the hook shaped wire or the mechanics parts retriever to see if there is any hair that is further down in the drain. Once you are certain all the hair that was in the drain has been removed reinstall the parts you have removed back into place.

Lift and Turn, Toe Tap, and Flip Lever Bathtub Drains

The lift and turn, toe tap, and flip lever bathtub drains are just about as notorious for being hair catchers as the pop-up type. Once again there is nothing to stop the hair from leaving the tub. Just like the drains above the stopper will need to be removed to clean the hair out from the drain. With lift and turn drains they are removed by either partially closing the stopper and turning it to unscrew the drain or, removing the knurled knob from the top of the stopper and then unscrewing the screw underneath. Toe tap stoppers remove by just gripping the stopper and unscrewing it. Flip lever stoppers are usually just a push in friction fit device so pulling them out is usually a matter of pulling along with some twisting and rocking. Once the stopper has been removed the hair will be usually caught on the crossbar underneath the stopper where it can be removed with needle nose pliers, the hook shaped wire or, the mechanics parts retriever. Also take the 1 or 2 screws out of the overflow plate and lever up high on the side of the tub under the spout and remove the plate. Check down the overflow tube to the p-trap using the hook shaped wire or, mechanics parts retriever to see if there is any hair further in the drain. Once you are certain all the hair has been removed reattach the overflow plate and stopper back on place.

Cable Controlled Bathtub Drains (Not Pictured)

These drains have a lot of variables as to how they disassemble, but, in most cases the pop-up will just lift out of place. Underneath the stopper there will be a grid with a guide for the stopper and some type of linkage that lowers or raises the pop-up. Lift the stopper out and remove the hair using needle nose pliers, the hook shaped wire or, mechanics parts retriever. Methods used to get into the overflow to remove hair from further in the drain will vary depending on the manufacturer and I would recommend consulting the manufacturer’s instructions to avoid breaking anything.

Additional Information

Most of the bathtub waste and overflow drains are in the configurations shown in the drawings on this web page. However, there are a small percentage of waste and overflows in use that may drain out to the rear horizontally or, may drain straight down from the tub drain, if you have one of these drains some adaptation of the above procedures will be required.

Once you have cleaned the hair out of the drain and reassembled the parts back into their original configuration you are ready to test the drain. Run water into the tub and make sure the stopper is working correctly and the drain is draining properly again. A rule of thumb for a tub drain is that it must keep up with the flow of water from the shower. If you can run the shower and not accumulate water in the tub it is draining okay. If the water continues to build or is completely stopped up after attempting these steps your best bet is to call in a drain cleaning professional to clean the drain line. By following these steps you have cleaned the drain from the tub to the p-trap and cleaning the balance of the drain after the trap is best left to the pro with his professional grade equipment. In many cases you will find success in following these steps and you will save money.

Comments

  1. annie bates says

    i have a clogged bathtub drain that I have tried a mini drtain snake on plus so much of the baking soda and vinegar…It is not hair but I am pretty sure that my cat has pooped down into the drain…He gets angry if the litterbox isnt cleaned out.How I get this hardened material to break up

    • says

      Hi Annie,
      Stop adding stuff to the drain. All you are doing is filling it up with baking soda mud now.
      You haven’t been able to reach the clog yet, but a drain cleaning pro will.
      Redwood

  2. Kristina says

    My tub is clogged but when i removed the plate with the lift rod assembly- the assembly was not connected. I cant get the stopper out. It is stuck. What do I do? PLEASE HELP ME!!

    • says

      Hi Kristina,
      Go to an auto parts store and get the “Mechanic Parts Grabber Tool” pictured in the “Cable Controlled Bathtub Drains” section above. With the overflow plate removed put the parts grabber tool into the overflow. Push in the button on the parts grabber so it opens to grab something, then holding it open lower it into the overflow until it stops. Release the button allowing it to grab then pull upward. Hopefully it will grab the stopper and bring it up and out of the overflow.

      Keep trying and I hope you get it. If you can’t, the next step is a little tougher to do.

      Redwood

  3. JB says

    I have a bathtub drain that is completely blocked. At first, it drained slowly and I used an enzyme type of cleaner to try to get it flowing better. That attempt failed and made it worse (no flow at all). I next tried a 15′ snake. I removed the overflow cover and linkage and barrel (grid type stopper) and put my snake down the pipe. I was able to get about 2′ of snake down when I hit a solid stop. I thought it might be the P-trap, but no amount of twisting the snake in either direction would allow me to feed any more of it down. I next tried sulfuric acid cleaner and put in about 8 ounces and let it sit for 30 minutes. That created some smoke (reacting with water?) but still, no flow. Next, I dumped in several quarts of water to dilute it so I could then scoop it out and start over. Plunging to get most of the remaining liquid out pulled up some nasty black water (dissolved hair and soap?), but still no flow. I then followed with the snake to see if I get it in any farther, but still only got about 2′ of snake in. What next?

    • says

      Hi JB,
      If you have tried all the steps listed in the article above (sulfuric acid wasn’t one of them) then it is time to call a plumber.

      Stop putting acid in the drain and add baking soda to neutralize the acid.
      Add baking soda until the mixture in the drain stops foaming when you add the baking soda.
      Caution the plumber that you used sulfuric acid in the drain before he does any work.

      Redwood

  4. Yoyo says

    Hi. I have a pop up drain stopper. It’s so hard to stick my fingers in their to pull out my long hair. Do you recommend to change my drain stopper? Is it possible to clean out my hair without unscrewing stuff. I’m scared we might unscrew and not be able to screw it back properly. Thank you so much.

    I’m so stressed over this clogged tub.

    • says

      Hi Yoyo,
      The pop-up stopper has to be identified as to which type it is, then removed as described in the article. Some stoppers such as the toe tap and flip lever types may be damaged if you try to force something past it. If you are not confident in your abilities then I would suggest calling a plumber or a drain cleaning company.
      Redwood

  5. Harold says

    My bathtub is draining slow. Really old one… Installed when house was built in the late 1940’s. Just an old stopper drain. Problem when I try to put stiff wire in to unclog, if won’t even start. Is there something there that I don’t know about? Side passageway or something.

    • says

      Hi Harold,
      If you have disassembled the drain and removed all of the hair as described in this article you are probably needing to call in a professional. Just pushing a wire into the drain will not work because the wire will run in to the trap and the wire will not maneuver past the trap. The trap will be either a sharp “U” shaped bend or possibly in an older home such as yours a drum trap. In addition in an older home such as yours there may be a “Lead Bend” which the wire may pierce and would then require plumbing repairs to be made.

      The 2nd to the last sentence in the article, “By following these steps you have cleaned the drain from the tub to the p-trap and cleaning the balance of the drain after the trap is best left to the pro with his professional grade equipment.” is my advise to you.

      Redwood

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