Tips to Unclog a Bathtub Drain
Robin Wilson Interior Design

Have a spa-like experience with a clean and sensual bathtub like this one.

Why Does My Bathtub Drain Clog?

A bathtub drain has one purpose. It drains water from the bath to the sewer system. Bathtub drains tend to be a short branch into the main drain and they are not very wide. This means that they are susceptible to blocking. The other problem is that the water that drains from your tub is not just water. It contains dissolved soap and hair. Just how much hair depends on how hairy you are or how long your hair is.

Number One Culprit

The number one culprit when it comes to a bathtub drain clog is long hair. The bath plughole has a grate or strainer so that anything too large doesn’t go down the drain, but although it does catch quite a lot of hair, it doesn’t catch all of it. Long hairs have a tendency to ball up and form clumps that trap more hair until they clog the drain. You’re not going to have much luck convincing your nearest and dearest to cut their hair nice and short, so you need to know how to deal with the inevitable clog.

Older and Slower

The older your bath is, the more likely it is to clog because of the slow build-up of soap on the inside of the pipe. Every time you drain the bath some soap sticks to the side of the pipe where it cools and dries. Over time and out of sight this process slowly but surely makes the pipe narrower. It’s a bit like cholesterol in your arteries.

Metal Pipes

The other problem with older bathtubs is that the pipe can be metal. No matter how well galvanized it was back in the day, corrosion sets in and the interior of the pipe becomes rough and flaky and traps hair more easily.

Kid’s Stuff

This isn’t to say that hair is the only stuff that clogs the drain. Kids can bring in all sorts of stuff to wash or play with and it ends up blocking the drain.

Clear The Clog

The problem is, of course, not why the bathtub drain clogs, but how to unclog it. Stuff gets in there, sure, but how do you get it out?

There are two directions that the clog can take – up or down. Generally the aim is to break the clog up and flush it down into the main drain where it should continue on down the sewer. But you can pull it out as well.

Tips to Unclog a Bathtub Drain

Sometimes, a wire does the trick to pull out hairs!

1. A Piece Of Wire

If you just happen to have a piece of wire handy you can fashion it into a crude hook to fish out the clump of hair that is blocking the drain. If you don’t have a bit of wire about, you can always sacrifice a wire coat hanger. The coat hanger has to be cut and reshaped and for this you will need a good pair of pliers. Sometimes it’s possible to remove the strainer over the plughole for easier access, but on most occasions you just have to get to the clog through the strainer. Be careful not to drop the wire down the drain. It’s advisable to use a piece of wire that is long enough not to disappear down the plughole.

Tips to Unclog a Bathtub Drain

This yellow plastic can do wonders for your drain! Just ZipIt!

2. ZipIt

These days you can buy a better version of the mangled coat hanger to get that hair out. It’s a strip of barbed plastic called Zip it. It works in the same way as a piece of wire – stick it in and drag out the hair. But instead of having a single hook with which to snag the hair the device is bristling with hooks on both sides. Should you want to fashion your own, you can do what the inventor of this useful product did. Frustrated by constantly removing his daughter’s hair from the drain, he went to the shed in search of something to do the job properly. Apparently he saw his daughter’s plastic snow sled and decided that it was the perfect object from which to cut a strip of plastic and then cut a series of barbs on each side. So if you have a spare plastic snow sled and some serious skill with the scissors you could save yourself a trip to the store and a few bucks.

Tips to Unclog a Bathtub Drain

Bring out the plunger and let it do its trick!

3. Plunge The Plungehole

There are a couple of sorts of plungers that you can pick up at the local hardware store. There’s the simple cup plunger with the classic rubber ‘cup’ on a stick. But there is also a plastic concertinaed version of this that creates much better suction. Suction is what you want. Plunging works best when the bath has water in it – not a difficult thing to arrange when the drain is blocked. Place the plunger over the plughole and plunge away until you either suck the clog up into the bath or loosen the whole mass so that it shifts and goes down the drain. 

Tips to Unclog a Bathtub Drain

Vinegar and baking soda are favorites of a DIY homemaker.

4. Froth And Bubble

Another DIY remedy for a clogged bathtub drain is a combination of baking soda and vinegar. Baking soda, also known as bicarbonate of soda or sodium bicarbonate is a common pantry item for folk who like to bake. You combine it with an acid such as cream of tartar and the reaction produces carbon dioxide which helps make cakes and flapjacks fluffy. The idea is to make that reaction bigger and make it happen in the drain. To that end pour a cup of baking soda followed by a cup of white vinegar down the plughole. You should get a satisfyingly intense foaming reaction. And if you want a nice lemon scent or you have a glut of lemons, you can substitute lemon juice for vinegar. You leave things for about 15 minutes and pour down a couple of cups of hot water. If it doesn’t work first time, you can give it another try later.

