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.
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.