How to Unclog a Bathtub Drain the Safe & Easy Ways
The number one rule on how to unclog a bathtub or any drain for that matter is to never use toxic drain cleaners. Why not? Let’s save that list for later.
#1 Safe and Easy Way to Unclog a Bathtub: Clean the Tub Stopper Filter
If the bathtub drains slowly (yet isn’t fully clogged) you can sometimes just pop out the stopper. Then use your fingers (gloved is ok) and clean out the filter and yuck area underneath the stopper.
Need Help Knowing How to Pop Out the Bathtub Stopper?
Take a look at your bathtub stopper. Does it look like one of these photos? If so, follow the directions alongside the photo to pop out the stopper.
Toe Touch Bathtub Stopper
Is it a “Toe Touch” Bathtub Stopper like this one or the one pictured above?
First push down to open the stopper (like emptying the tub). Then hold the shaft while turning the top counter-clockwise and lift out the stopper. Unscrew the cap and lift the stopper off the strainer. Now you can clean out hair and other debris in the strainer. Often, that’s all you’ll need to do to get the bathtub draining again!
Push – Pull Bathtub Stopper
If it’s a “Push Pull” Tub Stopper like this one …
Just unscrew the little knob on the top by turning it counter clockwise. (Doesn’t matter if the stopper is in the open or closed position.) You’ll see a brass post inside. Place a flat-head screwdriver in the middle of the brass post and turn it counter clockwise to lift it off the strainer. Now you can take your fingers to clean the hair and debris out of the strainer.
Lift and Turn Bathtub Stopper
Have a “Lift and Turn” type Bathtub Stopper?
A “Lift and Turn” type stopper may take a bit more work. First open the plug (like emptying the tub). Hold the body of the stopper with one hand while slowly turning the top stopper knob. Do you see a little set screw?
If it doesn’t have a set screw, just turn the stopper counter clockwise. It should then unthread and lift off from the strainer. Clean the debris and hair out of the strainer.
If it does have a set screw, you’ll need an Allen wrench to loosen it enough to lift off the top to get to the strainer.
If the set screw doesn’t loosen, calcium buildup is clogging it. Or if the top spins without unscrewing, the post threads are likely stripped. In that case, you’ll need a liquid solvent and pressure to release the stopper. Best to replace it after that with a Push Pull type tub stopper.
There are other types of stoppers, of course, but these three are most common.
#2 to Safely Unclog a Bathtub Drain: Hook or Cheap Zip Snake Tool
Before replacing the stopper, run some water to see if that fixes the clog. If it’s still draining slowly, try one or all of these free – to cheap little tools.
Once you’ve removed the tub stopper, try using either the “hair hook” or plastic “hair snake” below. Maneuver them down into the bathtub drain using a back and forth motion and gently pull out. You’ll likely discover lots of hair and gunk (mostly mineral deposits and soap scum latched onto the hair). Wipe off the hair and gunk into a waste container. (Do not wash the debris back down the drain.)
Wire hook to snare hair caught up in drain – Made from metal clothes hanger
See how this “Hair Hook” works to unclog a tub drain?
You can even make this “hair hook” yourself using a wire clothes hanger. Push the curved end to be narrow enough to go down the drain and keep a long enough straight end to be able to hold it and maneuver it back and forth within the pipe. It only works if the clog is within a few inches from the bathtub drain.
Plastic “Hair Snake” has barbs to latch onto hair and other debris caught in pipe
This cheap (under $10) long plastic “hair snake” uses a similar method to unclog a tub drain.
You can find one of these plastic “hair snakes” at most any hardware store. It’s plastic barbs work to hook onto lots of pieces of hair and debris that seep beyond the stopper’s filter.
If you get to the clog before it moves too far along the pipe, this method may work just fine to unclog your bathtub drain!
It’s more flexible than the metal hook above and the barbs can latch onto more than hair. You’ll often find crusty particles attached to the barbs. Those particles are mostly calcium and other mineral deposits.
You can find other inexpensive products that work in a similar way. Some have little brushes at the end or on the sides instead of barbs. Just take care to not break off the plastic or wire inside the pipe.
Pour Boiling Water Into a Sluggish Bathtub Drain
Pour boiling water down a sluggish bathtub drain.
Sometimes just pouring boiling water down the drain will work. But of course it won’t work if the tub hasn’t mostly drained. It won’t do much for standing water.
And of course be careful! You can not only injure yourself with splashes, you can also potentially damage the tub. Bathtubs vary in materials so just cautiously and slowly pour the boiling water INTO the drain.