Tips to Unclog a Bathtub Drain
Express Plumbing Idaho

When the natural cleaners don’t work, it’s time to bring out the synthetic ones.

5. Drain Cleaner

I don’t think too many people worry about the cleanliness of the inside of their drains unless things start to smell, but the myriad of products that claim that they can unclog drains and are only ever bought for that purpose are generally known as drain cleaners. There are shelves full of several varieties at Home Depot and Walmart. They are worth a try, although they are a lot more expensive than home remedies like the baking soda trick.

Tips to Unclog a Bathtub Drain
The Spruce

A drain snake may solve the issue if the drain cleaners didn’t work.

6. Hire A Snake

If the clog is just too stubborn for any and all of the above methods and you are still determined to spare yourself the cost of a plumber, you can hire a drain snake. I’m assuming you don’t have such a tool handy or have much experience using one. If that’s the case, then take the time to watch a few videos showing you exactly how to use it. If you follow the instructions and it still doesn’t work you have a serious problem with your bathtub drain that will require professional help like you can find with Plumber near me.

Tips to Unclog a Bathtub Drain

When all else fails, hire a master plumber.

7. Down The Drain

There is the possibility that the problem with your drain is further down the system and that the branch from the bathtub to the main drain is clear. The volume of water from a full bathtub can back up a considerable distance. If the problem is in the main sewer drain, you can reach it with a drain snake, but if you can’t, it’s time to concede and get a plumber in.

What does a plumber do to unclog a bathtub drain?

You can be confident that the plumber won’t be pouring baking powder and vinegar down the drain, although in extreme cases they will use acid to dissolve a particularly stubborn blockage. Do not under any circumstances attempt this yourself. Terrible accidents can happen with strong acids like the sulphuric acid that plumbers use. A plumber would only use this method if replacing the drain was just too difficult.

Get Reel

The first course of action for a plumber is to use some version of the drain snake. There are all sorts of them with specialized cutting tools at the business end and they can travel all the way down pretty much any residential drain. These things come on a reel and they are powered, so if they can’t get through, it’s not a clump of hair that’s blocking your drain. It’s more likely to be tree roots.

Heavy Artillery

The heavy artillery is something called a hydrojet. What it does is blast water at extremely high pressure. It’s the most powerful version of the snaky tools plumbers use to clear drains. Incredible as it may seem, water blasted at pressure can cut through tree roots. Hydrojets have various nozzles for all possible blockages. Blockages that are especially difficult to shift are a strong indication of serious problems with your drains.


Tree roots are the most common cause of major blockages and tree roots can only enter drains that are no longer properly sealed. So what do you do then? The tree roots will invariably grow back because they just can’t resist the nutrient rich smorgasbord that a drain offers them. Cutting down the offending tree is an option, but first you have to discover which one it is. That dilemma is compounded by the fact that it’s not just tree roots that cause issues. It’s anything growing such as vines and shrubs. You can give up having a garden with anything substantial growing in it and just have lawn and vegetables, but you can also do what most folk do and that’s live with it. It will mean regular visits from the plumber. Depending on the nature of the invasion and the state of the pipes, that can be an annual visit or every few months. The only long term solution is to fix the drain, but how?

Drain Relining

The wonders of modern technology have been brought to bear on this problem. What a plumber will do after clearing the tree roots is discover exactly where the damage to the pipe is. This is achieved by putting a specialized camera down the drain that precisely locates the crack or weak join in the drain. It’s important that the pipe still has enough structural integrity, otherwise the lining has nothing to line.

Sewers are invariably in a location that is difficult to reach. They are buried quite deeply and above them can be paths, retaining walls, garden beds and concrete.

Pipe relining means that none of these things have to be disturbed.

What happens is that the plumber inserts a resin-covered tube down the drain until it reaches the damaged section that needs to be relined. They use a machine to move it into the correct position.

When the tube is in the correct position a bladder inside the tube is inflated so the resin presses right up against all parts of the inside of the drain. It’s an amazingly strong epoxy resin that sticks perfectly. It has to cure for around 8 hours and once it has, it forms a watertight seal that is also impermeable to tree roots or any other roots.

Last But Not Least

I’ve saved the worst until last. Shifting soil can cause drains to completely collapse. The section that has collapsed is beyond repair. There’s nothing you can do except dig it up and replace it. That’s unfortunately not a job for a single plumber with a spade. The main drains are buried so deeply that you generally need an excavator to get down to them. It also means removing anything on the surface. More often than not that’s a concrete path. It’s an expensive and messy process.

Dress For Success

So when you manage to fish out that clump of hair from the bathtub plughole with a bit of wire or your brand new zip it, be thankful that it’s not something worse. And next time you have a bath, consider wearing a shower