It’s a common problem that we’ve all experienced. At first, your bathtub starts to drain more slowly but you tell yourself the problem will go away. Except it just gets worse and worse until one day you find it’s completely blocked.
It’s understandable that you don’t want to call in the plumber at the first sign of a blockage – it’s expensive after all – but you don’t need to wait till you have a tub full of standing water to take action. So here’s how to unclog a bathtub drain by yourself.
If you want to see a couple of techniques – including one we didn’t talk about using Coca-Cola – check out this humorous video that shows you how it’s done.
Different steps you can take
When it comes to unclogging your bathtub drain, you have several options. Here, we’ll work through them from the easiest and least drastic to the last resort.
If you have a drain to unblock, you can work through them in order – and if you still haven’t managed to unclog your drain, it probably means it’s time to call in a professional.
1. Clean the strainers and stoppers
Many drains have some kind of cover that allows the water to pass but prevents larger objects from disappearing down the drain hole. The problem with this is that hair can become tangled up in it, eventually preventing water from passing.
This means the first thing you need to do if your drain is showing signs of being blocked is to clean this cover.
All you need to do is remove whatever strainer or stopper your drain has and clean off any build-up of hair. If the cover is not screwed down, simply lift it off and give it a clean. If it is held in place by a screw, unscrew it and do the same.
Replace it and run some water to test it. If the water drains away as it it should, you have solved the problem. If not, move on to the second technique.
2. Drain claw
If cleaning the strainer or stopper hasn’t done the trick, the next thing to try is a drain claw. This is an inexpensive tool consisting of a stick covered in small hooks that is designed for unblocking bathtub drains.
Remove the strainer or stopper as before and push the drain claw into the drain. Push it in as far as you can and then slowly pull it out again. The hooks on the stick will grab hold of any clumps of hair, allowing you to pull them out with the stick.
You can repeat the process a few times until you are no longer pulling out clumps of hair and gunk. When you are ready, refit the stopper or strainer and run some water to see if the blockage has been resolved. If not, you can move on to the third technique.
3. Baking soda and vinegar
The next technique you can try involves pouring boiling water into the drain with a mixture of baking soda and vinegar.
First, boil a full kettle of water and pour the whole lot into the drain. If you are lucky, just the boiling water alone will be enough to shift the blockage.
If not, next, pour half a cup of baking soda and a cup of white vinegar into the drain. Wait for 15 or 20 minutes for the mixture to act.
Boil another full kettle of water and pour it into the hole and wait for the water to drain away. Run some water to see if it has worked. You may like to repeat this process two or three times. If not, you can move onto the next technique.
4. Use a plunger
If the baking soda, vinegar and hot water mixture doesn’t solve the problem, even after a few tries, the blockage is probably more severe and the build-up more solid. This means a bit more force might be required – so the next thing to try is a good old-fashioned bathroom plunger.
Start by filling the bathtub to a couple of inches deep. Using hot water rather than cold may also help a little. Place the plunger over the hole and push it down and pull it up hard several times.
You are trying to shift the blockage with the force of the suction, so the more vigorously you do it, the more effective it will be.
If it’s working, clumps of hair and other grime will start to be sucked up out of the hole. When this happens, scoop them up out of the tub so they don’t go back into the hole and block it up again.
Repeat this several times. It will probably be quite obvious if you are succeeding because you will see the clumps of hair being sucked up out of the hole and into the tub. If it works, once you have removed the blockage, the water will drain away normally.
If it seems to work partially, you may think about trying the baking soda and vinegar again, and then the plunger again several times.
If this doesn’t work, move on to the last option.
5. Chemical products
If all else fails, before calling in a plumber, you can try a chemical drain cleaner. This should be a last resort as they contain strong chemicals that are bad for the environment and that will also weaken your bathtub’s drainage system.
Choose a product that is specifically made for bathtubs, take all necessary safety precautions like wearing gloves etc., read the instructions carefully and do what it says on the bottle.
Remove standing water, pour the product into the drain and wait for the time specified on the bottle. After the time has elapsed, try running some water into the bathtub to see if it drains away. If it does, you’re in luck – and if not, it’s time to call in a pro.
Don’t leave it until it’s too late
Probably the key to dealing with blocked bathtub drains is catching the problem early. If you take action before the problem gets too bad, it will be easier to solve – but if you let the blockage build up, it will be much harder to remove.
By following these techniques, you should be able to clear most blockages – but if you still can’t manage to get the blockage to clear, you’re going to have to bite the bullet and call in a plumber.