Add Baking Soda and Vinegar
Baking Soda with Vinegar
The boiling water may not clear the drain on its own. If not, next try pouring about a quarter cup of baking soda (any brand will do) followed by one cup of vinegar.
Let the baking soda/vinegar solution sit undisturbed inside the drain for at least 15 minutes. Then pour more boiling water into the drain. For small clogs, this just may do the trick!
Plunger – Works best when water is standing in the bathtub
Plunger for unclogging a bathtub. Works best with standing water in the tub.
This “Forced Pressure” plunger may be an old school solution, but it often still works! It works best if you have standing water. So if there is not at least enough water to submerge the plunger, fill more until there is.
As you push the plunder up and down, it uses water pressure to suction debris in the pipe and push it further down into the drain pipe.
Standing Water Hazardous Due to Bathtub Clogs – So Fix it Fast
Just a note of caution about not waiting too long to unclog your bathtub drain, especially if you have standing water inside. Even a slow-draining bathtub that isn’t used often has standing water.
As you probably know, standing water breads bacteria and mould. Left standing too long, it also attracts insects like mosquitos that breed and can pass along disease to family members and pets.
So if these safe and easy fixes haven’t worked, Call US! That’s what we’re here for.
Why so Many Bathtubs Clogged in Fallbrook, Temecula, Vista and Oceanside?
Yes, in Southern California we do seem to have more bathtub clogs. That’s most likely because we’re more conscious of using less water. Plus, we live in a very dry climate so we tend to use more personal care products that contain oil. Less water to wash debris down the drain, combined with oil-based products trickling into the drain and the hair that is a cause of clogs wherever you live equals more clogs.
Another Component Creating Clogged Drains? High Mineral Content in Tap Water
If you try using one of the hooks or hair snakes to clean out your bathtub drain, you’ll likely notice whitish crusty particles attached to the hair. Most of those particles are calcium deposits. Those calcium deposits are spiky and latch onto debris and hair. They even latch onto metal pipes. That adds to the tipping point to clog a drain.
Our tap water in Fallbrook, Temecula, Oceanside and Vista is particularly “hard”. That means we have a higher mineral content — like calcium and magnesium — in our water. Those minerals are not hazardous to our health. However, they are not good for our plumbing pipes or any water appliance. And they just add to the reasons for our many clogged drains in Southern California.
Find the mineral content under “water hardness” for each city here:
Water Treatment System Helps Reduce Clogged Drains by Reducing Calcium and Mineral Deposits
Helping to reduce clogged bathtub and other clogged drains throughout your home is only one of the benefits of installing a whole house water softener and water filtration system. We are experts in a variety of water treatment solutions. Find out more about the benefits here.
If you live in Fallbrook, Bonsall, Temecula, Vista or Oceanside, Call Us to Clean Out Your Bathtub Drain! Here’s Why!
- We’re the lowest-cost plumbing service for high-quality plumbing anywhere in Fallbrook, Bonsall, Temecula, Vista or Oceanside.
- Customers consistently give us the highest-customer satisfaction 5-star rating.
- We guarantee your satisfaction – really.
For a more comprehensive list of reasons to choose us for all your plumbing needs, click here. You’ll also get some insight into why I enjoy sharing the plumbing knowledge I’ve gained over my 30+ years in business.
Why Not Use Commercial Chemical Drain Cleaners to Unclog a Bathtub?
The number one rule on how to unclog a bathtub or any drain for that matter is to never use chemical drain cleaners. Why? Let us count the ways:
#1 Toxic Chemical Drain Cleaners are Toxic for your Health
- Toxic chemicals are not safe for YOUR health in numerous ways. For example, you breathe in tiny microscopic particles just by pouring the chemicals into the bathtub. Think that’s good for your lungs?
- What other chemicals might those toxins mix with once they enter the drain? Ammonia or bleach or other cleaning products combining to create toxic fumes?
- What about particles touching your skin? Most chemical drain cleaners contain sulfuric acid. If these chemicals are capable of burning through hair and debris clogging the tub, they can surely burn your skin.
- Bottom line: they could be inhaled, swallowed or burn you or a family member.
#2 Toxic Chemical Drain Cleaners are Bad for the Environment
Everything that goes down the drain eventually goes into municipal sewer systems and often out into the waterways.
#3 Chemical Drain Cleaners can Damage Your Plumbing
The way these chemicals work is to literally eat away at whatever is in their path. When they lay inside your plumbing pipes, eating away at debris, they’re also eating away at the pipes. You won’t notice it right away, but eventually it may end up creating more problems for you and your bank account than a simple clogged bathtub.