Unclog a Tub Drain : DIY Step-by-Steps

Don’t let a clogged or slow drain stop the flow of water in your bathtub. Here are the step-by-step directions to unclog a tub drain and what tools and materials you need to do the job.

There can be several causes why the tubs get clogged. Things that can contribute to clogs are soap scum, dirt, and even mineral buildup from hard water. As a homeowner, it’s important to know how to fix a clogged tub drain.

Tools & Materials Required

  • Chemical drain opener
  • Screwdriver
  • Wire coat hanger
  • Wire-cutting pliers
  • Hand auger
  • Plumber’s snake
  • Plunger

Step-by-Step Instructions

Step 1: Remove the pop-up stopper

The best time to clear a clog in a tub drain is as soon as you notice the drain is running slowly. The clog is small and accessible and can be easily dislodged. If you wait, it will grow in size and probably move further into the drain. At that point, clearing it becomes more difficult.

Remove pop-up stopper

The procedure will vary slightly, depending upon whether it is a pop-up or plunger style drain. The best strategy is to begin by trying to pull out the clog rather than forcing it down the drain. Use harsh chemicals only as a last resort. Since the work involves metal tools and stepping into the tub, place an old towel or drop cloth on the floor of the tub to protect it from scratches or chips. 

If your tub has a movable stopper in the drain, it is a pop-up. Use the trip lever to raise the stopper, then lift out the stopper and remove any hair attached to the rocker’s arm. If you’re lucky, that might solve the problem.

Step 2: Remove and clean the linkage

Unscrew the plate covering the overflow drain opening and lift out the linkage. A plunger-style drain will have a metal plug on the bottom. A pop-up drain will usually have a heavy coil spring, which does a nice job of catching hair before it goes down the drain. Clean the mechanism and set it aside.

Step 3: Clear horizontal pipe

Cut the hook off a wire clothes hanger with wire-cutting pliers and bend a hook on one end. If it is a plunger-style drain, unscrew the metal grate covering the drain opening. Slowly insert the wire down into the drain. If you feel a clog, try to engage it with the hook and pull it out. If there’s no clog, plug the drain opening with a face cloth, run some water and then remove the rag to try the drain. If it’s working, skip to Step 8.

Step 4: Use hot water

Next, try hot water to dissolve the soap scum, then binds the hair together. Boil a large pot of water and pour it all at once into the tub. Be careful to avoid splashing it on yourself.

Step 5: Use a plunger

Use a plunger

If that fails, try to force the clog down the drain with a plunger. Since the drain in the floor of the tub is connected to the overflow drain, you must first plug the overflow drain opening with a rag. The pressure will then be directed against the clog and not just dissipated out the overflow opening. Run some very hot water as you plunge.

Step 6: Use a hand auger or plumber’s snake

Use a hand auger or plumber's snake

If the clog is in the drain line, try using a hand auger or plumber’s snake to pull it out. Insert the end of the auger down into the overflow drain opening until you contact the clog. Then turn the crank to screw the end of the auger into the clog and draw it out.

Step 7: Use a chemical drain opener

As a last resort, pour a chemical drain opener into the drain according to package directions. These openers can be very caustic, so read the label carefully and follow all safety recommendations.

Step 8: Reinstall parts

Reinstall all the cleaned parts by reversing the procedure used to remove them.

A clogged drain can cause all kinds of headaches, which is why it’s important to know how to unclog tub drain the right way. Try the above DIY tips, and when in doubt, always consult with a professional plumbing service for help.

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